2 friends test the kindness of Canadians by travelling coast to coast with no money
The month-long road trip started in St. John's, N.L. and ended in Tofino, B.C.
It might be hard to believe but two friends from Mississauga have quite a story to tell about travelling across Canada with no currency but their smiles, and the hope that the kindness of strangers would keep them moving.
Ahmed Tahir and Ammar Abdul-Raheem, both 26, travelled for one month together from Newfoundland to British Columbia asking for help to get everything they needed along the way — from flights to haircuts.
"I just travelled for free from St. John's to Tofino with this guy," Tahir laughed, pointing to Abdul-Raheem smiling beside him.
"All because of the great people of Canada," Abdul-Raheem quickly added.
'My family said ... maybe shave your beard'
Abdul-Raheem, originally from Iraq, and Tahir, who was born in England and whose parents are from Pakistan, went on the trip to see just how kind Canadians really are.
"My family said, 'Are you sure? Maybe shave your beard, maybe bring some money,' and I was like, 'We're going to give it a try and see what happens.' We lost a little weight but we're still here," said Tahir.
Abdul-Raheem said he is often told to shave his beard by people from his own culture.
"They would say, 'Oh, you have a job interview, shave your beard. You want people to be nicer to you, shave your beard.' But part of it was going out with beards and looking, for me, as Arabic as possible."
'People just started helping us out'
At first, the two doubted that they could make it across Canada without a cent in their pockets, but when they found themselves in a St. John's neighbourhood called Quidi Vidi, the beauty and charm of the place and its people buoyed their spirits.
"We started in the best place. It's the most picturesque place you can think of and the people just started helping us out," said Tahir.
No questions asked
As they got closer to their hometown of Mississauga, homesickness started to kick in. In Montreal, Tahir somehow talked himself into a free haircut, and while there the barber told him about a restaurant that offers free meals, no questions asked.
"Turns out to be an Iraqi restaurant. I'm originally from Iraq so coming in and smelling Iraqi food ... I'm like, 'Yes, home," Abdul-Raheem remembered.
The restaurant is called Marche Ferdous. The two travellers quickly struck up a conversation with one of the cooks, Rafed Al Kaabe. who told them he left his native Iraq and spent a decade in Lebanon before coming to Canada.
As soon as he landed he received a letter that said 'Dear Mr. Rafed, welcome to Canada.' Abdul-Raheem said Al Kaabe had tears in his eyes when he described that moment as the first time he had been called "Mister" in 10 years.
"He said, 'You know, in Lebanon there's two types of citizens: those who have money and the rest of us, and no one cares about us,'" said Abdul-Raheem.
CBC Toronto followed up with Al Kaabe who said coming to Canada was "the happiest day."
'Ask for help when you need it'
The two men are back home now, but they've already started to feel the itch to travel again as they consider another money-free trip through the U.S.
"In the States right now there are some things that are going on that are dangerous, said Abdul-Raheem. But he says it's more important than ever to reach out.
"I think no matter how much disagreement there is, go out and meet others, especially those that are different from you, and you'll learn so much, you'll grow so much from it."
Tahir said the experience taught him to swallow his pride and ask for help.
"Just being willing and vulnerable to ask for help when you need it. And also giving that back to other people, helping people. And also picking up hitchhikers if I see them on the road," he laughed.
With files from Derick Deonarain