Before I met my wife Jen, she was working at a homeless shelter in downtown Winnipeg. It was 2007 and she loved her work, but the sadness and hardship she saw every day were taking its toll.
One morning while Jen was serving coffee at the shelter she overheard folks on the radio station talking about Tim Hortons opening in Afghanistan. They were saying “Who the #@&*! would go to Afghanistan to work at Tim Hortons?” Jen answered “I would!” and ran to the nearest recycling bin to find a copy of the job listing and applied right away.
As crazy as it may sound, competition for the Tim Hortons jobs in Kandahar was very intense. According to one news story for every six month rotation, the Canadian Forces Personnel Support Agency (now known as Canadian Forces Morale and Welfare Services) would receive 3000 applications and only 65 men and women were accepted.
Later that year Jen was accepted into condensed boot-camp training where she learned cultural and sensitivity training for Afghanistan, how to get out of a minefield (or rather, how she would die if she ever got caught in a minefield; her words not mine), gas hut training and the whole shebang. After completing the initiation Jen was offered the job and for the next seven months her work included serving hundreds of double-doubles, ice-caps, maple-glazed donuts and anything else that survived the convoy through Pakistan. And unlike any other Tim Hortons in the world, Jen and her fellow-workers learned how to respond to rocket attacks (hit the floor, cover your head) and then get everything up and running again within 15 minutes of the all-clear.
Jen caught the Afghan bug and after completing her tour with CFPSA and Tim Hortons, she applied with another Canadian company and returned in 2008 to work for ATCO. In total Jen worked in Kandahar Airfield for five years.
Meanwhile in Sri Lanka my projects with tsunami disaster recovery and the Red Cross were wrapping up. I started looking for my next adventure and was offered a job with Ecolog and began working in Kandahar Airfield in 2008. And that is how Canada met Sri Lanka in Afghanistan.
Our paths did not cross until I had been there for a few months but when we met, Jen and I became fast friends. We were friends, then best friends, then sweethearts, then married! In Afghanistan we worked hard and made so many dear friends from all over the world. I worked non-stop, sometimes 17 hours a day, and I think I once worked 18 months straight without a day off. It was crazy. There were many close calls in our last year in Kandahar, our buildings started to look more like Swiss cheese from shrapnel fire. It was then we knew it was time to start our new adventure in Calgary, Alberta.
When we arrived in Canada in 2012 I applied for jobs every day for weeks and months with no bites. It was truly demoralizing. I was “too qualified” to be offered a low-level job and not “Canadian-qualified” enough to carry-on from where I left off in Afghanistan.
Then one lucky day on December 27th, 2012 I again walked into Tim Hortons with my resume in hand, when the boss Pamela said, “What size of uniform do you wear? It’s your lucky day – you start tomorrow!”
I worked with Tim Hortons for more than a year and have just recently started a new full-time job. I still work a second part-time job in a warehouse and continue to work on creating opportunities and connections that will lead me to my dream job in Project Management. My work experience in Sri Lanka and Afghanistan was extensive, but it is Canadian experience that I must build and winning the Extreme Career Makeover scholarship with Lethbridge College could be exactly the opportunity I need to kick-start my career.
The past week and a half have been a whirlwind of voting, rallying friends and writing blog posts – not to mention working two jobs and trying to spend quality time with my wife.
Let’s pause for just a moment to raise your double-double with me and make a toast to Timmies:
For sending the woman I love all the way to Afghanistan just so I might cross her path, and for giving me hope when I struggled most in my new Canadian life – thank you very, very much Tim Hortons.