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Born in Baramulla, Kashmir (India) |

Khaoula lived in Kashmir during the peak of the armed insurgency and remembers the situation as dire. Her father was involved in separatist politics, and as a child she recalls visiting him in an interrogation centre, where he had been held as a political prisoner. She witnessed first-hand why Kashmir is one of the most militarized regions in the world; experiences that she feels have had an impact on her development and world view. When she was six years old, her family left Kashmir. They moved around a lot, but her parents always had their eyes on Canada – specifically Toronto, as a place to call home. In her early teens, the family finally realized their hopes. Toronto is special for Khaoula because it allowed her to spend time developing herself, and to become who she wants to be, rather than be bound by experiences out of her control.

“There isn’t a specific culture, the city has multiple feels, and you can delve into all of them.”

This year Khaoula spoke at a conference held at the European Parliament, sharing her story, and she hopes to play a more active role on the Kashmir issue.

 Toronto as Home

Khaoula has travelled a lot, and often finds herself chasing a particular feeling that comes with being in her element. Tom Jones Steakhouse and Piano Bar is where she finds this feeling time and time again. It’s a little hidden restaurant right in the middle of Old Toronto. Only a handful of tables are occupied at any given time, and George the owner can always be found there enjoying the atmosphere and making sure everyone is taken care of. She asked him once why he doesn’t advertise this beautiful place that is never full, and he replied “the best places should be kept a little secret.” The piano bar on the second floor feels like a scene from a movie: Midnight in Toronto. She sits right at the piano, listening to the pianist play her favourite jazz ballads – letting herself be transported into a different time – lost in her own thoughts.

Rather than thinking of where I came from, a story I know too well, I reflect on what I’ve become and where I want to be.”

 Connection with the Past 

This is Khaoula’s favourite tea set from Kashmir, and she is pouring Nun Chai, a traditional Kashmiri salty tea. After moving to Canada, her mother would always make it for the family and it never fails to remind her of Kashmir. Khaoula explains how the culture in that region revolves heavily around eating and drinking, and people come together to meet over cups of tea. Even now, when she has friends over, she always makes a cup of tea for them while they sit together and chat. Whether in Kashmir or Toronto, ‘tea time’ is her favourite time of the day – a time to sit, discuss, share, and put your mind at ease.

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