If Houda Rafle said you were cool, you believed her.
Because Houda was one of those people who said things with such conviction and authority that you didn't dare doubt her word. For all intents and purposes, Houda was a boss.
I met Houda while doing contract work for eTalk during the Toronto International Film Festival. I was an outsider, brought in for a short amount of time to help with the influx of duties that come with such a large event, and she didn't need to make time for me and my inadequacies. This was TIFF and there was no time for slow learners. My first shift with her was intimidating as all hell and I tried so hard to make myself useful. I don't know much about entertainment news, so I was floundering. Houda's conversation about an artist named Trey Songz confused me (Trey who?), but I tried to keep up. Then she mentioned Ludacris (now him I understood) and I was able to quote a favourite lyric. Houda gave me a look of pure honesty and said "you're one of us. Amanda, that was cool." I believed her and from then on she treated me as one of her own.
The Houda I knew was sassy and strong. She told you what she thought, without holding back, and if you didn't like it that was your problem, not Houda's. If you wanted something taken care of the best person to turn to was Houda. She'd take care of business because she was a boss in every respect. Her flare for taking charge of difficult situations and people gave her such a reputation that her name became used as a verb when things got tough. Having a problem with your phone company? Time to Houda. Did that waitress just ignore us? No she didn't; Houda it up. If you had an issue you wanted Houda in your corner (or at least to channel Houda's strength).
This fall, Houda was diagnosed with cancer. She was one of the many people effected by the errors of Dr. Ivo Slezic, a Trillium radiologist who misread scans and gave patients inaccurate information. But in true Houda fashion she dealt with it with strength. She spoke out about the situation and about her fight for her life with such conviction that you didn't dare think that she'd do anything but live. Because when Houda spoke you believed her, and it's hard to imagine such a fighter losing any battle, especially one for her life.
Last night Houda died. This makes me more angry than I can express through words. I walked the streets of Toronto today with bitter tears streaming down my face because I feel very strongly that her death was unjust. A medical error that shouldn't have occurred took time away from Houda's fight with cancer. A fighter deserves a fighting chance and a vivacious young woman deserves a chance to live. That chance was diminished because of Dr. Slezic's errors and it's not what Houda, or any of his other patients, deserved.
When I found out Houda was sick, I reached out to her to tell her that I was here if she needed someone to talk to. She thanked me, and in true Houda fashion turned the conversation back to me and how I was doing. She'd heard I'd been going through some difficult changes. It was true. 2013 has not been an easy year for me. I lost my partner, the home we shared, and most recently, I've lost my job. Through these periods of change I've heard every phrase of encouragement and support, which when you're feeling your lowest sound like empty words. But when Houda said "you are beautiful and young and I know you will find the right guy for you." I believed her.