“Doesn’t this country have milk?” I said rather loudly while feverishly scanning every aisle of the grocery store stopping customers dead in their tracks. Then a man going about his business extended his tanned brawny arm in the direction of a large fridge filled with plastic bags containing a white liquid.
“That’s the milk? I asked, even more puzzled, wondering how one was supposed to add that to tea without having to consume the whole product all at once.
“You put the milk into one of those jugs,” grunted the man while rolling his hazel-coloured eyes to the white, green, and red plastic jugs dangling on a nearby shelf.
“Oh,” I exclaimed. “So weird,” I hissed, as the hulky figure disappeared down an adjacent aisle with his large feet slapping the laminate flooring like wind-driven rain. I reflected on the convenient cartons of milk back home, how far away that felt, as I opened the door letting out a gush of icy air.
I notice there’s no alcohol either. In England it’s conveniently and boldly placed by the bread and milk. But this isn’t like the milk situation in plastic bags, rather alcohol in Canada can be found in a segregated store often off some beaten path. They’re pretty strict with that stuff. Drinking in public is acceptable in England, but outside of Quebec it’s illegal in Canada.
There are so many things I have to learn in this new land. I always thought it was very similar to England, but now that I was here I realized it’s a whole different ball game. Tax is something that is not included in the price of items at stores, the advertising is completely different, everything runs in the opposite direction, and you can’t go anywhere without a health card.
A few months back I decided excitedly to immigrate to the wild and mountainous land of Canada, where Mounties in dashing red uniforms ride horses along the roads, but now I was finally here it was nothing like the television show Due South (created by Paul Haggis) and I felt quite lost.
There were no Mounties trotting their horses down the roads, just one mountain in sight in this wilderness city called Thunder Bay located in Ontario. Motels were not cool to stay in, and I quickly changed my mind about those cute black and white skunks. A bumpy road lay ahead for me and winter had not even kicked off in its full-blown frigid glory.
My first goal on moving abroad was to explore as much as possible, but of course this wasn’t possible without getting a job and having money to spend, so I hastily updated my Curriculum Vitae by changing the heading to Resume, and emailed it off to numerous places with fingers and toes crossed.
A retirement home promptly responded. I was offered the job of a Dietary Aide. What a la-di-da title I thought, wondering what a Dietary Aide was and searching online for a job description, which turned out to be rather disappointing. My first day began the following week.
“Would you like couscous with your vegetables?” I tapped at the menu to a withered old woman seated at a round dining room table.
“Cockroach?” she replied in a thin, cracked voice.
“Couscous,” I said louder and with more clarity, while attempting a Canadian accent.
“Did you just say cockroach?” She whimpered confused.
“COO-COUS” I howled like some sort of wolf-owl drawing unwanted attention and snickering across the hall. I decided to go ahead and plate the couscous, along with mash potatoes (because elderly people seem to love that stuff) and soft vegetables.
At the time I didn’t have a vehicle, so I would walk home from work. It was about a 15 minute walk along a busy road and past a block of shabby-looking homes. There were other ways to get home, but this route seemed the quickest.
Once on my way home a remarkably grotesque-looking man, dirty with no teeth, asked me out. I ignored him and carried on my journey. Later on in the evening I was told the route I was taking to work and back was a prostitute pickup area. I never walked that way again.
These were the first few weeks of my time in Canada.
So here I was in Canada with my British coat and clothes that were no good for Canadian winters. The snow began falling and from the ground to the sky it was complete white. I was told to put salt on the drive and walkways to help melt the ice.
Looking back now I can’t help but laugh at this next scene. ..
I pushed the pepper aside in the kitchen cabinet and took out the table salt, before sprinkling it outside on the ground. Nothing happened because as I later learned table salt is not the same as road salt! We never had snow like this back home.
Winters were exciting watching the rivers freeze and crack, and then trying my hand at sledding or attempting to ice-skate with no success. But driveways had to be shovelled, snow dripped down boots, freezing temperatures burned my face, fingers, and toes, and sometimes I just wanted to hide inside and not come out for days. England would have shut-down with a dusting of the white stuff, but here in Canada life will go on.
Spring comes along with meadows bursting into a rainbow of colours. There’s a feeling of joy as the wildlife crawls out from hibernation. Lake Superior, stretched out before Thunder Bay, is often ribbed only by a baby breath of wind and mirrors the opalescent hues of the sky. Summer hums to life shortly after with tourism. This time round as the sun goes down in the cloudless sky the city is suddenly bathed in gold. And then we have the fiery reds, burnt oranges, and golden-yellows as the deciduous trees turn in autumn. Canada gets all the seasons, the way it was meant.
Looking back the first year living abroad was a major learning curve. There were times I found myself crying with frustration and wanting to take the quickest airplane back ‘home.’ Then there were the highs where I was mesmerized by the beauty and wildlife or even the unexpected kindness of someone that I almost had to pinch myself to make sure it was real.
Fast-forward seven years and a
lot has changed since that first year, but what has remained is that I am still
living in Canada and loving being here. As Helen Keller once famously said,
“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.” And I wouldn’t change a