New to Canada in March 1996, we were unsure of just about everything. Among others, two very special couples helped to familiarize us with life in this country. These four wonderful souls made us feel welcome here. Suspending pre-judgment and accepting us for who we were, they patiently offered advise and guidance every step of the way.
Last week, just before the close of 2018 we were invited for dinner by one of these couples. A and R informed us that this was not a “New Year Eve” party, but an opportunity for us to meet with two young couples and a student from India, all of whom had very recently come to Canada. These young, smart, enthusiastic and upbeat “kids” were a very refreshing change from the moribund fuddy-duddies one usually encounters. Thanks to the questions posed by our young newcomer companions and their engaging comments, we got to re-view Canada afresh and share their excitement as they settle in their new country of choice.
As Yogi Berra would have said, for my wife and me it was a “Deja vu all over again” moment! We were reminded of our own doubts and anxieties from over two decades ago. The uncertainties and apprehensions about life in a new country, differences in cultures and etiquettes, help with identifying trustworthy resources for solutions to daily life issues and other possibly trivial matters that appear, oh so daunting to newcomers. From the time they opened their hearts and home to us over two decades ago, A and R have continued to help so many others.
Thanks to our interaction that evening, I am able to share a summarized version of our collective thoughts on matters that should be of interest to most newcomers. In no particular order, these are:
- Expand your horizons, starting with the “community” you choose to interact with. Go beyond the ethnic community group you belong to, as “community” here includes neighbours on your street, parents and teachers at your kids’ school and/or activity groups etc. Get out of your “comfort zone” to expose yourself to new ideas.
- Volunteer. It could be the local library, food bank, providing translation services at the hospital or ferrying patients in need of transportation. Mix with people and better understand local customs, etiquette and “Canadiana” norms. Besides expanding your network, it helps develop “soft skills” that always come in handy in a work environment.
- Stay away from negative people. For the one person who might encourage you, there will be ten others who will tell you that “if I couldn’t achieve it after so many years of stay here, how do you expect to get it? My friend, the reality is that you will face racism/discrimination here, no question!” Indeed, if you go looking, you might find it. Choose instead, to seek those who can guide and motivate you.
- Get rid of the “baggage”. Open your mind to new ideas and possibilities. Starting life in a new country is like being reborn; previous experiences may not necessarily apply. Prejudices are like dead skin and must be shed to emerge renewed and refreshed when beginning a new life.
- “Do in Rome as Romans do”. When first learning to play cricket, you had to learn the rules of the game before walking on to the field. You have to play by the rules of Canada, so learn and abide by these.
- We are in a position to enjoy the best of both the East and the West. We can teach others the intricacies of cricket while learning about ice hockey and baseball. Sing songs by Faiz, Gulzar and Ghalib while mouthing poetry by Shakespeare, Frost and Angelou. Dance to the bhangra or garba beat and not just swing to the latest rap or hip-hop moves.
- Be confident of who you are. If “comfortable in your own skin” no props will be needed. Mohamed does not have to become Mo, or Kuldeep turn to Deep. Because most Caucasians find my name difficult to pronounce and remember, when meeting a person for the first time I would urge them to think of a “Punk” rocker with colored, spiky hair and add an “Uj” to it to sound “Punkuj”. Ice broken, they would smile and often declare, “Now I will not be able to get you out of my head”.
- If a parent, be a friend to the children and help them explore their new environment. Do NOT push them into conforming to country-of-origin norms and values. Please do not continue to burden them with pronouncements like “We gave up a great lifestyle ‘back home’ and are now suffering here, only for your sake”.
- Start to “belong” and appreciate all that this country provides. Read up on Canadian literature and familiarize yourself with the history of this country. Equally, learn to give back. But for the acceptance on the part of the indigenous peoples and those who came before us, you and I would not be here.
As we are all fellow-travellers, I end with this ghazal by Rana Sahri reflecting on life-journey, soulfully sung by Jagjit Singh. Notwithstanding my poor translation skills, I hope you enjoy it, my special friend in Montreal!
|Koi dost hai naa raqeeb hai||Neither a friend nor any rival, here|
|Tera shehr kitnaa ajeeb hai||Your city is indeed strange|
|Woh jo ishq thaa woh junoon thaa||The love we shared was our passion|
|Yeh jo hijr hai yeh naseeb hai||This separation now is our destiny|
|Mein kisse kahoon mere saath chal||Whom can I ask to accompany me|
|Yahaan sab ke sar pe saleeb hai||(For) everyone here carries a cross (reference to Christ’s burden) on their shoulders|
|Yahaan kiskaa chehraa padhaa karun||Whose face could I read/scrutinize here|
|Yahaan kaun itnaa kareeb hai||Who is that close to me in this place|
|Tujhe dekh kar mein hoon sochtaa||Looking at you I wonder|
|Tu habeeb hai yaa raqeeb hai||Friend or a rival what are you|