Exactly one month and 8 days had passed and I was still living in a strange place. Everything was different around me, my bed, the house, the peoples, the language and the surroundings outside was not part of my former memories. Everything was new, everything felt out the ordinary. My home was now thousands of miles away. My people, my family, my co-workers and my friends were all out of my reach now. I felt as an alien in this new place. The culture was different, the values were different (I did not know what was normal and what was not). I was not comfortable talking to anyone as I did not know if what I say may have a different meaning that I may not have even thought of.
Waking up every morning, I remembered the events of this past month. Now, I was here, in this English-speaking country with only one known person in my life, My husband. A simple trip to the local grocery store was a struggle in itself. My basic English knowledge was not working in my favor. The cashiers in the grocery store, the bus driver, the front desk lady, and everyone I talked with would look at me as I was deaf or I did not understand what they were saying or asking. It was kind of true, most of the times I was not able to understand them because I was from a place where English was not a common language. I was taught English as a subject in the school but I was not used to listening to English on an everyday basis. Moreover, the English I was taught or had listened was a different English. Here people were speaking English with their true Canadian accent and my ears and mind were not processing this new language.
The day before yesterday, a child was asking his grandmother while traveling on a bus with me that what language I was speaking and the grandmother said, “she is speaking English but her accent is different”. The child asked again, “What do you mean by accent”? The grandmother responded, “She is speaking English differently”. The embarrassment, the feeling of hopelessness was almost unbearable at times. Have you ever experienced somebody speaking very loudly to you, as if you were hard of hearing when you simply did not understand the words? It was not pleasant and it used to happen very often.
I was afraid to speak as to what if they did not understand me or if they asked something and I could not respond to them. I had no shelter. I needed help and guidance in order to acclimatize to the new environment. I remember never quite feeling like I was part of this Canadian culture. What it meant to be Canadian was confounding to me. I was from a different origin, society and culture. Canada was an entirely different ball game. I was not a white lady like everyone else around me, I covered my head, I had different ideas that did not fit in this new environment, my mentality was different and I had no idea of other people’s mentality, and I did not speak the right language. From these perspectives, I never truly felt myself “Canadian” but just an immigrant. Being Canadian had still not brought me any kind of pride or feeling of belonging. I was different.
It was a warm day of August 10, 2012, and the time to get up and make my way to work. I had just started working in a store as a sale associate a couple of weeks before and was already on my journey of learning Canadian Workplace Culture. Every day came with new challenges and things to face and learn with a lot of struggle. I was standing at the bus stop which was just on a two-minutes walk away from my place of living (I won’t call it home but just a place to live). It was a quarter to 11 am and my shift was supposed to be starting at 11:15 am. After waiting for ten minutes on the bus stop, I realized that I had missed my bus. As soon as I realized this, I started to get panicked – the next bus would not show up until 45 minutes from now, I will be late for my work. I will be asked questions. What if they fired me? How and where will I get a job again? I can not go through the pain and hardships of finding even an odd job again. How will I pay the rent of the place where I live? I started to sweat. I did not have a cell phone to call for cab – oh I did not even know how to hire a cab. I was hopeless, helpless and wanted to just cry. Who do I talk to? Who do I tell my feelings? How do I survive in this strange place with no one known around? All of a sudden, I noticed a man was mowing his front lawn just across the bus stop where I was standing. I thought in my head, why does he not leave his lawn mower and takes out his car to go somewhere; then I would I ask him for a ride. I was thinking all this in my head and a white lady with blond hairs came out from that home, she had some conversation with the man and then she moved towards a black Honda Civic parked in the driveway. I was just staring at the lady since she came out of the house, I felt she also glanced at me. As soon as she moved towards her car, I ran into her and asked for a ride. She was astonished – must be thinking who is this brown lady with a covered head and who also speaks with an accent. The man also looked at me with strange and questioning eyes. I did not pay attention to him. I just wanted the lady to drive me to my work which I assumed would be on her way where she was going. I was not nervous at all. Nothing came to my mind at that moment except that I have to reach the store before 11:15 am and it was already 11:00 am by that time. She just asked me where I wanted to go and then offered me to sit in the front passenger’s seat. I can not express my feelings in words which I had for the lady at the moment. I just can say, she was like an angel to me who was sent to me from God – I was helped.
After this incident, I finally started to feel a little more comfortable and confident. I realized that there is help around I just need to seek for it. The lady is one of my best friends today and I am proud and blessed to have an Italian-Canadian White Friend. I feel privileged to have her in my life. I now realize that everybody perceives a person to be Canadian according to their own experiences and background and it is impossible to fit the entire profile. What does it mean to be Canadian to me? It means being myself, no matter where I may wander. It means accepting the originality of my personal history and to show the world that I, being Canadian, am different than others.