I remember when my husband told me we had gotten our papers to immigrate from India to Canada. “Oh, at last!” I heaved a sigh of relief.
The next six months saw feverish preparation for the big move. We forgot the long wait, endless form-filling and collecting documents. All I could think of was I was going to be near my daughter.
Earlier, I must have visited Canada more than 20 times. Every trip was enjoyable. But this was different. I was coming to Canada for good. The thought of being with my only daughter convinced me to give up a comfortable life and a well-paying job, and sell off most of my personal belongings. I was sure I’d find a suitable job in Canada.
In August 2017, I landed in Halifax looking forward to a cozy new life. The excitement lingered for a month or two. When it wore off, the stark reality dawned on me that I was unemployed and our savings wouldn’t last long. The sight of the fast-depleting bank balance sent chills up my spine.
There’s a world of difference between being a visitor and an immigrant. As a visitor, I came and went whenever it pleased me, but as a permanent resident, I had to run around making sure all my documents were in order. Banking, health insurance, renting an apartment, finding a job: everything seemed urgent and there was no time left for anything else.
Our stress rose considerably, a kind of loneliness and desperation set in. Helplessness and frustration filled my waking hours. And I began to wonder whether the move was worth all the effort.
The two major problems I faced were lack of contacts and an inability to find work. I was told my academic qualifications were not recognized here, my years of work as a writer, reporter, and newspaper subeditor didn’t count because I had no Canadian work experience. I was reduced to being almost useless. Really?
Am I so ill-equipped to survive in this country? I wondered. Listening to those discouraging words didn’t help boost my morale. A sense of inadequacy washed over me. I filled my days taking refresher courses at the Immigrant Services Association of Nova Scotia (ISANS).
After six long months, ISANS helped me to find work as a substitute EPA (Educational Program Assistant) for children with special needs. I was elated. Finally, I was going to earn some money. It was a good feeling. It gave me immense satisfaction when I helped a child in a classroom with her reading or numbers, or helped feed a young boy in his wheelchair, or doing whatever was necessary. I loved it all.
All the same, finding assignments wasn’t easy. I spent hours surfing the web. Often, I got only three hours of work, maybe six on a really good day. I’d spend four hours daily travelling by bus to and from a school, earning less than $100 for six hours of work. There were days when I couldn’t find any assignments.
Soon I realized this job alone would not put food on my table. Please don’t get me wrong. I love my work. These children remind me to be grateful for all the blessings I have: a normal life, a healthy body and sound mind, education, and most of all, the opportunity to work. For me, work is prayer.
Then one fine morning, I received an email from the Connector Program asking me to contact Halifax Magazine editor Trevor Adams. (This Halifax Partnership program helps newcomers to the city connect with long-time residents to build their professional networks). I jumped at the opportunity and I’m happy to say meeting Trevor was one of the nicest things that has happened since I came to Halifax. It was he who suggested I write about my experience in Halifax as a newcomer.
Despite the difficulties, I appreciate being in Canada and having my family together. I am grateful for the few friends I have made, who are helping me to find my feet in this new country. The natural beauty of the land and the changing seasons fascinate me. Fall is my favourite season with its myriad colors. The clean air, an orderly life, adherence to rules and the freedom to move around are some of the benefits I enjoy here.
Often I think of all the immigrants who are struggling to make a living here, just as I am. I can empathize with them and what I have to say to them is, in Robert Browning’s words, “The best is yet to be…” So, take heart, keep up your efforts, better days are coming.