We arrived in Canada on March 9, 1996. Stepping off the plane, we were tired and in a state of trepidation, not knowing what to expect at the immigration counters, customs and all that awaited us beyond the airport portals.
Our first interactions in Canada were a great start, as the Canadians we met were pleasant and reassuring. We were treated respectfully in a friendly and polite manner by people and officials whom we encountered on arrival. There were no overzealous porters that we had to protect our baggage from, or haggle with over the portage charge. There were no jostling crowds at the carousels or later, in the line-ups for immigration clearance. We spent some time with the customs officials, who patiently explained things to help with the clearance of our personal effects. Then, with a “Welcome to Canada” pronouncement by attending officials, we walked through the doors and into our new country and soon to be home!
A friend in Bahrain had requested his Canadian business partner to arrange short-term accommodation for us. We came out of the customs area to see this “big” (according to our standards) genial guy holding a placard with my name. It was a relief to see a smiling, welcoming face. “E” shook our hands in turn and then gave each of us a hug; this familiar Indian greeting style provided comfort just when it was least expected but needed most. After the initial introductions and pleasantries, eyeing the eight oversized suitcases and our handbags he exclaimed, “Oh boy, oh boy, that’s a lot of baggage you have there!” He then noticed that we were wearing sweaters and said, “You have no jackets? I should have got jackets and mittens for you guys. You must have asked your family in the US for this stuff, because I had received a large package from the US for you a couple of days ago. I left the package at the service apartment, thinking you would not need it until later!” He asked us to wait inside while he went to fetch the car and turned the heat on. He also arranged a cab, loaded all our baggage with the help of the cab driver into the two vehicles, refusing to have us step out until we were ready to drive away.
I remember that it was a cold, snowy evening with the temperature hovering around -15 degrees C. We had arrived from Bahrain where the temperature was in the 30+ degrees Celsius range. My wife and kids rode in E’s car while I followed them in the cab. The cab driver had been given the destination address but I panicked when E’s car could not be seen ahead. I also thought that like cabbies everywhere, this one would take a longer route to hike up his billing! The cab driver proved me wrong and we pulled up outside the condo building just as E and my family were alighting. Our new friend E had called ahead and his wife MA and her friend were waiting for us. The two ladies efficiently helped move bag and baggage up to our first temporary home in Canada.
We spent some time getting better acquainted, assisted by generous helpings of scotch from the Duty-Free shop. E and MA had filled the fridge up with essentials and organized other groceries, including some provisions from the local Indian grocery store that they thought would be needed for our cooking! Later that month E helped us find, negotiate and move into our first home in Canada and we still reside there over two decades later.
We are truly blessed. All I have to do is remain mindful and express my gratitude.
“Yahaa.n se raastaa ko.ii kissii jaanib nahii.n jaataa
yahii.n se ik safar kii ibtidaa hone hii vaalii hai”
[From here the path does not proceed in any direction
(But) It is from here only that the origin of one journey is to commence] – Shahzad Ahmad