Saturday, March 25, 2006

Canada, eh!

“Mom, it’s March 12 today! We’ve been in Canada for eight years,” Gino said excitedly as he rushed downstairs to where I was.

“Oh, yeah!” I replied. I had completely forgotten about it, our Date of Landing, often asked for on official documents. Eight years already! I feel like I’ve been here much longer.

When we decided to migrate to Canada, we conditioned ourselves about it long before we actually left. We knew little of this huge country, so we gathered as much info as we could. I was on the Internet a lot, researching and getting excited. We also asked around from people who had been here.

“You don’t know anyone in Canada?” “You are very brave.” These were the frequent feedback we got from people who seemed amazed that we would leave a thriving business and haul our family to an unknown territory with no one to help us settle. Everyone tried to be supportive and encouraging, but you could sense their concern…or sometimes, doubt.

Who wouldn’t be concerned? We had no jobs waiting, no house to head straight to, no contacts except my parents in Seattle who had not been to Vancouver themselves. We had four small children, the two youngest still bottlefeeding.

Looking back, the only thing bigger than my fear of the unknown was my faith in the God I knew. He will pave the way, He will never leave us or forsake us, He will be before us and behind us. I don’t know how else we could have done what we did without these assurances.

When we arrived at the Vancouver Airport, my parents were there. They were very glad to see us, but my mother was so anxious she was having ulcer problems. They were the primary reason we came to BC in the first place and not to Calgary or PEI.

As planned, we headed straight to the YMCA because our research said that it was the cheapest accommodation in Vancouver. With eight alisbayan boxes, two huge pieces of luggage and several carry-ons, we took two taxis to the Y, unperturbed by the fact that we had made no reservation. This is Canada, and people make reservations and appointments… But it was too late to worry about that.

Thank God there were vacancies and we were accepted at the Y. We got two bedrooms and were allowed to use their storage room to temporarily keep our boxes. We spent the first few hours after arrival walking on the streets of Vancouver and savouring the sights and sounds and smell of fresh cold air. It was not until the next day, Friday, that we started looking for housing ads.

The receptionist at the Y on weekends happened to be a Filipino living in Surrey, our targeted destination only because it was called the City of Parks and was close to the US border. Kuya Leo, as we began calling him, told us of a newly vacated rental house across his place and invited us to check it out. He even contacted the landlord for us. We checked it out, and by Sunday, we were able to move in. Although the house was 50 years old and small, I fell in love with it. It reminded me of TV’s little house on the prairie in a town called Walnut Grove.

Our newfound place was a quaint little house under walnut trees with countless squirrels running up and down. It had a great view of city lights across the Fraser River at night. I didn’t mind that it was probably the oldest, smallest and most unattractive house on the street, I was just glad to have a roof over our heads. That home would become our nest for the next six months.

Kuya Leo, his wife and family became our instant family in Canada. They poured out all the help they could give us, introduced us to other new Filipino immigrants and drove us around. They took good care of us. When they got a new van, they sold us their old 6-seater Cutlass Cierra car for a mere $300 to help us get around. “This will still be good for three years,” Kuya Leo said. Indeed, it was.

As soon as we got a telephone line and directory, I looked for a Christian church. I saw one that had a Filipino sounding pastor and called it immediately. I was right. The Filipino pastor, who knew people we knew in the Philippines, was very eager to meet us and bring us to the service that Sunday. He did this for two more Sundays until we got our car. We were very pleased to find the Filipinos in that church very friendly, hospitable and gracious, I had a culture shock! It was like they were one big family who still held to traditional Filipino values you find in the rural countryside back home.

When some church people found out we had very little furniture and household stuff, they brought us many things. We were gracious to receive them, never mind if it appeared like we were, you know, FOBs. It was good for cultivating humility.

One lady in church had a mother who decided to move in with another daughter. She wanted to give away all her furniture. Did we want them? she asked. We had been sleeping on comforters and racing each other to sit on two chairs at the dining table and one chair in the living room, who wouldn’t want them? With that windfall plus other pieces of furniture given by other people, our house was suddenly full. So what if nothing matched?

In two months, we had a house, a car, a big network of friends and church family, furniture, a living room with a view... The only thing we needed was a job! But this is for another blog…

It was quite an experience settling in Canada. But I will never forget the piece of paper, old and faded, tacked on a kitchen corkboard that greeted us when we first entered our little house ‘neath the walnut trees. Scribbled on it was the verse in Joshua 1:9: “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”

That was the best welcome anyone could have given us.


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