Life in Canada teaches—even forces—you to work. I don’t mean money-earning work, but those daily life-sustaining mundane tasks. Cooking, for example. Or doing the laundry. Or driving. Back in the Philippines, we could afford to pay labourers for most everything. Here, you learn to do things yourself. Can’t be sitting pretty.
When we were new in Canada, I used to go to the laundromat and see all kinds of people loading, unloading, folding clothes. Young, old, male, female, of various ethnicities. What often caught my attention were men doing their laundry like it was nothing. That was new to me. Where I came from, doing the laundry was the women’s turf. Men who did it on a regular basis were perceived as henpecked husbands or not macho or simply unfortunate. That was then. I’m not sure if things have changed… Here, this task is for everyone. In our home, everyone, including Markus, does his own laundry. It helps, of course, that there are washing machines and dryers.
Cooking is another thing you have to learn here. Filipinos love to eat. In every gathering, you can expect to see good food and not just salads and pastries or simple western food. We serve lots of meat and vegetable dishes that require a lot of preparation. What I find very interesting is that many of us, ladies included, learned to cook these wonderful Filipino and international dishes only in Canada. I am always delighted to see men—Pinoys, Caucasians, and other nationalities—cooking and even sharing recipes.
My boys are slowly finding their way in the kitchen. Gino once told me that he wants to learn to cook before moving to the dorm later. He sometimes experiments in the kitchen. Mick, having worked at Swiss Chalet and now at Church’s Chicken, tells me how simple it is to do this or that. Gabriel and Markus occasionally volunteer to help me in the kitchen. They can prepare simple things, those they like to eat.
One other skill that is indispensible here is driving. I only learned to drive in Canada. I took lessons back home, but did not really have the need to drive there. In the Philippines, public transport was round-the-clock, and there was the ubiquitous tricycle that took you to your doorstep. Here, buses have routes and schedules. You miss it, you wait another 15 or 30 minutes for the next one. So I had to learn to drive to gain mobility. After that, it took me perhaps another year to have the courage to fill up my own gas. I had an irrational fear of gassing up. I am over that fear now. No more imagined explosions at the gas pump.
Life in Canada has taught me other practical skills. These are the less basic ones that are often left to the male counterparts or to the professionals. Car maintenance, for instance. It was only last year when I took responsibility for my car maintenance. I am more knowledgeable and confident now than I was last year. Less intimidated too by auto shop people. I can look for replacement parts at the wrecker’s, or go aisle to aisle at the auto centre without feeling dizzy. I am also just starting to wean my car away from the Honda dealership towards cheaper service centers.
Doing simple carpentry and home repairs is another thing I’m learning. It helps and saves you a lot of $ to understand and do these things yourself. I don’t do a great job all the time but I believe my skills are improving with practice and repetition. Besides, I love looking at the fruit of my labour, no matter how amateurish. This summer, I painted and redecorated the washroom upstairs and I am so proud of how it turned out. I also worked on all the upstairs window sills and frames that get neglected and ugly in the winter. With a few tips from my brother-in-law, I replaced the rotten sill in Mickey’s room. I admit, I was just guessing and imagining how this was done and I’m still not sure that I did it right. But the end result looked better. Well, better than rotten.
Because our house was a definite fixer-upper when we bought it, I have learned to repair cabinet doors, fix leaking faucets and broken water closets, replace door knobs and door screens, install blinds and curtain rods, and do other little things we’d call a handyman for in the Philippines. Being a bit of a tightwad, I recycle materials too. I have re-used old wooden bed slats for a shoe rack or for another bed frame. I still salvage screws and odds and ends from broken stuff and keep them for future use. You can check our basement and tool boxes.
Life in Canada has certainly enriched me in practical ways. I have more skills now than I ever had. I’m not saying that I relish the fact that I can’t hire someone else for every odd job, or that I look forward to doing more repairs around the house. You think I don’t miss sitting pretty? On the other hand, I have learned to like studying and trying new things myself.
Here’s an unsolicited advice for those of you who are thinking of migrating and leaving the comforts of home. Acquire as many life skills as you can and practice living without a maid. It will make your transition so much easier and less depressing. I believe taking care of four small boys and being stay-at-home for years, mostly without a househelp, was my best training for Canada. You are your own servant here.