One of my favorite questions to ask visitors here at the museum is “what made you leave your home and decide to come to Canada?” Some respond that it is for new opportunities, to improve their living conditions, to flee war, for better jobs, safety, adventure and love.
My story is not unlike theirs. It all began when I decided to marry someone from my hometown, someone I’d known since I was five years old. After I made the decision, I told my family that I would be leaving home. My mother looked at me - she was in tears.
“Do you know where Canada is? How long do you think it will take you to come back home?”
I replied, “I know it is very far but I will come back to visit at least once year “(I was wrong).
On October 7 2007, I left my home country of Burundi. It was my first time flying.
Luckily, during the first flight from Bujumbura to Ethiopia, a relative who was going to Nairobi, Kenya accompanied me.
He showed me how to check my luggage, go through security and find the gate. From there I felt that I was an expert traveler (I wasn’t, really!). My arrival at Charles de Gaulle airport in France was an adventure. I took the wrong bus to go to my terminal. Fortunately, I was in France and I could understand the language.
Language would later be a challenge for me, however, since I could not speak English.
From France to Toronto, the trip was fine except that I was confused when I saw people checking in by machine. I thought to myself, “How am I going to ask for help? I can’t speak English.” I waited for few minutes and heard an airport agent speaking in French on the intercom.
“Where is the French guy?” I asked the person in line in front of me, instead of asking how I could find somebody who spoke French.
“Which French guy?” he replied.
I didn’t want to continue the conversation because my English was not good enough. To make things worse, I had promised my husband that I would call him after I landed in Toronto without realizing that I would need Canadian coins to use a pay phone. I had 50 American dollars in my pocket, but searching for the currency exchange kiosk was beyond me after such a long journey.
Finally, I got on my last plane from Toronto to Halifax. It was delayed for two hours. I landed at the Halifax airport at midnight. My husband was there with three other friends who’d come along to greet me at the airport.
I landed in Nova Scotia on Oct 9th, 2007. I found it too cold and didn’t want to go outside.
When I finally did go out, I wore a winter jacket, scarf and carried mittens in my purse. My husband laughed at me saying that people would be able to tell that I wasn’t from Halifax because of the way I was so bundled up in October.
No matter where you are from, many immigrants experience similar things on their immigration journey.
Do you have a story about your immigration journey?
Are you a new immigrant to Canada who came from small country like me?
How was your first experience on the plane or at the airport?
How long did you spend in Canada before going back to your country to visit?