I spent my first Canadian winter in home-confinement. I had never experienced snow or lived in extreme winter conditions before. Snow had merely been a childhood fantasy, picked up from Russian fairy-tales.
My husband was transferred to Calgary, a booming oil-city in Western Canada by his company in Singapore. He started working almost immediately and my son’s school opened after Christmas holidays. Soon after our arrival in Canada, they both rolled out to active lives. I felt terribly lonely with an awkward emptiness deep in my heart. There was a profound stillness all around the house. I was missing Singapore’s vibrant city-life and a busy professional career, although often cursed it because of long work hours. I longed for eating at street hawker centers, going out to jam-packed shopping malls and I was desperate to sweat under the sizzling tropical sun.
Winter arrived late that year and our shipment from Singapore was held at a Canadian port for long, so we didn’t have any personal belongings like framed photos or other items to transform the new house to our comfort home. This new journey appeared to be “alien” in which I almost stopped living and breathing.
A steep learning curve was waiting for us. One day, I was chatting with my mom over the phone. She asked me, “How’s weather like?”
“Today is minus 28 C, mom.”
She was terrified and became absolutely speechless. The coldest nights in Kolkata, an Eastern city in India where my parents live can only be plus 10 C. Since then, she has never asked me about Calgary weather. Perhaps, too much to digest!
By mid-January, snowfall became heavy, days were short, dark and gloomy. It was difficult and often dangerous to walk out of the house because of thick accumulation of snow at our doorstep. One could easily slip on black ice and break bones. We learnt intricacies of snow shoveling as demonstrated by our kind neighbors and in a quick succession bought all sorts of gears – minus 30-brave-jackets and thickly padded tucks, mittens, snow pants.
Winter was as dragging on as a chewing gum that got stuck in the mouth. In late-March, there was a heavy snow blizzard which lasted for two days and held us hostages. The main door was completely blocked by about a human-height snow. That was quite a panic situation! We didn’t have sufficient food and would not have survived longer with a little kid. We thought the city service would rescue us as it happens in India during natural calamities. But, this type of snowfall is normal to Canadian life. Ultimately, Mark, our neighbor became the snow-angel and blew off the snow. Immediately, we rushed to the Safeway and bought cartons of fresh milk, dozens of eggs and bags of frozen vegetables.
We had only one car which my husband would take to work. Calgary is designed to drive to work and play and do the other essentials. It’s challenging to survive here if you do not know how to drive. On top of being a good housewife, I also needed to acquire another new skill. Is it fair? With deep frustration, I thought that it would be better if the first settlers never arrived in Canada. We would then not follow their footsteps.
Actually, I completely forgot that we chose to immigrate to Canada and were not sent to an exile!
Mark and Sally, our next-door neighbor, overwhelmingly extended help and support to get us acclimatized in Calgary. They invited Akash, my 5-year old son to play with their kids almost every evening after supper. Also, I used to go over to their home for coffee chats. Both of us were in a desperate need for friends, when my husband was busy adjusting to a different work culture. Children usually adapt to changes faster than adults because they do not have much baggage to tightly hold onto; and their needs are rather simple. Among the three of us, Akash was pretty fast to pick up local life. He started sledging downhill, making snowmen and having fun with kids. He fell in love with Calgary’s winter.
Finally, spring arrived following four months of bitter cold. What a great respite! After prolonged hibernation, I started to explore our beautiful neighborhood and was fully immersed in spring’s magic. With a childlike joy, I discovered how the nature was awakening: leaves emerging from bare branches, brown grass turning green, and birds returning home from their migration. With pollen from poplar trees drifting in the air, the whole neighborhood smelled so fresh and alive. Like a hot and fresh-out-of-oven bun. One fine morning, beautiful purple wild flowers bloomed in our backyard, marking nature’s resiliency and celebration.
People started to come out of their nests in spring-perfect purple-pink attires. By then, I made couple more new friends in the neighborhood. Safeway, the grocery store across the street no longer seemed to be miles away.
I was finally at home.
– By Kakali Majumdar, for IWI*
About IWIite Kakali Majumdar
Kakali Majumdar works as a Research Manager at a national health charity in Calgary, Canada. She has a strong science background and extensive experience in both business and science writing. She has a Master’s degree in Botany from the University of Calcutta.
Kakali is a passionate creative writer and has published both travelogues and short stories in well-known Bengali magazines including Desh, Bartaman and Banglalive.com. She loves traveling and experiencing diversity in nature, art, culture and meeting new people. She is a life-long learner and believes that life is full of possibilities.
*If you wish to write for IWI, head to our submissions page.