Reading about the new Canadian immigration rules reminded me of the time I was a new emigrant and someone “fresh off the boat”.
Four months after I had applied at the Canadian Embassy in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, I got a note saying that I was selected to “land” in Canada and that took my wife and myself by surprise as we were not ready to leave that soon.
We were under the impression that it would take at least a year for our papers to be processed. It was lightning fast compared to the time people were stuck in a limbo in the recent past. It is reported that some applicants have been waiting for more than five years as Canadian Immigration officers were swamped by the large numbers wanting to get in.
The reason why everyone wants to go to Canada is that it is very easy to migrate there, compared to migrating to China or India, as someone said.
We asked for an extension for the time to land and a lady at the consular services heard our pleas and gave us a new date. “If you don’t land by this date, you will have to apply again,” she said cheerfully.
When we landed in Toronto it was nothing as dramatic as what Hollywood thinks immigration is all about. It is exciting, it is stressful, but we were not herded into a vast aircraft hanger and into a long line and fumigated.
Instead, a nice Canadian-Chinese woman called us into a cubicle and asked us a couple of questions and then wanted to know how much money I had brought with me.
I think my parents had instilled in me some sort of phobia about money. So I was not sure whether I should lie or tell the exact amount I had with me. The fear won and I lied. “It’s in Traveler’s Cheques,” I added.
She looked up from our papers and asked: “How long do you plan to stay here?” I then realised I had said the wrong amount and quickly added that I would be sending for more money from my bank. She asked our big-mouthed son some questions and I guessed she was trying to find out if we intended to stay or land and then leave.
Many “Gulfies” had planned to do just that since they did not wish to leave their cushy jobs back where they came from. The Canadian passport was just another option for them in their career path.
When we finally found an apartment and looked around, I realised that everything was just like the place we had left behind. There was a Pakistani grocery next door that was selling samosas, kachori and halal meat.
Our taxi driver was a Sardarji who said that life was good there and asked whether I would be driving a taxi initially. He took us to an Indian store that smelt just like home and had a magazine called ‘Desi’ (a native of India) on its newsstands.
By chance we found an apartment in a building that was full of new immigrants from the Gulf states. For the first couple of weeks, we ran down 15 floors every time the fire alarm went off. Then everyone realised it was their cooking that was setting it off.
Once when my wife started frying papadams, I stood on the chair and fanned the smoke away from the alarm. I warned her that she should never fry fish or we would kill the kindly, elderly Polish couple next door with the smell.
Living in that apartment building was like living in a district in Riyadh and I wondered whether it was a good idea to have travelled thousands of miles to a new place and have spent so much money if nothing really has changed.