“Welcome to Canada” the large words surrounded by hundreds of maple leaves read as my daughter, my mother and I walked down the arrivals passage at Calgary International Airport. It had been a 29 hour journey but we had made it to Calgary all the way from Johannesburg, South Africa. It was the first few steps into our new lives as our tickets were one way and almost everything we owned was in 6 suitcases (full disclosure there were a few trunks coming with sentimental items unaccompanied and I do have a tiny storage unit filled with photo albums and typewriters). We had sold all the furniture and household items, thrown out many clothes, and basically kept just what we needed at the time and a few sentimental items plus NM’s push bike.
NM and I made our way through Immigration and suddenly it was official. We are Canadian Immigrants. My mom is here on a tourist visa but we are working on having her become a permanent resident too. It just takes some time and I need to be settled and earning but we will make it happen. We collected all our luggage and my cousin and her husband met us when we went through Customs. It was so incredible and comforting to know we had a loving home to go to for our first few days. Fortunately he drove a very large Dodge Ram truck (massive compared to the trucks, known as Bakkies, in South Africa) which was great as we had 6 check in bags and 2 items of carry on luggage each.
The next few days my cousin helped us with all our admin, such as obtaining social insurance numbers and healthcare. She was amazing and I would not have been able to do it all so effectively and without anxiety if it was not for her (also their dog Dozi was super cute). They were also kind enough to let me use their truck so that I could start looking for a car to buy and a home to rent. NM, my mom and I started exploring Calgary and surrounds and we started adjusting to the way of life here in Canada. Fortunately I was used to driving on the right side of the road and I did know some of the store brands and way of doing things (like pumping your own gas which we do not do in South Africa). My mom in fact thought it so novel that I had to pump my own gas that she filmed me doing it for the first time. I felt like a teenager groaning ‘Mom! Don’t film me’. I had to remind myself that although I was used to North America this was her first time ever in Canada and the last time she was in the USA was in the 90s when we went to DisneyWorld.
Within two weeks we achieved a great deal. I found a car to buy, a 75th Anniversary Jeep Cherokee. I love American car brands and I have always wanted another Jeep. I had my heart set on a Wrangler but the Cherokee makes sense for now and for having a toddler and economically and cost wise etc. However one day I will have my Wrangler and I will take it up a mountain. The Cherokee is also a 4×4 which is great for the winter weather here which despite everyone warning me about I am actually looking forward too. We also drove around and viewed a number of Calgary suburbs and small towns. In my previous post I wrote about believing that when I found the right place I would just know it. We went through some beautiful places and some busy, congested places, and even some remote places however when I drove down into Okotoks I knew this town was it.
Finding a rental was tricky as the dogs were flying in at the end of May so we needed something we could move into at the beginning of June. It was already 16 May. Yet again though the universe was on our side. I was sitting on a play set in Okotoks Googling frantically whilst my daughter was playing. A home popped up with 3 bedrooms, willing to take dogs and just within our budget and I immediately called the number. The next day we went to view the house and it was perfect for us and our fresh start. NM loved it so much that she decided to run up and slide down the stairs numerous times and asked if we could stay. We applied to rent the house and the landlord found this blog during a background check and they agree for us to rent the house in order for us to get our fresh start after reading about my journey.
Car- check. House – check. Furniture – none.
Once the house was secured I felt more at ease when we left on our RV road trip from Calgary to Vancouver across the Rockies. I will do my best to describe the beauty of the landscapes that we drove through and the itinerary of the trip in another post as it will just make this one far too long. Needless to say we had a wonderful road trip and the dogs arrived safely and we made it back to Okotoks the morning of June 2 to take possession of our new home. Here again I need to honestly say, God bless the people in my life.
The day before we arrived home a good friend, and fellow South African, living in Okotoks collected my house keys from the landlord and opened for the mattress company to deliver the mattresses we would sleep on when we arrived on the Saturday. It would be all we had other than our suitcases. It was part of the adventure and I pictured indoor picnics on the floor in the lounge using plastic cutlery and paper plates until we kitted ourselves out. However when we arrived on the Saturday we found a dining room table, pots, crockery, silverware, chairs, food in the fridge, toilet paper, toothbrushes, basic items and even toys for NM. I was overwhelmed by the generosity of my friend and other people I had not met yet.
That night I went to bed with joy on my heart for we finally had a place we could settle in and call home for now. It was the beginning of our new life and adventures. I could not wait to explore our new town and new country as a resident, officially as I had signed the lease on a house.
The next few weeks were busy and wonderful as we started buying some necessities and getting to know Okotoks. Within a few days we already knew our neighbours and NM had already made a friend down the road. We were invited by these friends to watch the Okotoks Annual Parade and I was completely overwhelmed yet again by the sense of community. I met some wonderful other people and I had such peace in my heart that this is where we needed to be. Again I am so blessed by the people in my life. My landlord’s wife read my story and decided to help us as well. We received an outpouring of home items from them and from their friends to help us get started. From TVs to sofa chairs to kids clothing to kettles and so much more. The community, again, has blown me away. I signed up for all manner of social media groups, said yes to most invitations and literally started introducing myself to people, especially other moms and I have met some amazing women in this town who inspire me.
The next few weeks resulted in numerous trips to IKEA and to many other recommended furniture stores and grocery stores to get what we needed. I can honestly say now that I am a professional at putting together furniture. We still do not have everything needed to fill a home comfortably but we have enough to feel as if it is our home. In the effort to try to figure out how I will make an income here, I have been researching many an avenue. Again I believe the right opportunity will come along (although part of this has already as I have mentioned in a previous post). I count my blessings that the sale of my house and most of what I owned have helped me to be able to have some time to figure it out.
NM also started to attend a Day Home where she gets to play with children and to prepare her for starting pre school in the Fall. It also gives me time to work and gives my mom a break (she helps me a great deal with NM but let us face it, toddlers can be exhausting). We have a play set about 100m from our back yard so we regularly make our way down. We also have too many activities to choose from both during the week and on the weekend for children. NM has started some Karate and Pony Play on a ranch just outside of town and when school starts she will start swimming and ballet too and I am hoping that we both learn to ice skate and snowboard too.
We began enjoying the Canadian summer and realized how outdoorsy and active Canadians are. They truly make the most of great weather. Unfortunately though we all came down with a summer cold and spent some time just relaxing in our home and recovering. Then an opportunity came up for NM and me to travel to the USA. In hindsight now I think this post should probably have been titled ‘100 days of being Canadian residents’ as we actually spent two weeks in the USA. It was an awesome trip and I could not believe that Nashville was just a three and a half hour flight away. We also drove up to Ohio as well but that is for another post. Despite enjoying ourselves so much I could not wait to get home to Canada. To Okotoks.
It was good to be home and I absolutely loved that the Border Officer at the airport looked at our resident cards and then said “Welcome home”. I breathed in the Canada air and for the first time in a long time I really did feel at home. We went for a walk the next day and discovered that someone had put a Free Little Library just opposite our back yard. I love this concept and it is testament to the type of community and town we live in. I love that I pop across the path and pick a book for myself to read this week and NM loves picking out kids books to read. We have put some books in their too as the whole concept is to take one, leave one.
We just finished another wonderful weekend where we were spoilt for choice. Today we could choose between a county fair, a heritage rodeo and a classic car show. I was hesitant for the car show as it was something that I always loved to do in my past life. However I decided to take Nova-Mae to the car show and to talk to her about her father and his love for the classics despite how painful it was for me because I knew he would have loved it. We had a great time none the less and I made yet another friend whose young boys had fun jumping from the low walls of the town square.
Today I looked at my calendar to plan my week and I realized we arrived in Canada 100 days ago. 100 days of feeling like I belong again. 100 days of exploration and adventure. 100 days of getting that fresh start going. 100 days of knowing that I made the right choice. And lastly 100 days of true freedom. Freedom I wanted for my family. Freedom that I never knew could be so sweet.