Little things can often create a big confusion for an expat, especially a new immigrant. At no point is this more glaring than in global events.
Who do we cheer for? The country that raised us? The country that fed us? Or the country that would shelter us now on?
It’s hard to choose between nations, each one of which has been nice to you.
While cheering the teams during the London Olympics, we found ourselves jumping to our feet over and over again saluting the TV. Five countries had a special place in our hearts!
Singing the Indian national anthem comes naturally to me. My children who have never really lived in India prefer to root for Indonesia and Thailand. My husband has a soft spot for Hong Kong and Malaysia where he started his expat journey.
Once we decided to move here, all loyalties promptly switched to Canada. I admit it was less to do with patriotism and more to support the nation with the most chances of winning medals. But what the heck! The bonding bug had bitten us. It was time to embrace step-mommy country.
July 1, Canada Day, gave us an opportunity to celebrate this new found affinity. It was just two weeks since we had arrived, so it was more of a forced attempt than waves of smouldering patriotism. However, nothing like a national holiday to get you going. Celebration was in the air. Time to join in!
We hunted out red and white T-shirts from our wardrobe, slapped on maple leaf stickers, gorged on pancakes with maple syrup for good effect and marched out to join the sea of humanity littering the streets.
It was fascinating to see the riot of colours everywhere. Red, white, yellow, brown, black, pink, blue, green, orange…! Mind you, I’m not just talking about painted faces, flying balloons, streamers or even the vibrant outfits here. I’m referring to every nook and corner of this country, especially alive this time of the year – the earth, skies, trees, leaves, fruits, flowers, vegetables, human skin tones, eye hues, contact lenses, false eye lashes, hair dye, wigs, et all.
It was fascinating to see such a diverse, multi-racial mix moving with a united love for their country. It’s unusual to see a nation that celebrates differences. A beautiful blend of hearts, minds and souls unaffected by outward dissimilarities!
Even nature conspired to play along. The hues of summer were everywhere. I could well imagine what autumn and spring would be like, when every leaf, bud and bird competed with each other for attention.
At the celebration venue in the City Centre, a variety of food stalls fringed the bright green field. The colours spilled into the multitude of cuisines around me. Pizzas, burgers, kebabs with hummus, nachos, tortillas, chiros, gelatos, sushis, spring rolls…the diversity all around was a sight to see. Even the mundane corn on the cob was not left behind, flecked with red, brown, purple and orange.
It was all fascinating and…strangely alienating. There was so much I had never seen before despite being so widely traveled. So much I could not relate to. I felt like Alice in Wonderland, in a whole new world that we should feel a part of, but somehow couldn’t.
The country’s maple leaf flag waved to us from everywhere. An unfamiliar tune glided in from one corner. It was an instrumental rendition of “O Canada”, the national anthem, I overheard from a stranger.
Not a wave of patriotism washed through me. Not one tiny ripple. Maybe it would surge forth with our first pay cheque, I reasoned.
A sea of unfamiliar languages, accents, faces, sights and sounds took over my senses. People guffawed over jokes we couldn’t understand. They swooned over rock stars we didn’t recognize. They discussed baseball scores and ice hockey heroes we didn’t know.
Every little ounce of affinity I had mustered up over the last few minutes slowly evaporated. I felt lost and lonely in the midst of the sea of humanity! Was it a big mistake to move here?
And then suddenly, a waft of air floated by, carrying a familiar aroma. I inhaled deeply, infusing my being with the fragrance of roasted cumin and ghee (clarified butter). In a trance, I walked towards the cloud of aromatic smoke that blurred my vision.
The sight before me at the other end made me squeal in delight. There, right in front, was a grand Indian stall offering freshly fried samosas, pakoras, batata vadas (vegetable fritters), tamarind and mint chutneys, hot masala chai (Indian tea), idlis, dosas (steamed rice and lentil dumplings and pancakes) and a host of other snacks and savouries, cooked to perfection. A family of friendly new immigrants from Mumbai manned the stall.
We emptied our wallets on a mixed platter of everything we could grab. Mouth melting laddoos and bhujiyas (sweets and snacks) were packed up to take home! On impulse, I hugged the lovely granny doling out the samosas. She looked shocked at first, then held my hand and smiled, seeming to understand where the sudden display of affection came from. The comfort food before me, served by the grand old lady offered a certain familiarity that quietly washed away the feeling of momentary alienation.
The sun watched me for a while, then slowly sank behind the CN Tower as I happily gorged on the goodies on my plate. The sky switched shades from deep pink to ink blue.
As we wound up to take the subway back to our serviced apartment, I looked at the last bit of my samosa and felt the first flush of feeling at home.
That night, I reminded myself to look up the lyrics of “O Canada”.