Away From Home— The Good Bad And Ugly,  HUMA ZAHEER shares her experience of discovering a new world, new people and new challenges away from home

Twenty-three years later, I still have vivid memories of the day I landed in Toronto. It was early evening at the end of March when I arrived at the Toronto Pearson Airport to join my husband. We had gotten married about seven months earlier, and had only spent around a month and a half together before he left for Toronto. He was at the airport with a beautiful bouquet to receive me, along with my in-laws. To say that my emotions were mixed would be an understatement! On the one hand was the pain of leaving behind my loved ones and the only life I had known, and on the other, the excitement of starting a new chapter of my life!

My initial reaction to living in a suburb of Toronto was the thought that this was a land of the dead as no one was seen outside on the streets (it was the end of March and the weather was still pretty cold); all I could see were cars. My first visit to downtown Toronto to see the sights reassured me that this was not the case—Toronto was bustling with people, everyone going somewhere or the other. I enjoyed that visit.

I began to settle in; at the time, my husband and I lived with my in-laws—his parents, brother, brother’s wife and their 11-month-old daughter. They were all very welcoming and warm, and my husband was also very understanding of my emotions, thoughts, and so on. He has been my rock throughout and I feel very blessed in our relationship.

I began looking for work—in journalism, as that was where my work experience had been in India. There were very few opportunities, and the fact that I would have to start from scratch in this field again discouraged me. After a few weeks of looking at and applying for jobs, my husband and I decided to visit the office of the Department of Human Resources and Skills Development Canada (HRSDC). It was in the early days of the internet, so it was difficult to look for jobs online. This office informed me that they would soon be running a government-funded job search workshop for six weeks. I decided to enrol for it, and it was one of the best things I have ever done! The workshop was excellent; the instructors taught me how to modify and tailor my resume for each position, interviewing skills, and so on. While I was there, I got to see job postings for teaching English as a second language at various locations; I had all the qualifications except a certification called TESL (Teaching English as a Second Language). I began to research this certification and decided to enrol in a college for it. I was accepted for the programme, a year-long one at Humber College.

I graduated with the highest overall average and was offered a job at the same college to teach writing courses and grammar. This was the start of my career in Canada. I have moved on since then from teaching to disability management and currently work for the Workplace Safety and

Insurance Board (WSIB) as a Return-to Work Specialist.

Alongside my career, my personal life was also evolving. My husband and I bought a condominium about a year and a half after my arrival here. Our son was born while we were living there. We sold that condo after about two years and bought a home where we lived for about three years. My daughter was born there. We sold that one too, rented for a couple of years and bought a brand new home. We have been in this home for the past 13 years.

It has been quite a journey, and I have enjoyed every moment of it. It was not without its challenges, though. Toronto is largely a very inclusive place; however, there have been times when I have had to face blatant racism/discrimination. I took it in my stride, even feeling sorry for some

ignorant people. However, most of the time, I have felt that I do belong here. There is not a day that goes by when I don’t miss India—the jokes, the fun times with friends and family, the lack of formality when visiting people, but I still feel happy here. All the material things are available here but the love and warmth of our people in India are what I miss sometimes. An occasion, an old picture, the smell of food and spices something or the other brings back fond memories of India. I also miss the days when life was not such a race … I feel a very slight twinge

of regret that my kids won’t get to experience the warmth and informality of the relationships we had in India.

However, I do have to say that this journey has taught me numerous lessons— from managing my day-to-day life to gaining a deeper understanding of people who are of different races, backgrounds, ethnicities, religions, cultures, and so on. I have been very lucky with many people I have come across here—neighbours, co- workers, bosses—and have built many wonderful relationships here. My neighbours belong to various countries and backgrounds—Dutch, Peruvian, Italian, Canadian, Cameroonian, El Salvadorean, and I could go on. From each one, I have learnt something or the other—their customs, family values, cuisine, and the like. Our children have grown up together and have built strong bonds of friendship. They are immensely respectful of us, our culture and religion; our first gift at the start of Ramadan came from my Dutch neighbour—a beautiful box of dates and a bottle of Rooh Afza. This reminded me of my days in India, when the first guest at our home on Eid was my Hindu boss.

My children are now 20 and 16 years old and are starting to find their own ways forward. I am looking forward to seeing how their journey goes and where life takes them. As for me, at the end of the day, I am content with how my life has unfolded in Canada and I would not change a single thing! Every experience—good, bad, ugly, difficult—has helped me become a slightly better version of myself and I commit to making every effort to better myself.

I am Huma Zaheer. I was born Huma Moinuddin, and grew up in Hyderabad, India. I completed most of my education there, and worked for The New Indian Express for about five years before coming to Canada in 1999. I have resided here in the suburbs of Toronto ever since. I feel privileged to have been able to experience life in two countries!



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Notes: apart from title change, the article has remained the same.


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