A message from a South African emigrant to my new Canadian hometown.
Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada has been a warm welcome. In fact, the only icy (but magical) welcome was the snowfall on November 12 – the day we landed here. This may sound strange to you, but that was the first time I had experienced snow in my life. You see, I’m from Durban, South Africa, where the average annual temperature is 25°C.
Canadians, you have a beautiful country. But you must surely know that already. British Columbia is, after all, the land of giants. Everything is big. Actually, ‘big’ is a woefully inadequate descriptor. It’s grandly majestic, imposing even. Mother Nature saved her most refined artistry for this land of forests with trees so tall they surely touch heaven. You have rivers, breath-taking waterfalls, turquoise lakes, and mountains that carry your soul to the edge of the world.
We did a whirlwind fact-finding mission to Canada 2.5 years ago – Montreal, Ontario, and BC. Kelowna just felt right. Yet, despite the opportunities we knew Canada would bring, we hadn’t yet made a final emigration decision. Why? Well, because emigrating is both intimidating and complicated. And sad. You’re leaving your roots. Your history. Friends that know all your secrets. Your family (who you’ve definitely kept some of those secrets from!), and local shops where everyone knows your name (now I’m starting to sound like a FRIENDS soundtrack).
It’s saying goodbye to the warm Indian Ocean, world-class game parks, Cape Town and The Big Five. It’s leaving behind the continent of Africa as a whole, which I travelled through during the Put Foot Rally. It’s leaving HOME. It’s ditching lingo endemic to South Africa. No more braai (barbeque), the Ladies (washroom), serviettes (napkins) or robots (traffic lights). No more ‘howzit’ (hello), ‘is-it’ (is that so?) or ‘eish’ (oh, dear!). We’ve been Canadianised already and begun to say things like ‘of course’, ‘sounds good’, ‘puuurfect’ and ‘brutal’ – sound familiar?
When I first hiked through a Vancouver rain forest, I was embarrassing. I oooh-ed and aahhh-ed to such a degree that if Canadians weren’t so polite, I’m sure someone would have pointed out my disturbing of the peace. It was as if the illustrations from a childhood fairytale book had pirouetted off the pages and blanketed my surroundings. I was on the lookout for fairies as much as I was for bears.
We emigrated from South Africa in the year that shall not be named. Emigrating amidst a pandemic exacerbated our sense of isolation. Not only did we not know anyone in Kelowna, but restrictions made it impossible to change that. It was hard. Exceptionally so. Some days I didn’t want to get out of bed. I felt overwhelmed and panicked. What was I thinking uprooting our family and heading to a land we barely knew? I was homesick and battling to put the intensely emotional goodbyes behind me.
It’s seven months later, and I now leap out of bed with zest. People are nice, really nice, so careful not to offend. Yesterday, an old man offered me cherries over his fence as I walked by, and today I was given sunflowers to re-plant in our little garden by another neighbour who came to chat to me about Toby (the Dane). My daughter’s new hairdresser also just swung by to say ‘hi’ yesterday – turns out she lives just up the road too. People ‘pop’ in and pop heads over the low wooden fence just to say: ‘hiya!’. Or simply wave and smile as they stroll by. I love this. It’s kinda ‘old-school’, I suppose. I’ve been made to feel part of the community now. Added bonus: my neighbour is a yoga instructor, so we just get each other. We share flowers, little glass jars of essential oils and wine (all about balance, right?).
Living close to downtown means we can embrace city beats but still escape to mountain treats. There is so much space to breathe here. New adventures and new elation. As I write this, I have The Weeknd playing. Seems I’m proudly Canadian already (although we didn’t have a clue what was going on in the Superbowl). We do rugby (South Africa are the current World Cup Champions), soccer, and cricket in South Africa. But, we’re learning the sports – I even know what a ‘puck’ is.
So, here are the top 10 things I love about Kelowna:
This was the key decider in our decision to emigrate (that, and violent crime). Our children are thriving. Their part-time jobs are mall cleaner, restaurant hostess, and (when Uni is again in-person) a residence advisor – they earn excellent pay for these jobs. They will be able to save for cars and to contribute to their studies – they now have the opportunity to go to world-class universities. Plus, we have also found fantastic work opportunities.
I don’t want to go into detail here. I’ll never bad-mouth the homeland I love. But let’s just say the underlying fear was constant, even if subliminal. We lived behind high walls adorned with electric fencing. Car hijacking was common, as well as violent crime. I don’t wear rose-tinted glasses, and I know and see that crime exists here too. However, relatively speaking, the difference is profound. We feel safe as we walk along the tulip-lined roads, recline in the pristine parks and linger on the beaches even as night falls.
Cars actually stop at zebra crossings (that’s a pedestrian crossing in ‘Canadian’). There are a plethora of cycle lanes allowing for safe exploring. I find the varied modes of transport delightful – skateboards, scooters, bicycles, and things that closely resemble Batmobiles! Seeing everybody out and about on the streets is so uplifting.
3. Pulling over for ambulances.
This gives me goosebumps each and every time. It’s selfless. It’s right. It’s respectful.
4. Hanging flower baskets
These quaint pops of colour energise my soul and bring an instant smile.
5. You can be You.
Almost everything goes here. There’s acceptance. There’s kindness in allowing self-expression.
I do love a tattoo. Or two, or three. So do Canadians. Nice one, kindred spirits.
Perm-like curls to shaggy strands, dogs go everywhere with their broad smiles and wagging tails. It’s delightful eye candy! We’ve just welcomed a 10-week Dane. I created an Instagram page (@tails_of_toby_the_dane) for him so as to showcase all the many dog-related things there are to do in Kelowna. Not only is Toby meeting new dog friends, we’ve begun to meet the human variety too.
8. The seasons.
Distinct seasons mean distinct chapters. The vibrant display of morphing colours has been fascinating to observe. It’s never groundhog day here. We’ve snowboarded (first time in our lives) at Big White, and now we’re tanning on the beaches. We’ve huddled around fires, and now we’re swimming in the lake and applying sunscreen! I also have the excuse to shop for both a winter and summer wardrobe! All that said, the 30-plus temperatures have been sizzling even for a Durbanite. Yes, it may be overkill, but I even added ice blocks to our birdbath! Can’t be having frizzled feathered-friends.
9.The cars. The boats.
It appears that there are summer and winter cars? As the warm rays began to replace snow, convertible sportscars unexpectedly (for us) appeared with their deep roars and sleek lines. Wow! We also stare in awe at the lake dotted with boats and yachts and their summer-loving vibes (and impressive sound systems). Our boat time will come. Maybe even by next Summer. Day at a time as we embrace our new world.
10. There are a fair number of Canadian men that look a lot like they may stepped off the pages of Swagger Magazine. Effortlessly stylish yet rugged getup. Nice one.
There is, however, one thing I REALLY don’t like about Canada. No biltong. I miss biltong. A lot.
When I refer to South Africa I still say ‘home’ – I’m not ready to give that up yet. Probably never will. But, Canada, thank you. You’re the best second home ever!
Let’s just coddiwomple