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  • Writer's pictureAmrita Maharaj-Dube

Moving2Canada Part 1- Learning to trust again

It was the first night of living in my new home in Canada. I stood face-to-face with the front door, staring at its lock. My anxiety-ridden fingers turned the knob until I heard a click. I shook it a few times, trying to simulate a burglar’s ruthless quest to invade. I whispered to its imaginary beating heart - “Please keep us safe. Please.” It said nothing. I ended my fixation, released the handle and began walking away.  I started heading up the stairs to call it a night but my mind drifted to another world - the one that I came from.


Back in Trinidad, the entry door to my house was a metal beast. Weighing over 100 pounds and standing at nine feet tall, it was a welder’s showpiece made from wrought iron. The vertical steel handle was thick and two feet in length. If detached from the door, it could pulverize anything with a single blow. Anything.


This door was an important line of defence in my armoured home - a mystery box of gadgets and inconveniences that allowed its helpless occupants to sleep at night. A blaring house alarm. Security bars bolted over each window, topped off with contact sensors that were easily triggered by a lizard’s stealth movements. The main perimeter wall shielded the house with rows of concrete bricks and metal bars.  Perched atop were security cameras mounted on six-inch poles with painful anti-clime spikes for daring idiots. The rings of red, glowing eyes from the cameras watched every flinch.


Within these walls, my limbs walked freely but my spirit was depressed. I watched holes burn through my wallet as I paid for my peace. I was living on an island under siege - one where criminals wore their brazenness on their sleeves. A small Caribbean nation now had a staggering homicide record of over 500 per year. In 2023, 576 lives were lost.

The evil had morphed into a force that mocked us, the weak ones. Worry seeped into every hair follicle on your body. Some days, the news headlines churned the acid in your stomach that made you vomit fear.

One night, I sat with my newborn daughter in her rocking chair. Fate spoke to me through her small, hopeful eyes. I thought of the women lost to violence. The many gone missing. My career that came with a red, warning label - "This job includes driving home from work events in the early hours of the morning." Trying to stay alert behind the wheel while heavily tinted cars circled my middle-class neighbourhood at night, slowing down, scanning for their next target.


I often checked my rearview mirror before pressing the gate’s remote control to enter the driveway. My husband and I calculated the exact distance where the motor detected the remote’s signal - at least three car lengths in front of the house. You couldn’t fumble in the moment; you had to act with precision. The gate had to be fully opened as soon as the fender was inches away from the driveway’s line. It had to be, or else...


My thoughts drifted deeper into my childhood memories. A village girl who played cricket freely in the streets with cheap rubber flip flops (a Caribbean birthright) until the streetlights flickered at sunset. That was the cue for my mother to shout her marching orders – come home, bathe, eat, and start 'inhaling' the multiplication tables at the back of copybooks. Her voice was the only alarm that mattered in this world.


"Her voice was the only alarm that mattered in this world."

Happiness was the only currency I knew. It manifested in an abundance of family and fearless daily adventures on acres of land surrounding my modest home.

There were no cameras back then. Few had perimeter walls. Crime was a pilfered bucket, chicken or wheelbarrow from a neighbour’s yard. Envy was gazing all day long at your neighbour’s Julie mango tree laden with the succulent fruit. You were policed by religion or an elder’s tongue-lashing. But this life was no more.


My husband and I hid our fears and brokenness, painted brave faces and started to build a new life more than 2500 miles away. I instantly gutted my parents’ only wish - to give their grandchildren love (and cavities). The kind of self-sacrificing love whose language is spoken through homegrown gifts of citrus and plantains from the earth. Discreet runs to the mini-mart for snacks and juice boxes before my kids were returned to their sender (I’d usually find crumpled snack wrappers tumbling in the washing machine).


After two years of planning and wicked pangs of anxiety from the pandemic, we stood in the situation room with four one-way tickets to Toronto Pearson. The timer was set. For hours, my husband and I shouted, sometimes storming out until we did it. We culled a lifetime of material things into 400 pounds of luggage bound for Air Canada. I hated it all. The way we gave each item five seconds to plead its case before making quick-tempered decisions - keep, give away, or dump. It all felt real when the dials of the last TSA lock slid into place.


Our flight and arrival checks were exhausting. Of the many things I remembered, I would never forget the nurse who held a thin, long cotton swab and swirled it inside our six-year-old son’s left nostril. I cringed thinking whether she’d find icky globs of snot - the same ones I found smeared on walls around the house.


For the first 24 hours of living in Canada, our family slogged on with eight suitcases crammed with clothes, documents, and fright. We finally arrived at our Airbnb in Kitchener. My husband and I bundled our two kids inside, stashed our suitcases and immigrant fears under the bed, and half-slept that night.


Two days after settling in, I made the trek to Central Market on King Street for three cans of red beans, some cilantro, and a bag of brown rice. I stepped out in the sub-zero cold with a secret. In more than 20 years, I hadn’t ventured out alone in the dark. Ever.

I passed through the Mt. Hope Cemetery at around 6:30pm. I stopped, tilted my head skyward and stared. The scene was disorienting yet inviting. Towering trees with nimble squirrels darting across the branches. They paused from their giddy play, curious about the pint-sized person watching them. I was enveloped by peaceful graves lined up in tidy rows. Alone, only with stories of the deceased lying in the soil.


I couldn’t tell whether fear was escaping through my pores. Or if my soul had snapped into two halves – one half wanting to sprint back to the Airbnb and cower behind locked doors, the other desperate to revel in the dark. Whatever it was, I started to cry. I walked back to the Airbnb with tears dripping down my clammy cheeks.


From a distance my husband opened the door. He sensed that my cold hands couldn’t grip the handle.


He asked, “so how did it feel?”


A month flew by. We moved to our apartment in Huron Village with views of the Trillium Trail. I started most mornings with soul-cleansing walks around Huron, quickly becoming lost in the natural world. The layers of fear were starting to loosen their grip. My spirit was slowly pulsing back to life. With these new outings came fleeting waves of guilt; guilt because I felt safer. Guilt because I had no more fight left in me and quietly exited the place that moulded me and birthed my dreams. Guilt because relationships and milestone events felt 'reduced' to brief WhatsApp calls on the weekend. 


But then I started rediscovering trust. Trusting the police. Trusting institutions. Trusting that I could call this place home.


The adventure continues…

Photos of us enjoying the great outdoors. I'm learning to allow my children to explore and trust our environment. Grateful for these new adventures.)

(One of my biggest accomplishments since moving to Canada has been going for solo walks. Here's a sign that I used to walk past every morning along the Williamsburg Cemetery in Huron Village, Kitchener.)

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