The story that brought me to Alberta

Travel   /  

* This chapter, Canadian Experience, written by Mansoor Ladha
appeared in the book, “The Story That Brought Me Here,” edited by
Linda Goyette and published by Brindle & Glass in 2008.

I looked out of the window on a stormy, wintry night. The snow was blowing on the empty street ahead. Our street, called Christmas Lane every year, was decorated with bright-coloured lights and decorations. Every mid-November, our neighbour Greg, dubbed the self-styled Santa, eagerly took it upon himself to remind everyone on the street that it was time to decorate for the festive season. He couldn’t care about the mounting power bills, or that some seniors couldn’t afford to light up so soon, or that some us were Muslims and so Christmas had no religious significance to us.  “When in Rome, do as the Romans do,” I told my family. So in the spirit of good neighbourliness and in the spirit of Xmas, I would religiously – no pun intended –decorate my home. After all, we Muslims do not want more trouble than we already have. Those terrorists have spoiled our names and our religion enough and I didn’t want to create another international incident! I recall our first Christmas in Canada in 1973. We were called new Canadians then instead of Pakis. It was a proud label. “I am a new Canadian from Tanzania,” I used to proudly tell everyone in the office. Every immigrant seeking a job in Canada has been asked at least once whether he has had Canadian experience or not. In the 70s, it used to be standard question that every
employer used to ask in an interview. This is one commodity –Canadian Experience – that big box stores should consider selling so that poor immigrants can go and buy as soon as they enter the country. Apparently, there is a huge demand for it. During those earlier days of settlement, we new immigrants would all meet in the
evenings, have coffee and exchange our stories and find out if anyone was lucky enough to get a job without Canadian experience. No such luck. Were employers bringing Canadian experience as an excuse to bar coloured immigrants out of jobs? I didn’t believe so until I became a victim of Canadian experience myself. We arrived in our first port of call in Canada, Toronto, with only $1,000 with which to make a new beginning in our new country and with high hopes to build a great future. We were among thousands of Asians from East African countries of Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya, who were forced out of newly independent countries for simply being what we were –African-born but of Asian ancestry. We were loyal to African
countries of our birth, but as it happened in Uganda, dictator Idi Amin, creating an international outcry, which later on culminated in the largest Asian exodus that the world had ever seen, expelled Asians overnight. Canada, among other countries, took 6,000
Asians from Uganda.

In neighbouring Tanzania, Julius Nyerere had embarked upon an aggressive policy of socialism and had nationalized banks, import-export businesses and properties, which had greatly affected Asians, who were the business class. In Kenya, the Asians were also
anxious to leave as majority of them were British passport holders and they were trying to get into United Kingdom before it closed its doors to non-white immigrants. Amin’s expulsion of Asians gave an added impetus to Asians to leave Africa as they started
mistrusting African leaders and it also acted as a wake-up call for them to leave. Hence most Asian families started sending their professional children abroad.

Armed with seven years of senior editorial experience and British journalism training, I arrived in Toronto thinking getting a job would be easy. I was wrong. I went to see the managing editor of one of the dailies. Instead of looking at my resume, he chastised me
for having the audacity to have the aspirations of seeking a job on one of the “best” newspapers in Canada. He advised I would have to work on “one of the smaller weeklies” as a start because I didn’t have “Canadian experience.”
I was shocked to hear this. My experience and my training were considered to be worthless. I threw him a challenge. Admittedly I lacked the so-called Canadian experience (whatever that meant), but I was prepared to work, as a copy editor for a month free of charge and after one month all he would have to do was to tell me to go
away, and I won’t question his decision. What I had was journalism experience and that copy editing and layout skills were universal; and that was what I had been doing on English language newspapers in Dar es Salaam and Nairobi, and I begged him to at least
give me a chance. I also mentioned to him that a British colleague of mine, who was copy editor with me on the Daily Nation in Nairobi, had been hired by the paper without Canadian experience! Needless to say, I didn’t get the job. Fortunately, my wife was lucky and she
found a position a week after our arrival. Adjusting to life in Canada was not easy. We had come from a servant-oriented society,
where yes-Bwana (Sir), yes-Mama (Madam), was the order of the day. We had a servant, Juma, who also doubled as a cook, which was unusual, while our son had a fulltime nanny, Elizabeth.

As a features editor of the leading English daily, I was considered senior staff and had the privilege of having a company-provided two-bedroom fully furnished flat (sorry apartment), right in front of the Indian Ocean in a former European-only area. One of the fruits of Uhuru (independence) that we ex-colonized folks received.

In Canada, the wife became the bread earner, reversing the traditional role. Washing dishes, doing the laundry, cleaning the house, and picking and dropping Hanif from the day care became my chores as Mr. Mom. When Hanif did his first “big job” in Toronto,
we didn’t know what to do as we had never done the “operation”. We had to toss a coin to determine who was going to clean him!


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