What is Canada like?
I’m prepared to receive this question multiple times on my next visit to Nepal. As a short answer, I would say Canada is a diverse country with so many opportunities to become the person you want to see yourself being in the future. But answering with that would mean that my parents sacrificed everything and came across the world just for me to shove a few words in everyone’s faces and walk away.
I think a lot of people ask this question out of genuine curiosity but maybe even as a bit of a test. I find that many adults in my life have this belief that once young immigrants like myself have been integrated into the Western culture, we prefer the Western ways, customs, food, and languages over those of our ethnic origin. This could not be more false.
I love Nepal with all my heart. I lived in Nepal for the first five years of my life, and as much as I am grateful to be in Canada, Nepal just feels like home. Living in Canada, I am still very much a Nepali girl. I would take momos and selroti over pizzas and burgers any day. Anytime I smell smoke, my mind goes to Nepali rural villages instead of the campfires we sit around when we are out camping. Drinking chai, especially with a few drops of lime, brings me more joy than any Early Grey or Green Tea would. The air, people, food, culture, and many more aspects of my beautiful homeland give me a different kind of satisfaction and that is so special to feel that going to any other countries or adapting any other cultures apparently will fail to provide it to me. Again, I love my prestigious Canadian life but when it comes time for me to start pushing 70 years old, I will be letting my dementia-infested mind wander through the streets of Katmandu.
Before retirement, however, I adore Canada quite a bit. I remember being five years old and so nervous to leave my beloved grandparents, my uncles, who I would climb on every chance I got, and my aunt who was my best friend. At the time, the only positive thing for a five-year-old who was leaving everything she has ever known was the excitement of seeing her dad who would send her jello cups and granola bars from Toronto every couple of months and Skype her every couple of weeks to Kathmandu. Little did she know, Canada had so much more planned for her than just her dad’s red “Canadian rice” the day she landed when she was terribly jetlagged and nauseous from airplane food, and all she craved was white, plain rice.
Sometime between first and third grade, we learned about Canada’s diversity in social studies. Reading about it in books and being quizzed on it was one kind of learning and understanding about the different groups present in Canada but I truly understood what diversity meant in fourth grade when I walked into my elementary school and saw more liveliness in the atmosphere than I ever had. It was Multicultural Day and everywhere I looked, I saw a different outfit or accessory I had never seen before. One outfit was made out of feathers, another outfit was covered in swirls and polka dots; my favorite was the Cheongsam a Grade six teacher was wearing. Traditional food from different countries was set out on tables for everyone to try. Of course, I filled my plate with mini Samosas as that was the only familiar food available, but what more can you expect from a 9-year-old? It amazed me to see that Canada appreciates and celebrates other cultures as much as their own. What surprised me, even more, was that not only did the people of Canada appreciate other cultures, but they also recognized them.
I was waiting in line with a plate in my hand for the sample size food when one of the servers saw the bangles on my wrists and asked what country I was from. I hesitated at first because, as most immigrant kids feel when they are new to a country, I wanted to fit in with the white people. I eventually told her I was from Nepal after stalling for a few seconds and her response shocked me. She told me that I should’ve brought dal bhat (lentil curry and boiled rice) to serve to everyone and how her trip to Nepal a few years back has pulled her to keep going back for the sole purpose of indulging in the chicken momos (Nepali dumplings) served on the side of the road. I was flabbergasted, to say the least. After I got my food, we sat and talked about my life in Nepal and the experiences she had, going every year. She talked about the monkeys in the temples would steal her food and sometimes her purse, driving her to start wearing fanny packs. She told me about how she tried Lakhamari at a street vendor and fell in love so much that she ate it every day for a week. I told her about my experiences living in Kathmandu like when there would be street parades or Holi celebrations and my relationship with my aunt being crammed up in an apartment way too small for three people. This conversation that led to a “life-changing” discovery had me moving forward with the mindset that it was an honor to say I was from a country full of rich culture, food, and traditions instead of feeling as if I wasn’t Western enough. This was the first time I realized the true diversity of Canada and my eyes opened to a broader world. It was astonishing to me that people in Canada knew Nepal enough to point out many of its national dishes. Since then, I have met many people who have visited Nepal, lived in Nepal, taught in Nepal, and even grew up in Nepal and each of their stories amazes me to this day.
I just turned 16 a couple of weeks ago and I have been practicing to drive for the past 2 years. I haven’t gotten as much driving as I would like, however, because my dad doesn’t trust me with his big car and the only time my mom’s small car is available is in the mornings. Too bad for me, I value my sleep a little too much. But when I do get the chance to drive, I continue to see multiculturalism in my city in my everyday life, far beyond just one day dedicated to it. I drive past Christian churches on Sunday mornings to see people entering the church for their weekly visits and parks where Christian weddings are taking place. I drive past Hindu temples, watching the ladies in saris and kurtas (traditional clothing) entering the Mandir (Hindu temple) to pray and listen to bhajans (hymns). I drive past people entering Mosques to worship their gods. My favorite is the Indigenous celebrations I see where people are participating in Powwows, which, I can tell, seems to also amaze my sister as much as me when she can sit and watch them sing and dance for hours.
All these opportunities to stay connected to your background and there is still doubt on whether or not we have forgotten where we came from. To be honest, I don’t go to temples very often but that doesn’t mean I don’t value religion and culture just as much. There are so many opportunities I have here to stay connected to my ethnic origin by participating in traditional festivals, for example. Or volunteering at the Nepal stand at the Heritage Festival or going to Nepali gatherings and engaging with my Nepali friends and elders or setting up a stand on multicultural days.
Being in Canada, I am very much tied down to my roots and Canada has given me those opportunities to be a Nepali girl living in Canada, while still being able to soak up its education, healthcare, and natural beauty benefits. Regardless, providing my whole life story for such a simple question for everyone would be unrealistic, and a bit dramatic as if I’m the main character in a film. However, I will land on Nepali dirt a few years from now, prepared with the perfect short-and-sweet answer; Canada is unnecessarily cold!
Aditi is an ‘Honours with Distinction’ Grade eleven student in the prestigious International Baccalaureate High School Programme, in Canada.