We who have spent our lives in one place, or have had very limited experience of other places, don’t know what we don’t know, and take what we do know as universal. Of course it’s not like that.
When I went to The Philippines, I had some academic sense of what a ‘third world’ Asian country might be like, even prepared myself for the culture shock I was likely to encounter. And it is culture shock, especially as one moves out of metropolitan Manila to see the Philippines in the towns and villages scattered along all the highways and bi-ways of the country. It is very different from Canada, even rural poor Canada that most Canadians hardly know exists.
But did I consider the reverse reaction Carmen experienced when she came to Canada? Not really.
Carmen’s emerging awareness began of course with our flight to Canada: It’s a long long way to Canada from her part of the world. First the segment from Osaka to Seoul, Korea and a three hour layover in Icheon Airport, then a 14-hour flight from Seoul to Toronto. Carmen had little sense of world geography, and distances. She was fascinated with the flight map on the little monitor on the back of the seat in front of her, watched all the way to Canada between fitful sleeps. Tracing the flight path over the Arctic is fascinating even if you know about the great circle route; it is astounding to think when you are over the Yukon you are still only half way to Toronto.
We arrived in Pearson and faced Canadian Immigration, but a nod and a smile from the Immigration Officer soon gave us to know we had nothing to dread: ‘Welcome to Canada Ma’am; Welcome home Sir.’ We collected our bags, my one and Carmen’s massive two, plus the extra one we had bought in Osaka. I’m sure Carmen had packed half her life into those two suitcases; not surprising really, six months is a long time to stay away from home, and a woman of fashion has many shoes, and bags.
Carmen doesn’t tend to show excitement, thus adding to my lack of insight as to what she was actually experiencing, but I’m sure her mind must have been whirling: she was 12,000 miles away from home, in a vast cold land and no way to get back, totally dependent on me. How brave was that?
We waited for our hotel shuttle in the gray parkade of Terminal 1. It was cool, maybe 2o, and snowing lightly. Ridiculous really for April 29. Carmen was in light clothing – it’s all she had, coming from tropical Philippines – and had covered herself with the flimsy Air Canada sleeping blanket as a shawl. She was shivering, and I suggested to her that she go into the nearby bus shelter with infra-red heaters to keep warm. ‘No,’ she said, ‘I’m Canadian now!’
We spent our first night in Canada at the Airport Radisson where I had left my car for the week, anticipating driving Carmen the last leg to Ottawa. I wanted to give her a sense of the size of Canada, its expansive geography, or at least, Southern Ontario. We set out the next day in my Honda Accord coupe which seemed to impress Ms Espino. (I learned later she knows cars – had her own Accord when she lived high, though mostly was chauffeured in the Mercedes, for security reasons; she likes muscle cars and prefers Mustangs!) The day proved to be gray and cold and dreary. I chose to drive Highway 7 rather than the 401, thinking that a more honest depiction of Canada. I didn’t think we’d see snow on April 30 but Spring was very reluctant in 2019 and snow banks and stubborn drifts in the northern lee of hills harboured remnants of the white stuff. Carmen was thrilled. She was mostly silent the rest of the 5 hour drive to Ottawa but I learned later she was amazed at the wide-shouldered highways, the cleanliness, the open rolling hills, the speed. A road trip in Canada is completely different from driving in the Philippines: even in rural Philippines where there is much less traffic congestion, the roads are nevertheless narrow, no shoulders (bush or shanties right up to the side of the road), and twisting turns, with frequent braking for obstacles and dogs and sudden villages. The drive from Manila to Tacloban, about the same distance as the drive from Toronto to Ottawa, takes about 24 hours!
I wasn’t sure what she expected when we arrived in suburban Kanata and stopped in the driveway of my townhouse. I wasn’t sure myself, as I had not yet come to accept this place as my home. The driveway is not paved with gold but it is substantial – in most places in Philippines, there are no driveways. I smiled to myself as she took all this in. I was eager to show her my place, her home for the next six months. And I was even more eager to see my dogs. Carmen knew about Halle and Bonnie, my Standard Poodles, but seeing them on Skype versus seeing them in person, are not the same. And they are fairly big dogs. And exuberant. I opened the front door and attempted to enter the narrow hallway. They were thrilled to see me – old lame Halle trying to reach me through the whirling dervish daughter Bonnie. Bonnie in her excitement, as is her habit, squatted to pee and I quickly ushered her outside whereupon she soon turned her attention on Carmen, as did Hallelujah. Carmen backed up nervously, hands up. I was surprised at her fear but obviously concerned to rescue her from the over-enthusiastic greeting committee.
These were going to be Carmen’s companions for the next six months, and she must have wondered what she had got herself into.
Just drive carefully along Hwy 7 between Sharbot Lake and Madoc and take note.