The tumultuous ’80s in South Africa was my childhood. School assemblies that told you what to do if you spotted a landmine, and a poster in every classroom to keep the images fresh in your mind. My sisters and I were rushed to the neighbours once because my mom and dad were in a grocery store that was bombed. It got better, of course, and by 1996 an uncertain peace was in the country. With his early redundancy at his job, his oldest child just out of high school and two more just about to graduate, my dad decided that Canada would hold a more certain future.
The plane landed on May 4, 1997. “Don’t think for a moment it is going to be easy here. It’s like South Africa here too.” That was the warm welcome we received from two South African expats that met us at YVR with Tim Hortons coffee. I am sure they wanted to be kind and prepare us for the hard times that were ahead of us, but it sounded very ominous. This is, after all, a very mosaic culture where people from all over the world come to live together in a new place. What if no one gets along with each other? What if this is just like South Africa? If we could not have black and white people live together in harmony, what are the odds that people from all walks of life could come together? I looked at my tired-eyed family and wondered if they suddenly doubted our decision to immigrate too.
The first family decision we made in our new country was to take a limo instead of two cabs. That did make us all smile a bit. The limo was packed to capacity with heavy suitcases and five tired and nervous people.
“Where are you from?” asked the driver.
“We just moved here from South Africa.” There was a small pause.
“Welcome to Canada! Here no one fights with anyone.”
A nervous laughter filled the limo accompanied by tears. We learned that he was from Israel and had lived here for almost 50 years. His welcome was warmer than the coffee the South Africans gave us. We were positive again about the move and ready to take on the challenges that lay in front of us.
It has been over 20 years since we took that first ride in a limo, and the driver was not exactly accurate. People here do fight with other people. Vegans are constantly telling us that meat is murder, and drivers tell us that the bike lanes are taking away room from cars. 9/11 and the racial climate of Trump also shows us that Canada is not averse to racism. Let us also not forget that just after the wonderful show of the 2010 Olympics, Granville was turned into a disaster zone because the Canucks did not take the cup.
To live in Vancouver means having friends and neighbours from everywhere. To live in Vancouver means that you ask and get asked the question “Where are you from?” more than “What do you do?” To live in Vancouver means that people have different points of views. To live in Vancouver is to know warmth and politeness. To live in Vancouver means that yes, there are problems we need to face, but to live in Vancouver means that it is a civil discussion with the hope that we can elevate our community even higher.