“If you move to Canada, you will become a millionaire.”
“Health care is free in Canada.”
“Canada is an amazing multi-cultural country where diversity is embraced.”
These are quotes from my family’s village in Ukraine. Meleshky is a village of 322 people, many of whom have been witness to my heated lecturing on the realities of Canada. Canada is indeed a beautiful and interesting country, but it is far from perfect. To some, it is a magical place where dreams can come true and life can be much easier. To others, it is like everywhere else in the world - a normal mixture of positives and negatives. While I believe in looking for and being grateful for all that is positive, I also believe in being aware of the not-so-positive. It is through our awareness of both good and bad that we can build on what is good, learn from the bad, move forward, and grow. As such, I have been known to deliver a few lecture-style ramblings about the realities of Canada on the roads of Melshky...
Let’s set the scene here. When I’m in Meleshky, I can usually be found with a large group of people – my cousins and their neighbours - moving from house to house visiting (and eating!). Everyone is very familial and connected in Meleshky, which I love. I honestly adore that every aspect of my life is everyone’s business. It makes me feel accepted and loved unconditionally despite the fact that I come with a complex set of cultural identities. When I’m there, we eat, eat, eat, eat, drink, drink, drink, and talk, talk, talk. When my aunt Maria was alive, I would have to eat extra helpings of everything because I was unmarried and didn’t have children. It was my punishment. To this day, when I hear the word ‘eat!’ in Ukrainian, I freeze and my body shudders. Nevertheless, this strange punishment always warmed my heart (okay, the vodka was doing that too) and made me feel like she cared about me, which she did. Anyhow, my point is that I had many opportunities to respond to people's impressions of the unknown and far-off land called Canada...
(Digression: Ciotka Maria took it very seriously that I was unmarried and without children when I was in my 20s. She once had my cousin, Mykola, gather all of the single men in the village and bring them to the house for me. I guess I was supposed to choose one; however, this felt like a weird and awkward beauty pageant that I wanted no part of. With all due respect to the men of Meleshky, I was mortified. My male cousins all stood in the yard laughing and drinking, while I stood among them yelling at Mykola to send the kind men who had been summoned home. When the toothless butcher arrived looking like he was wearing a jumper, but wasn’t, Mykola saw the shy, British embarrassment on my face turn to that of angry Ukrainian and quickly sent the gentlemen home.)
Linguistically, I’m pretty sure I’m entertaining although I don’t mean to be. If you remember further back in my story, my grandmother didn’t teach us Ukrainian, so I started learning it on my own when I was 12. In secondary school, I had to focus more on French. Then I studied Italian and later German, and when I moved to Poland at 22 learning Polish took priority. (Yes, I love languages, and I speak none of them well.) English is not an option in Meleshky, so I speak a weird hybrid of Polish and long-forgotten Ukrainian filled with crazy mistakes. For the most part, my generation understands me well as they grew up watching Polish tele. Mind you, with enough vodka, my pure Ukrainian gets better and better.
Questions about Canada often come up because one of the villagers moved to Canada about 20 years ago and is still waiting on becoming a millionaire...and it's not looking promising.
So, reality no. 1: It is highly, highly unlikely that you will become a millionaire if you move to Canada. In fact, fewer and fewer jobs are permanent and don’t pay enough to survive on. I had always been well-paid – until I moved to Canada. I had a teaching job that required me to put in anywhere between 50 and 80 hours per week, but my contract was for 30 hours per week – and so was my pay. I’m not afraid of hard work – during the Edinburgh Fringe Festival as a Theatre Manager I was working over 110 hours per week and loving it. (Mind you, I was much younger then!) What I do believe in is fair pay. One of the reasons I was stuck in Canada for so many more years than planned was because it took me that long to pay off moving debt and save money to zoom across that giant ocean again.
Reality no. 2: Health care is not free in Canada. It is paid for by tax payers, and the government is continuing to cut services covered by the health care system. Need to see a specialist? Good luck – you’ll be waiting for quite a long time. I won’t scar you with the story of my father in the hospital when he was very sick and essentially abandoned by the medical system. That’s a 100 000-word post that my heart couldn’t handle retelling, so I’ll just say this: Never in my life did I think that pacifist me would have to threaten a doctor in order for my father to get the treatment he paid for in his taxes as a hard-working and dedicated factory worker in a country that claims to have such an incredible health care system. His story is not uncommon, either. I’ve heard and witnessed many similar stories, and it’s heart-breaking. Granted, I understand it’s invaluable to have access to health care at all. My issue is just that we should not say that something is “perfect” and “amazing” and “free” when it is not. Let’s be honest – let’s appreciate what we have – let’s admit when there is a problem – and let’s work to fix it.
Reality no. 3: Diversity? Sure. Canada is a very diverse and multi-cultural country, but the amount of racism that I witnessed was shocking. It’s both buried deep underneath complex layers of English and uttered straight and clear from some people. I urge certain people to read a history book about Canada before judging others, especially indigenous people, who did not create the circumstances that they must now exist in. Canada is an immigrant country built upon a form of genocide. Let’s be real, accept the good and the bad, learn from the past, and move forward together, shall we?
In the same way that northern France and southern France feel like different worlds to some, each province/territory in Canada feels like a different country as each has its own laws and systems. As such, I know that my experiences are likely incredibly different from other's experiences. All of these words are just that - my own experiences and opinions - and I realise that they exist within some bias that I have yet to learn to turn off. I moved to a very small and conservative city in 2008 called London that just wasn’t for me. I couldn’t breathe there. My soul needs to be in Europe, and it's still recovering from its time in little London. On a positive note, I am grateful for so many of the people I know and met there. They taught me so much and continue to inspire me today. We're lucky, aren't we, that there are so many incredible people in this world - and we can even find them in the places we don't love to be in if we remember to look.
So, why did I stay in little London for seven years? To be honest, my heart is still figuring how to explain that complex story in a simple way so that you don’t tell me to sod off for rambling on and on….like I’m doing here.
Hang in there. The secondo piatto is coming in this weird dinner party that is my life....hmmmm....apparently, my life is an Italian dinner party. Delizioso.