Beginning in One Place and Finishing In Another – Part 2 

“Exclusion is never the way forward on our shared paths to freedom and justice.” Desmond Tutu

Last week I started to tell you about a discussion I had with my dad and the question he posed: how had I adjusted to moving to Canada when I was so young. I got off on a tangent and finished the blog without exploring his query any further.

Memory and thought got in the way, which in my book is always a good thing.

As I mentioned last week, I didn’t speak English when I started school in Canada. I remember coming home and raving about speaking this weird language.

I spelled out words I had learned. APPLE. CAT. DOG. MOTHER. FATHER. Giggled at the strangeness of the sounds in my mouth. I remember my mother smiling with pride. But that didn’t last long. Pretty quickly I saw the fear in her eyes too. She knew I would lose my native language to this new one. She would scold me when I didn’t speak in French to her.

Learning this new language was such fun. I persisted.

A few years later, I was asked by another teacher to complete an assignment for class. I was in grade 3 then. Looking back on it now, I realize it wasn’t a particularly difficult task. I had to collect fall leaves and catalogue them by name. This project stumped me though and baffled my parents. “They want you to pick up dry, dead things from the ground? And do what with them?”

Our neighbour, Mrs. O’Dell, was expecting her first child then. My parents asked her to help. And she agreed.

We went forging for leaves under, what seemed to me at the time, every tree in our neighbourhood. She got down on her hands and knees. She encouraged me to do the same. I remember thinking how I was going to get in trouble for getting my red skirt dirty, my socks and shoes coated in dust. But she was so cheerful, witty and engaged, I stopped worrying and sat down in the dirt beside her.

She asked me which leaves I was attracted to. Why I picked up this one rather than another one. She spoke animatedly about everything we found.

It felt like it was our project.

She bought me a book to display my finds. And we worked on identifying them through encyclopaedias and other books she had.

In the end, I learned a lot about trees and leaves and life. Mostly I learned how a little attention could make a little girl feel special.

That project brought lots of accolades too and became the example of how it should be done for subsequent classes. It sat open on the bookshelf in grade 3 until I was out of elementary and on my way to junior high school.

I liked the attention I got from my classmates and from the teachers. This one act of kindness not only set me on a course to strive to excel in everything I did, but finally made Canada feel like home.

So in answering my dad’s question, I guess I’d tell him I had lots of support along the way. Debbie, Doris and Mrs. O’Dell, many, many teachers and of course, my own parents helped this little girl find her footing. I can only hope every migrant to a new land might be so lucky.

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