I arrived in a miserable, rain swept country. In the first four months I was stuck in a job I took out of sheer desperation. I woke up in the dark, left on the bus at dawn, and watched the lethargic sun rise out of the horizon. I worked in a hardware store all day. Often on my lunch hour I had to wade through the angry rain and the frigid air into the toasty Tim Hortons a block away. Sometimes a single slurp of coffee and the sugary bite of a doughnut can kindle a little more life in your eyes.
After six months I began to realize the reason Canadians love their coffee. It feels like a weapon in the cold weather. A swig of magic potion to banish the evil spirits swirling in the wind. I quickly started to figure out that using coffee shops as landmarks helps you learn the layout of a city. Another thing I figured out…winter was miserable.
Some say that hindsight is perfect sight. Looking back at myself in the first Vancouver winter, part of me thought “Oh shit, this is forever.” I’m now writing this in my second winter and the fondest memories I have were sitting outside in the sun on my lunch break. I remember my step mother sending invisible prayers into the sky, asking the sun to come back. Ok, she wasn’t actually praying, although I could feel the urgency in her voice whenever she spoke of it.
For some reason I denied missing the sun at first. Perhaps, I felt stress from too many other areas in my life. Now that the sea of stress is slowing down to a trickle, I can process more of the details that were so bewildering to me in the beginning. I can be a little more honest with myself at the same time. Ladies and Genitals, here it is…I crave the sun.
Allow me to rewind the storyline a little… I’m from Durban, South Africa. For those unfamiliar with the place it has amazing weather. The sun is as plentiful there as the rain is in Vancouver. It’s not the safest city in the country, but if you took away the crime it’s very close to being a warm, balmy, idyllic one. You have very warm and wet summers, and cool dry winters. The summers were way too hot and humid for me, but one thing I now realize is the sun was always around.
The sun (in South Africa) felt like an angry mother-in-law. In comparison the sun in British Columbia feels like an excitable nephew. In Durban if you stayed outside for too long in summer you’d often get burnt, maybe even garner a few blisters in the process. In Vancouver you stay out too long…the most you’ll get is a bigger smile on your face.
My advice to other immigrants can be summed up in three words…it gets better. It really does. In my second winter I no longer feel hopeless because I now have the radiant memories of summer swimming inside me. I have fantasies of lying in the sun, soaking it up again. While I write this and have multiple sun-fuelled braingasms, I’m reminded of a memory…
It happened last summer. Having just arrived home from work I took the graphic novel I had been reading and took a short walk to the local park, about 5 minutes away. Once there I sat in the balmy sun and read for a bit. It turns out my brain was too weary to read a great deal, so I closed my book and lay down on the grass. I closed my eyes and began to listen to the fragments of chatter all around me. It seemed like I lost track of time after a while. It must’ve been about an hour I was lying there. What stuck me afterwards was that “half sleepy half calm” feeling that seeps down into your bones. Some memories are worth listening to, this is one of them.