I know that an immigrant has to make changes and compromise in order to adapt to a new life, but sliding down from the top of the mountain on these funny shoes was the ultimate test. As I sat on the lift going up, I could not appreciate Canada’s most beautiful landscape: the Rocky Mountains. Instead, I stared down at the snow, confused and upset. After all, skiing was not part of my nature. I missed my tropical island. I wondered if all the effort to become a Canadian was in vain. But later I found out that I wasn’t alone.
We got into the car on a sunny morning, and even though we drove through the most beautiful Canadian landscape – the Canadian Rockies – I hated every minute of the trip. We were going skiing. It was my husband Mike’s idea. I have done paragliding, surfing, caving and go-karting, but this was completely out of my comfort zone.
We moved to Calgary from Toronto in 2007, and we were desperately trying to fit in. The first months were fine since it was still summer. But when the winter came, I had to face it. It was time for me to learn how to balance on two narrow and ridiculously slippery pieces of wood, with nowhere to hold on. And then I had to throw myself from the top of a high mountain.
Why? That was going through my mind during that whole endless hour to get to Lake Louise. If you live in Calgary, this is what you do. The mountains are so close by that it is hard to resist. Every weekend thousands of people head to the mountains in the morning and spend the day going up and down, feeling the wind against their faces. It’s a magical performance that looks as natural as the snow falling.
We parked the car, unloaded the gear and headed to the office to rent our equipment. I finally got a pair of skis with boots that supposedly fit me. I just couldn’t manage to stand up on them. My arms were flapping up and down, my body moving side to side, like a baby bird trying its first fly solo.
I grew up on a tropical island in the south of Brazil. I can’t even remember my first time in the water. As a child, I used to spend eight, ten, sometimes twelve hours a day in the water, either in the ocean or in my parents’ swimming pool. Flippers would help me to swim better, but I preferred wearing nothing.
When I came to Canada, I had to adapt. I had to improve my English skills to communicate and find a decent job. I had to become less warm and friendly to respect people’s privacy. I had to learn to say thank you for every single action and sorry for things that I really didn’t feel sorry for. But because I was living in Toronto for my first ten years in Canada, I didn’t have to learn how to ski. It was in Calgary that I took the ultimate Canadian test, and I failed.
As experienced Mike took off to a higher mountain, I stood there speechless. I got onto the lift and started seeing the ground become more and more distant. I would’ve loved the view if I were not so terrified, thinking that I would have to make it all back down on my own, on top of those funny shoes.
My first runs down were not too bad. Although I had multiple falls, there were a few minutes of enjoyment. But my confidence was compromised when I decided to try a more challenging way and got stuck in the snow at the edge of a horrifying cliff.
I came to Canada on my own with a backpack and a small suitcase. I had only two thousand dollars and no place to live. I left my whole family and all friends behind and came to this promised land where I knew one person and had no guarantee that I could pursue my journalism career. I had to start my life all over again. Still, I could not go down that hill on my skis.
I tried. I tried again. And again. I sat down. I cried. I came to the conclusion that I simply could not do it. I didn’t pass this test. Skiing was not for me. It made me think about all the other changes and compromises I have made in order to become a Canadian. I wondered if I was honest to myself, to my past, to my existence. I slid down the rest of the way on my butt, totally demoralized.
I felt awful for the rest of the day and haven’t been skiing since. Although we had one of our worst days together, my husband and I laugh about it today. It took me a while to accept that I am who I am, no matter how much I change, adapt or compromise.
Months later, at a party, still in Calgary, I was brave enough to finally admit my failure and let out this revelation: “I hate skiing!!!” To my surprise, my confession was echoed by many equally loud cries of catharsis: “Me too. Me too. Me too!!”
GABI VERAS left Brazil fourteen years ago to go backpacking in Europe. She liked it so much that she decided to cross the ocean and do the same in the north. She immediately fell in love with Canada and decided to call it home. She has worked as a news producer and reporter in Toronto and Calgary for OMNI Television and CBC. Now she is doing her MFA in Documentary Media at Ryerson University and works as a freelance journalist.