Meena Khadka (+Video)
From my small, conservative society in India, I had to come to Canada to join my husband. I was nervous because I’d never travelled alone, and I would have my little son with me. On top of that, I spoke no English. My husband found a woman I could follow for the trip to Canada. It was a strange adventure for me—some of the things that happened I still can’t believe.
I was born in India, but my heritage is Nepalese. I grew up in a small, conservative society. I never expected anything big, like the same rights as boys or freedom to choose my partner or to express my desires. But always in my heart, I longed to go where I wouldn’t have to worry about people interfering and judging me, from the smallest mundane things to life-changing decisions—that routine interference that says “speak quietly, don’t laugh openly, don’t leave the house alone, do this, don’t do that!”
At home, I was the equal of my brothers. My Buaa (Daddy) was a liberal person who never discriminated against based on gender. He arranged my marriage—after I agreed to the match! —and I moved from our small community to the big city of Surat. I was excited but nervous about my new family’s expectations and learning the Gujarati language, but soon I had a sweet baby boy, Meehir, to lift my spirits.
Then my husband got a job in Canada; I stayed with my in-laws. My husband called every day and always talked about the friendly people and opportunities in Canada. Finally, after three years of separation, my visa came through. I was thrilled—but at the same time, I was hit with so much nervousness that I lost faith in myself and shockingly said “NO!”
I had never travelled alone before. I would have my small son Meehir with me—and I didn’t speak a word of English! Thank goodness my husband did not take no for an answer. He arranged for me to meet Radha-didi, a woman who was making the same trip, and he convinced me all I had to do was follow her. So I started packing.
I picked a western dress to travel in, but which shoes should I wear? That was the big decision. Everybody started to give advice, as they always do. I chose the pair my Dad gave me for my MA graduation—the first wedge-heeled sandals I ever owned, with a shiny bronze strap and black soles, comfortable and easy to slide onto my feet. I knew those shoes would provide the comfort and courage that my Daddy gave me.
It took two days by train to get to Delhi. There I met Radha, the woman I was to follow, and I breathed a sigh of relief. The flight to London was the next morning, and all the time, I followed her without question.
In London, after four hours on the tarmac, our flight was cancelled. I had my sleeping son in one hand, carry-on bag in the other, and I couldn’t find Radha—oh, there she was! At Immigration, I was frightened they might send me back. But at last, I got through. We reached the hotel in London after midnight. I was exhausted and hungry, and so was Meehir, but there was nothing to eat in the room. I slid my feet into my sandals, but when I stepped into the corridor, I was bewildered by the maze of hallways. Once again, my fears got the best of me, and I went back to my room, not daring to fall asleep.
Then I heard a knock on the door. It was a woman I’d seen Radha talking to in the airport. She said, “I cannot sleep alone. Can I come in with you?” She was Radha’s friend, so I let her in. That night seemed endless.
In the morning, Radha-didi came to my room, and when I told her about her friend, she said, “What? I don’t know her. I just gave her directions! Good thing she didn’t take your passport!” That woman was not her friend at all!
We finally got to Calgary that day. When I finally saw my husband’s smiling face, I forgot the misadventures of my trip, and I was filled with joy. It was pitch-black on the highway to Banff. I debated whether I liked this place that got dark much too soon, where there were almost no people, unlike the streets of India. Getting off the bus, I sank to my knees in snow. I thought I had fallen into a hole! I shook out my sandals and took careful steps into my new home. It has taken me a few years to understand and adapt to this new world, but here I am now, a fearless Canadian girl.
MEENA KHADKA is from Nepal but was born in India. She joined her husband, who moved to Banff for a job opportunity, in 2011.