The Blackfly Hat
When she arrives in Quebec from Poland, Benia Szewczyk-Lagowska’s husband gives her an ugly hat with a net veil as protection from black flies. The flies are only the first of the hardships she will face. Eight years later, she studies early childhood education, and the hat has become a symbol of how far she has come.
My story is about love, and it begins with a hat. The hat is not a cozy hat that keeps me warm during the long Canadian winter, and it is not a hat that keeps my pretty face safe from the strong rays of Alberta’s sun. In fact, it is an ugly green hat with bug netting. It makes my head sweat. It reminds me of my first smells and tastes of Canada, like the smell of the first laundromat I had ever seen. There are no laundromats in Poland! Or the poutine date my husband took me on in the lovely town of Saint-Sauveur, Quebec.
When I first arrived in Quebec eight years ago on a sunny day in June, my husband brought me to a beautiful rented cottage in the countryside. There was a stunning garden filled with one-day lilies. I learned that collectors paid big money for those lilies, a surreal hobby for rich Canadians, which I could not comprehend. In return for living in that handsome cottage, we had to tend the garden. My soft hands became hard with black nails from daily weeding. And my face? It was constantly bitten by a million black flies. The bites bled for days, and my head hurt badly from the sun. So, one day my husband proudly took me to this giant Canadian store called Canadian Tire. It really smelled like a tire. And there, among unfamiliar tools and camping gear, we found my first Canadian hat. Now I could laugh straight at the flies.
Growing up in Poland, I never imagined going to live so far away that it seemed like the end of the world—in a strange planet with triple-size animals, giant mayonnaise jars, and people whose language I could not understand. My husband is from Canada, but his roots are Polish. When we first met, I was a student, and he worked in Warsaw as an English teacher. We lived there for ten years until one day when my husband said that we should move to Canada for a better life for me and our future children. He did not tell me that I would feel like nothing there and I would have to build everything from zero. So, I got excited. This was just another trip. If I wanted to, I could always return to Poland.
The beautiful Quebec summer was ending, and my husband could not find a job, so we decided to drive west. After 4,967 kilometres of stunning Canadian landscape, we reached our new home: Calgary. My black nails disappeared. My fly bites vanished, but my green hat was still with me. I waited for my Permanent Residency for four years.
During that wait, I could not work or study. Canada became my golden prison. I gave birth to our son and was diagnosed with postpartum depression. The birth damaged my pelvis, and I could not move or walk. The physical pain, the loneliness, and the inability to do anything because waiting for my PR brought me to the edge. What on earth was I doing here?
With my husband’s help, I healed my soul, and after many months of rehabilitation, I could walk. The blackflies left me as my love and affection for Canada bloomed. Today I understand the language, I have made dear friends, and I admire my collection of giant jars in my fridge. And when I put on my green hat on a sunny day in Calgary and go outside, I see my husband and our son and our very own house with its own beautiful garden.
BENIA SZEWCZYK-LAGOWSKA comes from Poland and immigrated to Canada in 2011. She recently earned her degree in Early Childhood Education at Bow Valley College in Calgary. She is passionate about classic literature, jazz music and Canadian Indigenous art and history.