By Shirin Azad*
Do you fully understand what it means when you leave your country and start a new life in another country where is everything is so different?
Changing your country means not just changing the land and leaving your family. It means changing whole your life, your friends, your career, your language, and even your personality somehow.
A little background on me…
I was a student in level two of Media department when I started working at a non-governmental newspaper in Kurdistan, Northern Iraq.
I had two different types of feeling: confused and happy. Confused because I didn’t have any experience starting a professional job, but now acting as a reporter. At same time, happy because I believed I could make a change if I could stay strong.
It wasn’t easy, especially in my region where people look with totally different eyes at women. I am a bit lucky that I came from a family that values independent women. I had to work with a group of men which was not generally considered acceptable by the community.
After a long day, I wanted to go home to type my articles and transcribe interviews about honour killings, women’s prison stories and other penalties suffered by women who tried to do something to make a change.
I had to go home by bus and try not to sit in beside men because of the likelihood of harassment.
But with all the hard work and stress, I felt that I was a happy, successful woman because I could be a voice for a woman in my region. I could listen to them and write their stories to show how we can help those who need us and defend those facing danger.
Going home after a long day, I would visit with my mom and gather with my sisters to talk about our day with lots of love and laughs; it was such a perfect therapy that I really wish I had now. It helped me to continue and encouraged me to fight for my own rights and other women’s rights.
But then I became a public figure. Some people thought I was doing a great job but others talked to me as if to say “what are you doing? You never can’t change this society!”
Of course, I knew I couldn’t change everyone but I could change some people’s minds at least about myself as a woman working in journalism. I could show that women can do jobs other than teacher or doctor.
After nearly 10 years in my work, I was very happy. Unfortunately, then it became unsafe.
June 2015 was the time that I had to start my new life with my husband in Canada. I started searching and asking for jobs. What I had studied back home felt a million miles away; it didn’t work for Canada as I needed Canadian experience more than my degree. Even if my degree was still relevant, I still needed to speak English as a native speaker, so being a journalist again began to feel like an unreachable dream.
I had to do a completely unrelated job at that time to help to support my life here. And so it began.
Working in Canada: Day 1
It’s a very dark, cold January morning and it’s 4:30. I can’t open my eyes. I want to stay with what I am dreaming about wearing my running shoes, going to court to record the last trial of my story case.
“We have to be there soon for our first day working”, my husband wakes me up with those words in the midst of packing food and fruit in our second-hand lunch box. Our kind host with his fatherly manner will drive us to our first Canadian jobs.
We arrive at the window manufacturer and we are touched to see a welcome sign with our names. I go to the second floor mesh department and my husband goes to another section. How close is this to journalism? My feelings rang from happy to confused. Happy to have Canadian experience but overwhelmed with big pieces of mesh surrounding me, women and men doing the same physical tasks, so different from home where you never see a woman work in a production facility. I experience a good feeling about a Canada being a country of equality.
“You have to go on the table and take the measurement to measure the mesh,” my Taiwanese coworker joltesme back from my introspection.
I am looking at the measurement with surprise on my face. “I don’t know how to use inches!” Even the simple concept of measurement feels so confusing.
I climb on the big white table asking, “How can I learn using inches while I grew up with using centimetres?”
“They will teach you, don’t worry.” My Taiwanese colleague adjusts his light glasses while extending the long measuring tape toward me on the table.
An inner monologue of fear continues. I am not just afraid about this job; everything else about relocating my life here suddenly becomes frighteningly real. How can I work for 8 hours without sitting? How can I make friends here? Do I need to make Canadian friends? What should we talk about? What will happen if I cut the mesh wrong? Will they fire me? Will they punish me by cutting my wages?
So many fears overtake me. Suddenly I hear a ring. A very short, cold sentence hits my ears. “Lunch Time!” a young woman says.
Ohhh, what a hard day. I am so hungry.
I take the stairs down and sae a handsome man whose white shirt is speckled black with a hundred little spots from cutting aluminium. I used to see him in his business suit when he arrived home from his accounting manager job before we moved to Canada.
We reach the lunch room and sit with relief to eat our delicious Kurdish lunch. All eyes are on us. We open our full lunch box and dug in.
Day by day, I became more familiar with everything and learned. These lessons were not relevant to anything I once did as a journalist. However, working in a production company and getting to know my coworkers has value. They help me to handle the loneliness I feel for my family and sisters.
Working in a labour job was never my dream job. I had never thought about working just to survive.
I miss working with people who need me. I miss advocating for women who have endured violence or those who need to find a safe place: a young woman whose uncle wants to kill her because they caught her with her boyfriend; all those small girls around the world whose subjected to Female Genital Mutilation or arranged marriage.
I was extremely grateful for the window manufacturing plan with its respectful, kind workers. Sadly, I was there only with my body. My mind was focused on the bigger questions of how I could adapt to be happy here. The questions continued to plague me. How can I learn? How can I improve myself to speak better English to have a better future?
It was not terrible news when I was called one day with another group of people and told that I would be laid off because of shortage of work. It was hard to lose the security of the work but I had so many things to do to improve my self and make a future plan. My first welcome to work and Canadian experience was successfully completed and I had to consider what my next chapter would be.
*Shirin Azad is a pen name for our author. We are protecting her identity to preserve her safety.