At last! We arrived safely in Canada! And as befits me and my husband, the highlight of our year so far has been just that – head over heels. My mom later said that it literally seemed as if we tried to escape in a hurry. The two of us are known for making hasty decisions and not always planning something carefully before we set about tackling it. Still, onewould think that we would approach the last step of uprooting our family with more precaution. However, we are currently in the midst of a pandemic, so I reckon our adaptability has come in handy.
The emotions may not be so fresh anymore, but I’d like to share the events surrounding our flight to our new home.
I mentioned earlier that we were candidates for the new Rural Immigration Pilot. However, COVID-19 got in the way, and we had no idea when our application would be processed. So, our only alternative was to apply for a work permit. Under COVID-19 regulations, the waiting period for a work permit from South Africa was 17 weeks, but we were particularly privileged that my husband’s permit was approved within a month.
The fact that my husband is working in essential services and has a valid work permit permits him to enter Canada. The question was, however, whether the children and I would be allowed to enter the country with our visitor visas. I had nightmares of how the three of us would be turned away at the border post.
We were aware of the permission to travel with a visitor’s visa if you wanted to join a family member, but I was not prepared to fly alone with the children. More nightmares. Our contacts in Canada also did not approve of it at all and we were advised to write a motivation letter to the immigration office stating that it would be in our family’s best interest to travel together. Also, you are required to isolate for 14 days when crossing Canada’s border, and you must be able to prove how and where you are going to do so. It sounds like a sentence, and it almost felt like one …)
During this time, my husband was asked to submit his passport for the work permit as well as the children’s passports for their visitor visas. I already had a visa that is valid for 10 years. We thought we would have to wait for weeks but were surprisingly quickly informed that the passports would soon be delivered. My husband wrote the motivation letter and sent it to his contact person for advice. When the passports arrived two days later, two letters were also included in the package: one giving my husband permission to enter Canada, and another giving the children and me permission to accompany a family member on a work permit. We were overwhelmed with joy! Not just about the improbability that the Canadians put two and two together, but about the relief that we could all travel together as a family.
Our next big obstacle was South Africa’s lockdown and the fact that we would have to take a repatriation flight. These flights were scarce and, on top of that, extremely expensive. It would eat away at our budget with which we wanted to set up home in Canada, but we were desperate enough to consider it. Luckily, we came into contact with a travel agent who regularly monitored the available flights and was able to arrange flights for us for half the price we expected. However, the best possible price for the available route would depart within just five days, and we would have to move quickly to secure seats. So, we took a deep breath, made the logical decision, and started packing head over heels. We stuffed our earthly possessions into eight suitcases and four backpacks.
We were told to be at the Qatar embassy on the afternoon of 1 September, and from there we would depart by bus to the airport. What we did not know was that we would be accompanied by two police vehicles and six police motorcycles – sirens and all. We felt like VIPs! The airport looked like a ghost town; only a few people who had anything to do with our flight were present. It was awkward! But hey, these are weird times.
The masked Steenkamps at Qatar’s embassy
The first flight from Johannesburg to Doha was almost empty and lasted about eight hours. After that, we were for 14 hours on a packed flight to Montréal. It was a challenge with the two boys, but to be honest, it went very well under the circumstances. Montréal (the airport where I was stranded for 24 hours on my previous visit to Canada) was also the place where we had to brave the border post, and with each step I gave closer to the strict woman behind the counter, I became more anxious. My husband and I were completely done by that time because we could not sleep on the plane, and the kids were also fed up with the whole affair. However, we got the green light, and once I had that piece of paper in my hand – the official proof that we are legally allowed to live in Canada – I was able to relax. We made it!
Our last flight to Winnipeg
Our last flight was another three hours to Winnipeg in another crowded plane. Apparently, Qatar and Canada are not as paranoid about COVID as South Africa, even though we had to travel all the way with masks and face shields. At 22:00 we were finally able to get in our rental car and brave the road to Altona in the rain. And at 23:30 we finally stepped into our hotel room and could officially start our quarantine.
There was simply no time to greet all our loved ones in person. Adrenaline and Divine Grace kept us going for those five days and surprisingly, for someone who cries for any trifle, I did not shed a tear with the farewell. It was not farewell, just goodbye.
Even though I already have a list of items that I forgot in South Africa, it may have been fate that we left in such a rush that there was no time to ponder over anything. Now our family can finally take root in Canada’s black soil. We’ll have to be patient while adapting, and I’m not going to lie – it’s an intrusive process. But my heart is full and my anxiety is gone.
Altona, our new hometown
Feel free to visit Hesti’s blog Ingedagte at https://ingedagte.blogspot.com/ There you can read her diary of their family’s emigration to Canada. She says, “With such a big change on your doorstep, you are easily overwhelmed by your thoughts. I hope my diary will help to process all the emotions that come with it.”