It all begins when she is six. Her mother's best friend sends a
picture of her blonde boy standing in a Vancouver playground, next
to the largest swing set she has ever seen. She lies in her bunk
bed that night and for years to come, dreams of herself swinging
on that magnificent swing set.
Sitting uncomfortably in a gynaecologist office when she is
17, she waits long enough to read a whole article in National
Geographic about the extremely vulnerable boreal forests of northern
B.C. and the Yukon. She'd rather be in the forest than waiting
for her appointment. As she is called into the doctor's office
she thinks, "One day I'll move there."
Almost 10 years later she gets the opportunity. She moves to
a small northern, fly-in community. She writes home about how
her eyelashes freeze and make her eyes look like daisies with
a blue centre. She discovers that in minus 40, she goes outside,
breathes in and regrets it.
She listens to the CBC weather forecast and can't figure out
why the announcer calls a Saskatchewan city Vagina. Certain that
she's misunderstanding something, she is too embarrassed to ask
anyone about this.
Her boyfriend's father hugs her when she first meets him. She
shies away - in her country one does not hug strangers.
She learns to skate and perfects her hockey technique. Under
the northern lights she stands on slippery skates in the middle
of the lake-rink and slowly moves the stick around in circles.
This way she hits the puck (an old beer can) about every seven
minutes. She only plays hockey three times and she curls once.
It is necessary for the Canadian experience. She drives her snowmobile
to the grocery store and learns how to telemark. She can't bring
herself to watch hockey on TV.
She looks Saskatchewan up on her road map and discovers the
city is called Regina, probably after some queen, like so many
things in this country. She discovers that what is labelled honesty
in her home country is called rudeness here. She discovers a larger
intolerance for Americans than she already held. She discovers
Canadians get more offended when they are assumed to be Americans
than she gets when Canadians think she is German. She labels it
"the small nation syndrome."
People who have never been to her country and don't speak a
word in her language tell her they're of the same nationality
as she because their grandmother was born there, but immigrated
to Canada at the age of 8 months. She stares at them, unsure of
how to disillusion them.
She learns to write letters when she is angry.
People are watching TV and crying in the office. She asks who
died and discovers someone called Wayne Gretzky has retired. She
asks: what from? Big-haired girls in the office look at her threateningly,
refuse to answer her stupid question. Someone smiles sympathetically
She learns how to use a chainsaw. She gathers her own wood for
the winter and goes moose-hunting. She learns how to butcher moose
but she never grows comfortable with the gun.
She refuses to swim in cold water and misses the hot pools of
her country. She goes home for a visit and discovers she doesn't
know anything about European fashion anymore. Waitresses in restaurants
look at her and don't know which language to speak.
She moves south to the west coast and sees humming birds for
the first time, along with the remains of old growth forest. Where
are all the First Nations people? Only their art is visible. She
discovers that apartheid was largely modelled on Canadian Native
reserves. People look at her with a mixture of shame and defiance
when she reminds them North America wasn't discovered by Europeans.
She happens to be in an airport waiting for her flight as the
Canadian men's team wins the Olympic gold. She decides this is
an appropriate first hockey game to watch and cheer like every
other spectator in the airport.
One day she steps off the city bus into a cold March rain and,
across the bus filled with strangers, she yells her thanks to
the bus driver. In the wet dark outside, she smiles to herself.
She has become Canadian.
Sigrun Maria Kristinsdottir
understands, according to us.