Out in the cold

Illustration: Julie MacLean

A new life doesn’t come easily — a Bangladeshi immigrant shares her experiences starting over in Halifax 

When textile engineer Tori Bhattacharya (name changed) graduated from university in her native Bangladesh, she wanted to pursue her career abroad, a path she didn’t follow until settling in Halifax in October 2021. 

“After completing my engineering degree, I wanted to go to the U.S. or Germany for higher studies, but my conservative parents believed it wouldn’t be safe for me to travel to or live in a foreign country all by myself,” she recalls. 

When asked why she came to Canada, she says, “Oh, that is a long story. My sister’s friend used to come home often and slowly we got to know her family. Her brother had recently settled down in Canada. They were looking for a bride for him and they proposed marriage between me and him. Later we were introduced, photographs exchanged, and we communicated over the telephone for some months.” 

During Christmas holidays, he went to Bangladesh, and they married. “Ten days after our wedding he had to return to Canada,” she says. “I applied for a Canadian visa which took 10 months to come through.” 

Travelling alone during the pandemic was hard. “It was my first journey to a foreign country, and I found it long and exhausting,” Bhattacharya says. 

Her reaction to Halifax was mixed. “When I reached here, my husband, his sister, and her family were waiting to welcome me to my new home,” she says. “It was a happy occasion. But I found the city too small and sparsely populated.” 

The Canadian climate was a shock. 

“As soon as I got down from the plane, the cold air hit me,” she says. “For someone like me who had lived in a tropical country all her life, Canadian air felt too cold even in October. Then the snow came, and I shivered in spite of the many layers of clothing I was wearing. And shovelling snow was back breaking.” 

Bhattacharya had to quickly learn all those little tricks for surviving winter that seasoned Canadians take for granted. “I found walking on the snow really difficult,” she says. “I had to wear bulky winter boots and practise walking. I fell a few times and once I hurt my arm and leg badly. I shudder at the thought that I will have to face winter every year.” 

And things got worse. “After I came to Canada, I suffered from severe vitamin deficiency,” she says. “My mouth was covered with sores, and I got very sick. I was in excruciating pain. In four months, I had to go to the hospital emergency department three times. Every time I had to wait for seven to eight hours before I could get any help. My husband was working, and I had to go there alone. I sat there and cried every time.” 

She believes it would’ve been much easier to get the health care she needed back in Bangladesh. “There, I could walk into any clinic or private hospital and get immediate help,” she says. “If I didn’t have money, I could go to a government hospital where emergency cases are attended to without much delay. I am concerned about my health, and I am afraid. What will I do if I become seriously ill again?” 

Today, her most pressing need is a career. “I have been sending out applications for jobs, but received no response from any employer,” she says. “I realize that a degree in textile engineering will not be of much use. My best bet, I think, will be to take a two-year course in information technology and then look for work in that field.” 

And meanwhile, Bhattacharya hopes for warmer weather, and tries to stay patient and persevering. 

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