Anand Chinnasamy is a computer systems analyst (he affectionately calls himself a button pusher/chair breaker) who was a mechanical engineer, fixing German CNC machines before immigrating to Canada in 1997. He moved to Ottawa on a stormy winter evening in 1999 and has been a happy camper ever since.
I was born and brought up in a small South Indian town that had two colleges, seven high schools and a population of 150,000 during the sixties. My uncles and my father lived together in a 900 square foot mud wall and thatched roof house (three families, a total of 14 people under one roof) along with couple of cows for milk.
We had only three seasons: hot, hotter and hottest – so I never had to buy a sweater or jacket. Education was free up to high school, but my parents made lot of sacrifices to give me a decent engineering education so that I could have a better life.
The farther I moved away from my home town, the longer I kept my jobs. First I moved to Madras (present day Chennai), second to Calcutta, then to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
I worked and lived (if it can be called living) in Riyadh for 15 long years. ID cards were issued in white and brown colours to distinguish the guest workers of the official religion from other religions. Businesses had to close during prayer times (five times a day). Eating and drinking (water and soft drinks) in public was not allowed during the month of Ramadan from sunrise to sunset and restaurants did not serve food during those times. Women had to wear burqas and they could not drive.
Two successive events brought down the proverbial last straw for me: my employer’s refusal to acknowledge my contributions, and the closure of our children’s school by the religious police on the grounds that co-education violated the local religious laws. They let the schools operate again only after another school was built for girls, five kilometres away from the boys’ school.
Then in 1996 I came across an article published by the United Nations Development Programme about Canada being voted as the best country to live based on many indicators like human rights and the environment. Moreover, Canada had a fair, point-based immigration system that granted permanent residence based on qualifications, professional experience and the ability to pay the immigration and application processing fees of about $1,475 per person.
We applied, paid the required fees and and moved to Toronto in 1997.
Like every other new immigrant, I too went through initial struggle of settling down in a new country. With my 18 years of solid experience in procurement, installation, maintenance, dismantling and scrapping of machines, I thought getting a job in Canada would be a piece of pudding. But I could not even rent an apartment since most rental companies asked for pay slip copies as proof of employment. I moved in with one of my friends who was kind enough to give me shelter and free food until I found my own place and job. Eventually, I found an apartment by giving post-dated cheques for six months. Lack of Canadian experience and accreditation were cited as reasons for not giving me a job, so at last I had to switch my profession from engineering to IT consulting.
The next year I moved to New Jersey, but moved back to Canada (Ottawa) on a snowy January evening in 1999 to work as a consultant for Mitel. Now that I have the necessary Canadian experience, life is always on fast lane.
Kanata welcomed me with open arms.
My team lead at Mitel taught me the two most powerful words in English: “Please and Thanks.” And my colleagues quickly brought me up to speed both professionally and culturally. First impressions of this great city are still the best even today after 12 years – it is clean, quiet, friendy, colourful, cheerful and always wonderful. Compared to New York, Mumbai, Chennai and Toronto, commuting time here in Ottawa is much less, and drivers are more polite. For those of you who appreciate the long term benefits of Yoga, Ottawa also offers many choices.
Ottawa always has something to make me happy on any day. I like to drive along the Ottawa River Parkway, stop at every lookout and enjoy the views, walk along the Rideau Canal, view the Hog’s Back Falls, roam around all the beautiful parks, taste a BeaverTail, poutine, or Ottawa’s best dessert: sticky toffee pudding from Moxie’s. Gatineau Hills is another one of my favourite spots.
Even better, ethnic community functions and festivals happen all through the year, bringing all Canadians closer and makes them more familiar with each other’s food, dress, custom and habits.
I owe my thanks to Ottawa and its great people who were very instrumental in transforming my life from uncertainty to one that is filled with humour and happiness. My sons are in university, and my wife wouldn’t trade Ottawa for any other city in North America for one single reason.
I am happy because my family is happy here in Ottawa.
Thank you so much for sharing your story Anand!