The ISS and American Thanksgiving

Today I went to a place that I had dis­cov­ered almost by acci­dent a few weeks ago, the ISS or Immi­grant Ser­vices Soci­ety of British Colum­bia. It was a small build­ing at the edge of Yale­town (which to the unini­ti­at­ed, is the rapid­ly grow­ing south­east­ern end of the city that looks remark­ably like parts of Man­hat­tan — no won­der they shoot so many movies that are sup­posed to be tak­ing place in New York City there). Accord­ing to the pam­phlet at the front desk:

The ISS is a non-gov­ern­men­tal orga­ni­za­tion that receives fund­ing from the gov­ern­ment to assist immi­grants and refugees in dif­fer­ent ways.

Our man­date at ISS’s Set­tle­ment office is to help you adjust to life in the Greater Van­cou­ver area. We under­stand that mov­ing to a new coun­try can be very stress­ful.

Our team of pro­fes­sion­als can guide you, in over 25 dif­fer­ent lan­guages, through the many chal­lenges and oppor­tu­ni­ties that Cana­da presents. Our ser­vices range from pro­vid­ing:

  • tem­po­rary hous­ing
  • infor­ma­tion, ori­en­ta­tion, and
  • refer­ral assis­tance.

When you have a ques­tion, we will share with you dif­fer­ent options/ideas so that you feel con­fi­dent to make a deci­sion. If we can not help you direct­ly, we will do our best to ensure that you are linked to oth­er ser­vices and resources.

The refer­ral infor­ma­tion is just what I need­ed. I entered and told the recep­tion­ist that I was there to get some infor­ma­tion on health insur­ance, and she told me to take a seat in the wait­ing area. It was near­ly full, with peo­ple who looked like they were pre­dom­i­nant­ly from Africa and the Mid­dle East. I sat next to a guy with a Rasta­far­i­an hair­do under a cap. I doubt if any­one else in the room was a native Eng­lish speak­er. After a short wait (about 15 min­utes or so), I was met by a very help­ful and patient woman named Rita who I found out was from Ghana (via Sene­gal). In the coin­ci­dence depart­ment, I learned from her that pri­or to com­ing to Cana­da, she had spent about 6 months in Tako­ma Park, Mary­land in the ear­ly nineties. She pre­ferred Cana­da, she said, because it was far more ‘peace­ful’ here.

We also chat­ted about the talk­ing drums of her native land, as well as the usage of the word ‘part­ner’ here to denote one’s spouse or gay part­ner. Rita felt that it was a del­i­cate way of hid­ing whether one was gay or not, because in cer­tain parts of the coun­try one could be still be shunned, and the term ‘part­ner’ allowed some­one to hide their sex­u­al ori­en­ta­tion behind a gen­der-neu­tral des­ig­na­tion. After pro­vid­ing me with some help­ful refer­rals and phone num­bers, Rita wished me well and I offered the same to her.

I’d have to say that the whole expe­ri­ence was hum­bling. Pam and I are very lucky to come from a rich coun­try, with resources, fam­i­ly, and skills all work­ing in our favor. We have so few­er prob­lems than the peo­ple who were at the ISS, I sus­pect. In fact, I learned from Rita that there were peo­ple liv­ing in refugee camps for over a decade, wait­ing to get into Cana­da. Some had chil­dren while liv­ing in the camps. It made the few weeks I’ve been wait­ing for my work per­mit seem a lit­tle less impor­tant. Nev­er­the­less, we are immi­grants as well, and the folks at ISS made lit­tle dis­tinc­tion that I could dis­cern between me and any of the oth­ers who were sit­ting, mak­ing phone calls, read­ing the free news­pa­pers, and get­ting infor­ma­tion from the staff there.

I came home just as the rain was end­ing and the late after­noon sun­set made one of its fre­quent appear­ances. I had got­ten some extra gro­ceries for din­ner, includ­ing some frozen whole cran­ber­ries, which I lat­er made into cran­ber­ry sauce. Yes­ter­day at Granville Mar­ket we picked up two bread­ed turkey ‘breasts’ (real­ly cut­lets wrapped around stuff­ing) with sage and cran­ber­ry stuff­ing from the Turkey farm stand, as well as some sweet pota­toes. I baked the pota­toes and turkey, and made some peas with pearl onions (had those lying around from a cou­ple weeks or so ago for a beef stew).

Pam and I both called fam­i­ly din­ners in the East, where every­one was fin­ished with their Thanks­giv­ing meals. In a lit­tle while, we lit the fire (well, turned on the switch and the gas flames leapt up, right on cue). It wasn’t a huge feast, but it was tasty, nour­ish­ing, con­tain­ing turkey and cran­ber­ry sauce, and fine for just the two of us. Many past fam­i­ly gath­er­ings in dif­fer­ent com­bi­na­tions and loca­tions make me want to hang on to this Amer­i­can tra­di­tion more than some of the oth­ers. I hear that most Van­cou­verites observe the time-hon­oured rit­u­al of dri­ving down to the out­lets just south of the bor­der tomor­row, for the big sales that are the start­ing gun of the Hol­i­day Shop­ping Sea­son. It’s hard to get much of a Nor­man Rock­well glow from that, I guess.

At any rate, Hap­py Thanks­giv­ing, Amer­i­ca, from two immi­grants to Van­cou­ver, BC.