#YEG: Mapping An Incredible Journey

This writer remembers her parents’ journey and the shape it had on her life.

Illustration Lee Nielsen

Gratitude is a map – of the places you’ve been and the ones waiting for you, yet to be found. Where homes get built in the unlikeliest of places.

It’s 1987, and my parents arrive in Canada; Toronto, to be exact. Alone, penniless and still reeling from the horrors of revolution-soaked Ethiopia, they were out of place. Stunned by the magnitude of this new metropolis, they existed on a separate plane, one that moved in slow motion, as the cacophonous city sped past them, oblivious to two of its newest members. But, like any immigrant, they did what they had to; work. Working several unglamorous jobs, rotating 12-hour shifts, they slowly settled into their new life. Two whirlwind years later, I was born, and this new version of the Canadian family was now complete.

A phone call from my dad’s cousin, who was settled in yet another faraway place – this one called Edmonton – would change their trajectory. It was small, but the people were nice and there were plenty of jobs, they were told. Come visit. Continuing in their newfound occupation of explorers, they headed west. At once, both nothing and everything like Ethiopia, this small, but mighty prairie town felt like their true final destination. They remember their joy upon seeing the river valley. A lush, green reminder of a distant home left behind. Despite the significantly smaller Ethiopian community (and not to mention the brutal Edmonton winters), they stayed. Happily.

But just like the first days at a new school, everything feels awkward at first. But soon enough, without realizing, you’re no longer the new kids. Somewhere along the way, you become Canadians. Edmontonians. Was it that last cup of Tim Hortons coffee? Maybe it was the undying love for the Oilers. Or maybe it was the unique skill set of surviving an Edmonton winter. No matter the reason, their journey was as deliberate as it was serendipitous. Eventually this place – the unlikeliest of places for two Ethiopian immigrants – became theirs.

My parents were the true cartographers of my life. They became master wayfinders, willing to create new suns to orbit.

Gratitude is a map. Ours is marked with the mountains and valleys of Ethiopia that led to a city in the Canadian prairies, that wasn’t big or bold, but it was home. Our map is centred on a city with a star around it that reads: Edmonton – you are here.

Gloria Alamrew is a writer from Edmonton, by way of Ethiopia. She recently spoke on a panel at the inaugural Black Arts Matter festival, and her work has been featured in the Huffington Post and CBC. When she’s not reading or writing, she’s probably professing her love for Beyonc.

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