I left my life in India for rural Canada. My first thought upon arrival was, ‘Where is everyone?

I left my life in India for rural Canada. My first thought upon arrival was, ‘Where is everyone?
I left my life in India for rural Canada. My first thought upon arrival was, ‘Where is everyone?

This First Person column is the experience of Satya Patel, who lives in Mayerthorpe, Alta. For more information about CBC’s First Person stories, please see the FAQ (new window).

My stomach turned during my training at McDonald’s as I learned how to wrap breakfast sandwiches. I had never eaten an egg and the smell of meat was overwhelming.

As a new immigrant to Canada from India, I needed a stable Source of income. Never did I dream that with my multiple degrees and certificates in pharmacy and business administration, I’d be working in a restaurant. I’m a vegetarian and I hoped the nausea I was experiencing was not mirrored on my face while I worked at the west Edmonton fast-food counter.

But there’s also no way I could have known that seven years later, I would be sitting in my own pharmacy and be welcomed with homemade baked goods and gifts flooding in from my patients at Christmas time.

Out of my comfort zone

In 2012, when I received my permanent resident visa for Canada, I was plagued with doubts about moving to a new country nearly 12,000 kilometers away from home. Should I go? Do I want to start over again? Is it worth the risk? So many strangers. Plus, we would leave behind our family, friends and culture.

What tilted my decision toward Canada was the thrill of a new adventure and the satisfaction that would come from being able to establish ourselves on our own.

I knew that the transition wouldn’t be an easy one, but then I told myself, Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.

My husband and I took a leap of faith and decided to give Canada a try. We arrived in Canada on April 30 that same year and were completely exhausted after a 40-hour plane ride from India. My husband had contracted food poisoning during our layover in London, eight hours prior to our arrival in Canada, and was in no condition to help me navigate this strange new world to our new home.

It was beginning to hit me just how out of my comfort zone this journey would take me.

Speed ​​bumps on my journey

My early days in Canada were not easy.

After applying for jobs everywhere based on my previous experience in clinical research, I failed to get any interviews. I tried working at McDonald’s, but I lasted only one day.

Next, I landed a part-time job as a cashier at a Superstore.

My job as a university professor in Ahmedabad in western India was being held for me, with the option to go back to my position within three months if I decided to return to India. I would be lying if I said the thought didn’t cross my mind.

Fortunately, the universe had a different plan for me. One evening, a lady walked into the store and asked me if I was new there. I was surprised and said, Yes, I am new, how did you know?

She and smiled told me that I did not look like a regular cashier. Then it hit me how visibly nervous I was. She asked me what I did for a living back home, and after talking briefly, asked for my contact number, which I reluctantly provided to her.

A rural opportunity

Just as I was ready to give up on my new venture in Canada, I got a call from the cousin of the Superstore customer. He owned a pharmacy and was looking for a pharmacy assistant.

WATCH | CBC host Adrienne Lamb took a road trip northwest of Edmonton to Lac Ste. Anne County:

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Our Edmonton: Road trip to Mayerthorpe

After a formal interview, I landed the position, which was located in Evansburg, Alta., — a hamlet about 90 kilometers west of Edmonton with a population under 1,000.

My first thought upon arrival was, Where is everyone? It is so quiet here.

I saw a deer crossing sign for the first time and I asked my new boss, Do deer actually, physically cross here? In town?

I grew up in Mumbai, a concrete jungle, so the thought of seeing wildlife in the middle of town was inconceivable to me.

I wondered if the pharmacy even had enough customers to warrant hiring me. But I soon found out that I was wrong. Evansburg is a bustling little community and the pharmacy was very busy. People were friendly and soon I knew most patients by name.

Going for my dreams

My boss pushed me to renew my license to work as a pharmacist in Canada. It took me three years to do the paperwork, endless hours of studying with full-time work and unfamiliar regulations that I found challenging.

During this time, I also worked as a relief pharmacist in Edmonton and realized the connection I made with my patients in a rural town is totally different from the city. They didn’t feel like a number to be served.

When I was finally ready to open my own pharmacy, my husband and I visited multiple locations in rural Alberta.

We wanted a community with all basic amenities and close to the city if needed for a day trip. Mayerthorpe, Alta., a town just north of Evansburg and about 130 kilometers northwest of Edmonton, ticked all the boxes.

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Seven-year-old Satya on family vacation in western Rajasthan in India. From left, Satya, her brother Surya, mom Saroj and dad Shailesh Amin. (Submitted by Satya Patel)

Photo: (Submitted by Satya Patel)

Mayerthorpe Value Drug Mart opened in December 2019.

Many people were surprised that I knew their names when they came to my store and my patients started referring their friends and family. My lifelong superpower of remembering names clearly paid off.

The community welcomed me into their fold. During my second Christmas in Mayerthorpe, as pandemic lockdowns kept most people inside, my wonderful clients dropped off gifts like crochet socks, table runners, earrings, candles, soaps, plants and flowers.

One of my patients dropped off fresh apples and asked me, Do you know how to make pie?

Not at all, I said and laughed. The next Monday, I had three pies at the store to share with my staff, thanks to that kind patient.

I am grateful to everyone in the town of Mayerthorpe for accepting me with an open heart.

Nilufa Virji, the Superstore customer who I was reluctant to give my phone number to, is now my close friend. I called her after every pharmacy exam I passed. We often meet in Edmonton, and after I moved to Mayerthorpe, we stay in touch over phone calls and texts.

Rural communities are frequently overlooked by bigger institutions. But in my opinion, they are the heart of Canada and the reason I’m still here and plan to be for a long time to come.

Mayerthorpe is now home and it feels like everyone knows my name.

Satya Patel (new window) · for CBC First Person

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