Thursday, September 20, 2018

Armand Rodrigues: Migration, bouquets and a new life

The Vanishing tribe: Bouquets!

By Armand Rodrigues

The Canadian Goan Archives project: Cecil D'Cruz and others deserve credit for their foresight in trying to perpetuate recognition of what Goans have contributed to enhancing life in Canada, by leaving a trail behind  through publications and documents generated by the Goan community.   Modesty apart, I was able to part with over 100 original items, for the cause.
Also noteworthy is the fact that Carlton University in Ottawa, Canada, started a Uganda Asians' Archives Project in 2013.  I covered the Goan component by providing them with over 30 original publications 'and articles relating to some of the things we were involved in in Uganda. 
On another front, the Multicultural History Society of Ontario (Canada) has archived books, publications and newsletters relating to Goans and their goings-on in Canada.  Notable among the authors is Prof. Narendra Wagle (a Goan) of the University of Toronto. Publications include "Proceedings of the International Goan Convention 1988, organized by the Goan Overseas Assoc. (Toronto).   And Goa has not been forgotten.  So far, sixteen of my writings about our life and times in Goa, in the 40s & 50s, have been accepted for display in its ethnological section, by the Goan Chitra Museum in Benaulim, Salcete, Goa. 
I often wonder if our compatriots in other parts of the West have embarked on similar initiatives for the benefit of posterity.   John D. D’Souza's website was a boon for keeping the Goan flame alive (like Eddie Fernandes in the U.K.) until he retired.
A few folks have lamented that they did not know that my late brother Ferdie had conquered Mount Kilimanjaro.  For the record, perhaps I should write very humbly that I had the privilege of attending the Royal College in Nairobi. I was in residence very briefly.  In 1968 the Uganda Government sent me as a delegate to the first East African Management Conference.  At the time I was the CEO (E) of the largest Ministry and had the letters A.I.P.M (U.K) and M.I. MGT (U.K) on my business cards.  At the conference with 85 participants, I was one of the leaders/raconteurs.   The University was either impressed by my cashmere suits or my input.  I was inducted as a member of the East African Management Foundation:  E.A.M.F.   My participation turned out to be a turning point in my life.  We were on Kenya T.V. every night with various Ministers addressing us.  One night Tom Mboya, once the bright light of Kenya politics and a man destined to leader the country until his assassination, was the keynote speaker. I asked him a simple question about my future in the Uganda Civil Service.  He was quite candid and his answer lasted about ten minutes.  The writing already on the wall became more ominous.   As luck would have it, I had always kept one jump ahead and, by choice, had opted for a landing pad in Canada, as far back as 1962, when Uganda gained independence.  On my return to Uganda I cashed in on my chance.  I took early retirement from my good job, after nearly 22 years' service. We were in Toronto in January 1969.  The sequel is a story for another day.

Many parts of Africa were in turmoil in the 1960s.  There was an exodus of expatriates from the Congo and from Kenya.  Even in Uganda, which was a model of civil rectitude, the locals were getting restless, eyeing jobs long held by foreigners, with envious designs on their cars, furniture, TVs and appliances.  The writing was on the wall.  Sooner or later expatriates would have to leave their comfortable lifestyle – with the added advantage of domestics --- go back where they came from or seek refuge elsewhere.

Against this backdrop, plus the fact that suitable schools were not available for the children, Canada easily emerged as the most-promising country for me and my family to re-locate to, for a better life.  It was worth taking the plunge and sacrificing over two decades of service before and after Uganda gained independence from the British, and my position as a CEO.  My wife, Enid, had to give up her tax-free United Nations’ job. We were elated when Canada accepted us.   We packed up our bags, bid Uganda goodbye and headed into the unknown.  We were in Toronto in the winter of January 1969, with two young daughters in tow.

Although we came with homogenous societal norms and language, some acculturation was necessary. Variations like cookie for biscuit, stove for cooker, sidewalk for pavement, trunk for boot, subway for tube, candy for sweets, faucet for tap, gas for petrol, soon became second nature.  School for the children was no problem at all.

Enid found a secretarial job quite easily.  I languished in an alien atmosphere where qualifications and experience well-received for immigration, were marginalized in the real job market. Passing written tests with flying colours was little consolation when frivolous reasons were advanced for not being offered employment. The letters M.I.Mgt (U.K.) after my name meant nothing here.  Being over-qualified or over-experienced or lacking Canadian experience, were excuses heard with painful regularity.  My European name also appears to have misled employers until they discovered at interviews that I was an Asian.  It almost looked like I was not employable even at the lowest rung of the ladder.  It was a depressing situation with self-doubt and questions about whether we had made the right decision in coming to Canada.

However, we had burned our boats behind us and had come to stay, for better or for worse. Trying to rent an apartment was an exercise in futility as children and skin-tone was an impediment. We were used to living in a house. We came prepared with house plans but soon realized that getting a house built was not realistic. So, even before I could find a job, we took an almost foolhardy leap and bought a 3-bedroom bungalow in the west end of Toronto, with no inkling of where any future job would be. We plunked down all we had in a down-payment.  We had a roof over our heads alright, but lacked furniture, appliances, drapes, and the means to acquire them.  We knew nothing about buying on credit or about credit rating. Our plight seemed to resonate with a considerate Jewish merchant.  He let us obtain whatever we needed from his store, with “pay-when-you-can” faith in us.  Such magnanimity towards strangers was a novel experience for us. 

Then we had to face reality and, out of necessity, engage in cooking, washing dishes, doing laundry – activities that were somewhat foreign to us.  Worse still, for a while I could not shed this inhibition of “what will the neighbours think if they saw me doing a menial job like mowing the lawn”?  The house forced me into the DIY ranks and into learning plumbing, carpentry and electrical work, to complete the unfinished basement.

Four months after our arrival, and numerous interviews later, I was thrilled and relieved to enter the workforce, even though it was at the bottom tier.  Over the years I gradually advanced, based on the whims of the employer, in an environment where merit was a meaningless word and only the domain of a chosen few.  We persevered and, as time went by, our financial situation improved.  Comfort and consonance followed.  We were able to use our disposable income to travel the world.  The experience gave us a whole new perspective on how fortunate we were to be in Canada and to have synthesized with ease into the culture.  Initial adversity has in no way diminished the fact that we always count our blessings in Canada.

We have always interacted well with the community in the realm of socials, sports and religious pursuits, and have led fairly full lives.  By way of giving back to society, my modest contribution includes doing the accounts for a large charitable organization; serving on club and church committees and the ratepayers’ association; and continuing to be the coordinator/hotline for 45 volunteers who prepare income tax returns for low-income seniors, disabled people, new immigrants and others, in season.

Not unmindful of the fact that biases exist in all societies, our optimistic outlook has prevailed throughout, with trials of the past becoming distant memories.  We are proud to be Canadian and to proclaim our loyalty to the country.

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