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Newcomer makes a clean sweep

We moved to Canada in the late 80s and settled in quickly, even weathering the economic downturn of the early 90s. Of course, things got a bit tight, but we counted our blessings –  the fact that we enjoyed good health and the caring relationships we had forged with our friends and neighbours.

One year, our neighbours organized a street sale, the proceeds of which were to go to a shelter for abused women. Our family participated enthusiastically. Though we didn’t have too many things to sell – I was still a little self-conscious about setting out personal items for all to see – we did set up a little table with books. And we volunteered our services to other neighbours. Our son and daughter helped out at the neighbours, collecting and counting change and helping carry purchased goods to the cars. 

We collected a sizeable amount for the shelter. One neighbour suggested a street party that evening to celebrate.

“The tables are already set up,” she said. “We could all just bring a bottle of pop or two, some sandwiches...”

Everyone agreed it would be fun. 

That evening, neighbours hung out on the street, lingering over coffee. Adults discussed local politics, hockey, and the day’s sale while kids chased each other across each other’s yards. Everyone joined in and it was one of the most enjoyable evenings we had had in a while. 

I took some pictures and sent them to our family friends in Calgary, wanting to share the spirit of the evening with them.

A few days later, I received her letter in response – this was before e-mail became the way to communicate!

She commented on how happy the mood was in the photographs. And then there was one sentence which made no sense to me:

“You clean up nice!”

What did she mean? 

I took out my album and looked at the photographs again. Then, seeing a few with us tidying up after the sale, I assumed she meant we had done a good job, and thought no more of it. 

Until years later, when I came across the expression in an altogether different context.

“You clean up nice” actually meant that someone looked good when they took the effort to dress up! My friend’s comment was directed at the photograph in which I had changed for the evening party – a little lipstick and a nice top – not the usual ‘home’ clothes she was used to seeing me in! 

                                                                                                                                                 – Humaira Khan 

• Every newcomer, no matter how savvy or where he or she comes from, has a Fresh Off the Plane (FOP) story to share about their early days in Canada. Do you want to share your story? E-mail it to us at canadaboundimmigrant@rogers.com.

Posted: Feb 4, 2014

May 2020

Centennial College

Immigration Peel Canada

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