Border Crossings and Strange SpellingsPosted: June 2, 2011
Let me begin by saying that Canadian border guards are excruciatingly humourless (I’m going to begin writing in Canadian English. I’ve got to get used to it.). On Saturday I crossed the Port Huron, MI / Sarnia, ON border. I, along with the folks at my host organization, assumed that the proper documentation for someone coming to volunteer in Canada, sans pay, for less than 90 days was a passport and a friendly smile. We were wrong. When I crossed the border and told them I was going to be in Whitby, ON, and volunteering some in Toronto, they began asking for proof – which was non-existent, save for a few emails.
So I got stuck in customs, trying to answer questions about the work I’m doing. Finally, I used the officer’s computer to sign into my email, and tried to show her my emails as proof of my volunteer work. She wasn’t satisfied. I tried calling my contact at my host organization. No answer. I called again with the same result. Finally, I called a third time and she picked up on the street car, far from her work computer or a fax machine to provide proof of my assignment. I asked the border guard if she’d like to speak to my contact person, and after a few minutes of chatting she told me to sit in the waiting area for a bit, and they’d come get me soon. Almost two hours (and another phone call with my boss) later, I received my passport back, along with a special permit that allows me to work until August 5, and says I must be out of Canada by August 6. Quite a warm welcome, eh? The officer told me, “Next time you cross the border, make sure you have the proper paperwork.” Thanks for the excellent advice, ma’am.
My troubles were almost immediately alleviated on the drive in, though. See, I’d been worried about culture shock. But, on my drive from Sarnia to Whitby, I passed three Wal-Mart Supercentres, four Best Buys, four Home Depots, and two Chuck E. Cheeses (aka America’s greatest export). If not for the annoying signs in English, French, and the metric system, I could have sworn I was in Ohio or some other Midwestern state.
I don’t know how else to describe suburban Toronto living other than “roughing it.” I’m living in Ryan Adams’s boyhood home, and every night before bed Mrs. Adams brings me hot tea and hot-crossed buns. My first morning she made me a peameal bacon (what we would call Canadian bacon, but, you know, the real deal) sandwich, which was life-changing. I’m able to catch most sporting events and/or the TV shows I like, and every day I get leftovers (from the previous night’s homemade dinner, of course) for lunch. The basement has a pool table, and the back yard has a heated pool. Every morning Mrs. Adams drives me to the train station, and she picks me up in the evening. This may seem like a cushy set-up, but, I do have to occasionally walk the dog, and I helped Mrs. Adams take the trash out this morning.
I’m not going to bore you with work details right now. If you want to check out the organization for which I’m working, here’s the website: www.stchristopherhouse.org. They do really great work, and I’m going to be working on more substantive projects than I originally thought. We’ll get into that stuff later.
For now, I have one thing on my agenda: taking Rosie and Caroline (visiting this weekend!) to try some poutine. If you don’t know what poutine is, look that stuff up. If you don’t know how to spell “center” in Canada, it’s centre. And if you don’t know what Tim Horton’s is, you’ve got a fair amount of learning to do.