19 March 2005

A Tropical Melting Pot in the Frozen North

The New York Times on 18 March ran a cheery little sketch of a community of tropical immigrants in northern Alberta.
FORT McMURRAY, Alberta, March 13 - Forty below zero isn't so bad once you get used to it. At least that was the message of a seminar at Keyano College called "We Love the Winters Here," attended by 30 new immigrants from warm-blooded places like Venezuela and Nigeria, drawn here by the promise of hefty salaries in an oil boomtown....

Venezuela, where President Hugo Chávez fired more than 5,000 employees at the state oil company after a failed general strike, has been particularly fertile recruiting ground for energy companies.

"When you are in Venezuela and you read the word 'cold,' you don't really know what that word means," said Cesar Mogollon, an electrical engineer with Suncor Energy who arrived from Venezuela in November....

But Mr. Mogollon said that once he found that local supermarkets carried the white maize flour dough used to make arepas and empanadas, "I was O.K." He and his wife have adjusted, he said, and his 9-year-old daughter and 13-year-old son are snow tubing and skiing with gusto.

At least 4,000 foreign-born immigrants now live in Fort McMurray, and the number is growing fast. Local supermarkets carry halvah from Saudi Arabia, mango nectar from Egypt, jarred yellow cherries from Guatemala, rice sticks from the Philippines and marinating sauces from South Africa. There are cultural organizations for Latinos, Hindus, Filipinos and Chinese. The first Islamic school opened last year.

Mushtaque Ahmed, a 54-year-old engineer at Syncrude Canada, who was born in Bangladesh, has worked previously in Iraq and Saudi Arabia. He says that 10 families from Bangladesh arrived here in the last three years, and that they now get together to celebrate Bangladeshi holidays with potluck dinners that mix their native cooking with Canadian fare: typically roast turkey and assorted biryanis....

"I like the friendliness of the people here," Mr. Ahmed said, although he admitted to one misgiving that has nothing to do with the weather: "I can get uncomfortable with what's on television. There's a lot of tolerance to things I am not accustomed to."
via OxBlog

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