This is the final installment in What It Takes, a weekly, six-part series that tells the personal stories of new Canadians and their journeys to Canada. In this piece, Global News intern Fadzaiishe Ziramba introduces us to Sara Eftekhar and tells us what it took for her to come to Canada from Iran. You can find the other five stories in this series by clicking on the links at the bottom of this story.
For some immigrants, freedom is not near, it is out there, in another land. Sara Eftekhar was born in a household where her parents promised an escape from their country of origin from her infancy.
Iran, her place of birth, was a temporary living space; home was elsewhere.
Eftekhar, 29, lived in Iran for the first eight years of her life. Inside her home, she felt some peace. Her generally happy childhood was however masked by the dark political situation in the country.
“As a little girl, they teach you that you can’t talk about the government,” Eftekhar said.
“I wasn’t allowed to say we had parties that were mixed between males and females, to say my parents drink alcohol, (or that) we had satellite TV. At a young age, you’re taught what school is teaching you is not the right thing. You learn to lie.”
She recalls instances in which the militia would tear into her home in search of Western books and media.
“My parents would always say, ‘We’re going to a better place where you don’t have to hide who you are, or what you do,'” Eftekhar said.
Canada’s birth rate is in decline, yet the population is aging. The Canadian government is looking to immigration to fill the gaps. By mid-century, about 90 per cent of the country’s population growth will come from immigration, not births.
Yet Canada can be a difficult place to come to. And it certainly wasn’t easy for the Eftekhar family.
Eftekhar’s parents were both activists. Her father, one of five children, grew up in a single-parent home. He lived in poverty and experienced discrimination.
As an adult, he became quite active in his country’s Socialist Party, protesting policies that bred the disparity between rich leaders and poor commoners. Eftekhar’s father taught villagers about their political rights and championed the need for literacy.
He was often jailed and tortured.
Eftekhar’s mother grew up during the cultural revolution and war between Iran and Iraq. As a student, she was restricted from studying what she desired. Her clothing was imposed on her by those in positions of authority.
She despised the status quo and was kicked out of school for protesting the censorship of art.
Eftekhar’s mother and father’s united hatred for the oppressive state of affairs in Iran led to an eight-year journey to Canada.
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As a child, Eftekhar often asked her father why the family wanted to leave the country.
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“One day, when he picked me up from daycare or school, I had a little fish in a plastic bag,” Eftekhar said.
“He said something like, ‘If you leave this fish in this plastic bag, that’s the size that it’s going to grow. If you leave it in the ocean … it’s going to grow twice the size.'”
Eftekhar’s parents prepared to make Canada home. They sent and received documents to and from Canada, through the mail. The mail was censored in Iran.
It took eight years, but they eventually made it. Eftekhar and her family arrived in Canada in 1998.
Eftekhar recalls crying through much of what seemed to be an eternal airplane ride. After missing a flight, her family was redirected to Calgary before continuing on to Vancouver.
“I remember wondering why everyone was wearing a cowboy hat,” Eftekhar said. “I was so confused. I thought we were in a movie.”
When she arrived in Vancouver, a quick stop at a fast-food place led her to realize that many women were not wearing hijabs, including her mother for the first time in public.
Eftekhar’s first years in Canada were painful. She did not know any English and spent several years taking ESL classes.
While her peers learned science, social studies, and math, she had to learn how to speak, read, and write in English. Then she was suddenly thrust into Grade 8 and required to study math and science.
Although her parents were both engineers in Iran, they worked minimum wage jobs in Canada. The family of four lived in a one-bedroom apartment.
“We had a computer desk and I would put a little cloth on the computer desk. I crawled under the computer desk and pretended it was my own little space, my own little room.”
Eftekhar looked forward to Christmas when she would receive food and free toys from food banks and support organizations.
“I’m really grateful for the programs that they had for families that were struggling. It was definitely a struggle, but there were support systems in place,” Eftekhar said.
None of her family members attended post-secondary school in Canada. Eftekhar felt she lacked the guidance and mentorship other students have.
“I feel like I took courses that I maybe shouldn’t have taken,” she said.
Today, Eftekhar is a labour and delivery nurse at the B.C. Women’s Hospital. She is an advocate for youth and survivors of domestic abuse and violence.
She is passionate about ensuring new immigrants have access to the support programs she received help from, in her time of need.
Having spent 21 years in Canada, her family has settled in well. Her younger brother is also a nurse. Her father is the manager of a big company and her mother is in administration at the University of British Columbia. Her parents now own a house.
The desire to enact change appears to have been embedded in Eftekhar’s genes.
“I’m really passionate about trying to make a change, to make life better for marginalized people,” she said.
“I don’t fear for my life, or fear that I might be jailed because of expression. I always have to constantly be so grateful for being here and for having these opportunities.”
WHAT IT TAKES, Part 1: An immigrant’s journey from Zimbabwe to Canada
WHAT IT TAKES, Part 2: From Nigeria to here — How Esther Adeagbo made Canada her home
WHAT IT TAKES, Part 3: Gladys Colarina had to wait 13 years before she could join her mother in Canada
WHAT IT TAKES, Part 4: How Nothabo Ncube came to Canada to realize her dream of becoming a doctor
WHAT IT TAKES, Part 5: Political turmoil drove Oksana Taran to leave Ukraine and make Canada home