How bad could it be, really?
It’s 8:30 on a spring April morning and I’m standing at a stoplight on Elm Street in downtown Sudbury.
It’s below zero and I am very uncomfortable.
The cold has seeped through my shoes and is tormenting the soles of my feet, leaving my entire body almost numb. I’m trying, to no avail, to keep my feet from touching the cold cement, raising each one in the air from time to time.
I am tempted to say this is the coldest I have ever been, but that’s not true. My last four months in Sudbury make today feel like a warm, West African summer.
The journey that brought me to the stoplight on Elm Street started in much warmer climates, more than 6,000 miles from Sudbury in Lagos, Nigeria.
A little more than seven months ago, I was standing at the immigration desk at Murtala Muhammed International Airport in Lagos.
I remember sweating profusely, despite wearing a sleeveless shirt and three-quarter-length shorts. I remember telling my sister, who had escorted me to the airport, that I would not be feeling heat for the next eight months.
I was going to Canada, where it was not unbearably hot and humid. At that point, that was all that mattered.
My family and friends had tried on several occasions to temper my enthusiasm for more temperate Canada. An aunt told me of the non-negotiable need for a heater in my room; a friend in Ottawa told me of winter days so cold, noses burned and bled.
I was having none of it. I thought my six years spent between Cyprus and Turkey had given me the tools I needed to survive in a cooler climate.
Now that I think back, Cyprus is actually very warm.
Bags packed, goodbyes said, I boarded a plane on a one-way ticket to Canada.
Looking out the window, I thought, “How cold can it really get?”
Even if it was as cold as they said, my eight-month stay in Sudbury to study journalism at Cambrian College would see me back in Nigeria by May 2013. To me, even against all the cold in the world, eight months was doable.
About 18 hours after I took off from Lagos, I touched down in Sudbury. It was August. The sun was out, the sky was clear and there was a cool breeze. It wasn’t hot and it wasn’t cold either.
But by late November, the cool breeze became a cold chill, the air became dry and my ears started to hurt. By December, winter was well in season.
I learned a lot in December. For example, standing on one spot in the snow for any length of time was akin to standing on a live wire — my feet became conductors for cold, carrying chills to the rest of my body.
Also, it turns out that walking around town in the middle of the night in a palm slipper was both unintelligent and downright dangerous.
Instead of giving in and buying proper winter clothes, I declared war on winter and drew battle lines. I insisted my wool coat from Old Navy would offer me the protection I needed.
And I had heard black Converse shoes were sturdy enough for winter. I was determined to make it through with what I had. I was ready, or at least, I thought I was.
January brought freezing cold, temperatures dropped as low as -36 C. My wool coat offered no protection from the cold. I have never felt anything like that in my life.
My nose hair froze constantly, my eyes watered and, for some reason, I started walking — still am — with a strange limp. But for all the troubles I faced, with each passing day, I saw victory in my sights.
One day at a time, I told myself, it’ll soon be over.
It’s April now and I made it. While the spring cold still penetrates the soles of my shoes, it’s nothing I can’t handle. Looking back on my experience, I can’t help but have a deep respect for Canadians.
They not only withstand the winter cold year after year, they thrive while doing it with an omnipresent politeness.
As for me, fate has determined my stay in Canada will be no shorter than a couple of years, a lot longer than my initially projected eight months.
While I have won my battle with this past winter — proudly so — I now know there will be more winters to come.
Goodby wool coat and black Converse. The next time I meet the Canadian winter, I will do so in a proper coat and a solid pair of winter boots.
This war is one I cannot afford to lose.
Nosa Ero is a journalism student from Cambrian College and is doing his placement at Northern Life.