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Tana Saler, one of our Passages to Canada Speakers in Ottawa, calls herself a “double immigrant” having changed continents, countries and cultures twice. Born in Romania, she moved to Israel in 1985. Tana worked as a banker before coming to Canada to become a healer. As a holistic healthcare practitioner, Tana focusses on the connection of the mind, body and spirit, something that is often overlooked in mainstream medicine. As a speaker with Passages to Canada, Tana discusses multiculturalism, inter-faith dialogue, the evolution of individuals and societies, and the future of politics.
In his book, “The Geography of Bliss” Eric Weiner discovers that happiness does not entirely depend on a country’s economics or politics; but like thousands of many other immigrants, I hadn’t been aware of that, so I pursued the hunt for greener pastures not once, but twice.
I didn’t think myself as poor during the communist dictatorship years in Romania, because everyone I knew was in the same boat: we cued for hours for whatever food was being sold in stores, used old underwear as dust cloths and repaired our nylon stockings when they ran a hole. So when I heard stories that in the West people throw away old underwear and buy new dusting cloths, they dispose of damaged stockings and buy new ones, and restaurants don’t charge for sugar, which is freely dispensed like salt, I decided to find my way to the one country beyond the Iron Curtain that would have me with no questions asked: Israel.
It took years to get adjusted to the new culture and climate, but there was no way back for me, and my own commitment to make myself at home in the new environment, together with a social safety net made of extended family and compatriot immigrants, made it work. For years I told everyone that I was “Ola Hadasha” – a new immigrant, even after embracing the spicy food which at first had burned my tongue, after laughing at jokes in Hebrew on the radio, and after calling my bosses by their first name (it was “Comrade Last-Name” in Romania). The day I knew I was home was when I raised my voice.
I had been told that I was too “adina” – too dainty, with a soft, whispered voice and eager to please smile. Then one day I yelled at one of the managers in the bank where I was working. He was a short, dark, loud fellow from Tripoli with a heart as big as his mouth. I yelled at him humorously pretending to be angry and saying what I had to say in the same tough-cookie voice he used. From that day, he loved me dearly, and I stopped calling myself a “new” immigrant.
I can’t say that the pastures were much greener than my native home. As I was to discover with some maturity and learning, some of our hardships reside inside our mind rather than somewhere geographically. When we are conditioned to poverty, loneliness, or discontent, we carry this baggage with us on all pastures – and I did.
My fear of bombs and wars gave way to hope for peace and safety when my Canadian boyfriend proposed marriage. I moved to Canada in 2000, a married woman, to a country that prospers in peace. It was yet another culture and climate to adjust to, and to a new marriage with a man whom I hardly knew; what followed were my own personal wars on this peaceful new land.
I learned to whisper Canadian-style, and to shovel snow. I learned that happiness is less a matter of geography, but rather of a conjunction of factors ranging from psychological and spiritual maturity, to socio-economical conditions, to cultural flavours, to the degree of social empathy in one’s environment. That trading one culture for another could mean advancement in ways beyond material, that exposure to a variety of cultures is enriching and that it takes resilience to go through drastic relocation. I learned that the burning of fires and cutting of swords are the greatest teachers of kindness, wisdom and power; if we only hang in there, and dance with that fire and those swords like masters.