Rural Alberta: First Impressions

In my previous post, I briefly discussed the context of my shift to Valleyview, Alberta from Montréal, Quebec – two starkly contrasting experiences of the Canadian life. In this post, I’ll be discussing my first 24 hours in Valleyview and the ensuing horror.

Opting for the cheapest route as per my lethargy in booking my ticket before the last minute, a 4.5 hour trip was made into almost ten hours. I flew from Montréal to Toronto to Edmonton, where I had to spend a wonderful 4 hours, to Grand Prairie. It left me, unsurprisingly, exhausted. Sleep on a plane is weird. You can spend hours sleeping and napping through annoying sitcoms and yet you’ll always still step off into your final destination more exhausted and aching for sleep than at any previous point throughout the trip.

When I landed in Grand Prairie – the closest airport to Valleyview – I was consciously taken back by its small size. I had expected such a small size, but it still nevertheless wtf’s you when you actually see it with your own eyes. I was most enthralled by the flatness of the area around. Outside the airport, I could look out for what looked like miles without hitting a single building, or human for that matter.

After a joyful reunion with my family -and their disgusted dismay at my complete lack of travel fashion sense – we went on our way to the town that would be my new home. The drive from the airport took a little over one hour and occurred in infinite darkness – I actually didn’t think it was legal to have absolutely no lights whatsoever on a highway home, primarily, to some hella frightening semi’s carrying unkempt lumber and construction materials. The long and dark ride was accompanied by creepily cautious tales of life in Valleyview and my family’s experiences running their new business. From stories of drunken harassment to soul-shattering disillusionment on the future and well-being of humanity, I began to feel nervous. Suffocation began to set in the deeper we went into the dark highway.

Our hour-long discussion revolved particularly around the situation of the local Aboriginals. Recognizing the genocide of the past and present of our country’s First Nations people, my family completely disgusted by the situation of the Aboriginals they would encounter on an almost hourly basis. Our town is 5-10 minutes from a reserve, which is seemingly plagued with the very same issues that plague any and perhaps all reserves – domestic violence, drug abuse, alcoholism, petty crime, teen pregnancy and your everyday instabilities of life exacerbated to the disturbing degree. Yet despite knowing this, my family felt anger towards the community as well. They recognize the injustice served to and that has continued to be served to the First Nations, but they felt that the community itself could not escape some blame for their current situation. Not a discussion I want to get into, but it made for a fiery and interesting ride.

Prior to approaching Valleyview, I was struck by the sky – a topic I’ll be discussing in my next post. I had not seen the night sky so clear in so very long. While I complain about the lack of lights on the highway, the enveloping night sky led its own way. I was, actually, reminded of the fact that I need to brush up on my constellations beyond Orion’s treasure trail, the Dippers and ..well yeah, that’s it.

Entering Valleyview, however, inspired other leaps of emotion from within me. While the lights were plenty – the town itself is home to 1885 people but the surrounding farmlands house around 5000 – it seemed as though the only process of creating carbon monoxide out of existing oxygen was happening in my parents’ car. Human life seemed sparse – nay, non-existent. At some random point I saw a woman walking in the shadows of the trailers and homes, but beyond that ..everything remained eerily quite and empty.

My dad boasted that he would take me on a grand tour of the town. His usual patronizing tone gave it all away – I had been, after all, not expecting much. Despite my initial expectations, however, what I saw completely lambasted my previous preconceptions. There is literally one main road in this town. There are more liquor stores than trees, more neon signs than cars and more dysphoric hints of a socially stagnant town than anything to the contrary.

At some points I felt like I was exploring the Badlands described in John Wyndham’s The Chrysalids.

By the time I arrived to our new home, a former RCMP office building, I was gutted. The town was far more raven and obsolete than I could have possibly conceived. Granted it was 12:30 am in a small town – not the best time to judge a small town, agreed. Not much, however, changed the next day. I recall staring outside our living room window for awhile and feeling a rush of excitement to see one random male town inhabitant walk down the street at some point in the late afternoon.

Haven could only be sought in my mom’s cooking and the internet. I would, however, be exposed to a completely different perspective and world on my second night in Valleyview when I’d visit my parents’ store.

In the next post, I’ll discuss my first experience at my parents’ new store and celebrating ‘Eid in, well, uncharted psychological territory for my little Muslim Pakistani family.

3 thoughts on “Rural Alberta: First Impressions

  1. Officially hooked on this story. Anyone who can use exacerbated and hella in the same piece so seamlessly definitely has my attn.
    Hope your Eid was blessed.

  2. I’m riveted to hear more of this! I have been through a similar shit, albeit not with my whole family, so it’s pretty cool to see a different POV on this

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