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NEWCOMERS: First year in Newmarket 'best I've had,' despite culture shock, lockdown

Arriving from Nigeria with little but the clothes on their back in the midst of the pandemic, Oyinda and Simi Ayobami were welcomed and supported from the minute they stepped off the plane
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Simi and Oyinda Ayobami

Newcomers is a regular series featuring the impressions and experiences of new residents. Whether they came from another town or city, province, country or continent, Newmarket newcomers each experience unique challenges, but they all share the same love for the town they now call home. To share your story, send an email to debora@newmarkettoday.ca

When Oyinda Ayobami and her husband, Simi, moved to Newmarket in the midst of the pandemic, you could say it was based on a snap decision.

They didn't have the luxury of meticulously planning their trip because when a small window opened up in June 2020 allowing for international travel, they took it.

They booked their ticket to Canada on a Monday and flew out of Nigeria on Thursday. After a brief stop in Paris, they landed in Montreal on June 26 — Ayobami's birthday — with little more than the clothes on their backs.

The Ayobamis' original travel plan was cancelled because of the pandemic, and she "lost hope" they would be able to make the trip.

A heavily pregnant Ayobami began to plan for her son's arrival in Nigeria but when the couple discovered in June that they could still travel, they left everything behind and got on a plane.

"We didn't have time at all. We left everything back home. We had no idea even on the plane where we were going to be staying. We had not even booked an Airbnb," said Ayobami.

A colleague from the bank they worked at who was already in Canada suggested Newmarket — a place they had never heard of — so when they landed, they asked him to book an Airbnb without knowing how they would get from Québec to Ontario.

That colleague found a man on a Nigerian chat group who was willing to bring the couple to Newmarket. Travelling from his home in Belleville, he picked up the couple. After an overnight stay at a Belleville hotel, the couple finally arrived at the Airbnb in Newmarket.

Though they love Nigeria, young people who want a brighter future are always thinking about leaving, said Ayobami.

"Nigeria is a good country but if you're young and you want a better future for your children, security, you lose sleep. When you have an opportunity to move to a country where life is liberal, you do it," she said.

"Being able to leave Nigeria at the point we did it meant the whole world to us."

Ayobami said she knows a lot of Nigerians who have chosen to move to the States, but when doing research, the couple decided to choose Canada.

"Canada is more open to immigrants. Immigrants here are not seen as outsiders, they can easily blend into the culture," she said.

The couple went directly into quarantine at an Airbnb house in downtown Newmarket hosted by Tracee Chambers, who happens to be a Town of Newmarket Community Positivity Ambassador.

According to Ayobami, Chambers was aware that the woman coming to stay at her Airbnb would be pregnant but not how far along she would be.

"When Tracee saw me, I can still picture the look she had on her face," Ayobami said laughing.

Chambers immediately asked the couple what they had with them for the baby and they told her they didn't have anything.  

"I had nothing, I was going to have a child in two weeks. Nothing," said Ayobami.

Once she heard that, said Ayobami, Chambers got to work securing everything the couple would need for their baby.

"I did not buy anything. Tracee practically got us every single thing. To the point we had to start choosing because we had so much. Tracee would come with bags of toys, bags of clothes."

As soon as they came out of quarantine, the first place the Ayobamis went was to Service Ontario to get their health cards. Their son, Jayden, was born shortly after their quarantine was lifted.

Chambers helped the couple find their basement apartment and a single Facebook post asking for donations of used furniture and household items helped the couple furnish their new home and provide toys and necessities for Jayden.

The Ayobamis had never lived outside of Africa and Ayobami said she was initially worried that she might be treated differently because of the colour of her skin but after her first outing in Newmarket, her fears were allayed.

"I've come to an environment where people are not hostile. Everyone is friendly. You're walking on the streets and people are just laughing and saying hello."

Ayobami and Simi are taking the culture shock in stride and have already learned about the differences in how Canadians and Nigerians socialize.  

Back home, "it's expected" that friends and family will show up unannounced, said Ayobami, and both she and Simi find it odd that friends here are expected to call before visiting.

"Here, when you want to see someone, you have to book an appointment," she said.

"If I want to see my friend, I don't have to tell him I'm coming to see him but here," Simi said, "you need to say 'I am coming on this day at this time,' so that's the culture here. For us, if my mom wants to see me, she just comes."

Though she is not fond of the frigid winters, Ayobami said she and her family have grown to love their new life and there's nothing she would change about living in Newmarket.

"The past one year of my life is like the best I've had."

 



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