Pakistani on the Prairie

Shehnila Sultan never thought fate would bring her to the wide-open lands of the Canadian prairies in Regina where the population is sparse and the winters frigid.

I still remember witnessing the prairies for the first time from my window on a flight from Montreal to Regina, Canada. It was plain and flat. I had lived in Saudi Arabia, Karachi and Montreal prior to coming here.  

This move was different than the rest. I was 18-years-old and in my second  year of college. But I had to leave my friends and everything I knew behind to move to this new place where there weren’t a lot of South Asians. This was an adjustment for me coming from Montreal where I had mostly Indian and Pakistani friends. 

“There was something about being able to relate to people of your own culture that comforted me in this unfamiliar town.”

This Bollywood loving, shopaholic, Pakistani-Canadian girl slowly met some South Asian friends. There was something about being able to relate to people of your own culture that comforted me in this unfamiliar town. 

In the summer of 2008, I was introduced to a guy. He was the perfect definition of tall, dark and handsome and he was also Pakistani-Canadian. Bingo! Though our encounter was short lived, it left an imprint on me. 

A year later, my father passed away and that’s when I realized that Regina now had a piece of my heart and had other things in store for me. The tall, dark, and handsome fella and I stumbled upon each other again. He lived in this town too. 

“If I wanted to stay close to my family and settle down with the man of my dreams, I had to give up the thought of moving away.”

As our relationship progressed, the fear of calling Regina home forever was melting away. The decision was simple. If I wanted to stay close to my family and settle down with the man of my dreams, I had to give up the thought of moving away. I had to embrace this friendly small town surrounded by endless farmlands. 

Planning my big fat Pakistani wedding in the Prairies was difficult. I had to do a lot of things myself and order almost everything online. There were no Pakistani wedding decorators, bridal shops or banquet halls.  

But the low cost of living and career opportunities compared to other Canadian cities make the prairies a wonderful place to live and nurture a family. 

My identity is based on culture and traditions. Holding onto the Pakistani culture here is tough, but I am surrounded by family. We celebrate Ramadan and Eid.  

A part of me may yearn to live in a bigger city. But if I didn’t move to Regina, I wouldn’t have experienced the Prairies or have met my husband. 

Winter temperatures can fall to minus 40 Celsius. We have to plug our cars into a heater. And haystacks make a pretty cool picture taking opportunity here. It isn’t so bad after all.  

Follow Shehnila on Instagram at @shenny_s 

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