Ahmed’s Journey


Of the 250,000 newcomers who arrive in Canada each year, 60 to 70 percent will stay in Vancouver, Montreal and Toronto. But those who move outside the large metropolitan areas may experience success and belonging more quickly.

“It was so important for me,” says Ahmed Elmaddah, a pharmacist originally from Egypt of his departure from Vancouver, “This was when I got chances.”

“I believe chances are bigger in smaller cities.”

Ahmed has lived his belief. Arriving from Cairo in 2010, the pharmacist with eight years of experience spent close to a year in Vancouver passing exams to receive his pharmacy credentials. After he completed his qualifications in December of 2010, he moved to Port Hardy, BC (population 4,000) to take a job as a Staff Pharmacist.

Two years later, he was promoted to Pharmacy Manager, a job he worked in a few months longer until he moved to Kamloops (population 99,000) for another pharmacy position that boosted his experience. Five months later, he was on the move again to Hamilton, Ontario (population 721,000) where he participated in a locum (like being a substitute pharmacist) to further gain experience.

Early this year, in the spring of 2015, he moved back to the small southeastern BC community of Elkford (almost 3,000 people) to open his own pharmacy. For several years, the community had been without a drug store, so Ahmed’s new enterprise has prompted enthusiastic support in the three months he’s been open for business. The shop stays open six days per week and even provides deliveries. On the one day he is closed, he takes care of re-ordering and business tasks.

Ahmed has been so busy he has not yet been able to take a day off. He wants to bring his family, including his wife and three young children, to Elkford, but so far is not able to take off the two weeks in order to help them move from Hamilton.

Certainly, there are big-city aspects of life that he misses when he is in small towns, including kebabs and shawarmas (like donairs), but he visits Calgary every month or so and gets a taste of his Middle Eastern favorites there. In Port Hardy, he asked a local food store to order halal meat and chicken for him, which they did.

“The guys in the food store were very helpful,” he says.

But most of the time, he’s too busy to worry about food. Part of the reason is that his social life includes invitations from locals. He’s been invited to golf and go fly fishing, two things he’s never done before. The most touching invitation was from a couple who wanted to help him celebrate Eid, the festival following Ramadan.

The couple, who are not Middle Eastern, researched Ramadan and Eid on the Internet to learn about typical foods eaten during that celebration. Then, they cooked an early morning breakfast for Ahmed with the recipes retrieved from the Internet. Ahmed said he was deeply moved by the extent to which the couple worked to accommodate his cultural background.

“That shocked me to the bottom!” he said, recalling the welcoming experience that provided a sense of belonging.

As a new member of the community, Ahmed’s sense of belonging is still growing. “It will take time,” he says, but he is optimistic based on the feedback he receives from patients and customers as well as the invitations he receives to participate in community life.

Gwen PawlikowskiAbout the Author:
Gwen Pawlikowski is a freelance writer and entrepreneur who has also worked as an ISSofBC employment counsellor with newcomers. She lives in New Westminster and loves the diversity of the Lower Mainland. Please click here for information on ISSofBC’s career services.

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