Peterborough's Kemi Akapo—who PTBOCanada recently spotlighted in our "8 Local Women You Really Need To Meet" article, wrote a powerful post on her Facebook page Wednesday (September 2nd) marking her 10th anniversary of being in Canada—on what Canada, Peterborough and community mean to her. Akapo let us re-post it in its entirety here. Have a read below...
On September 2nd, 2005 I stepped foot in Canada for the first time. 10 years ago.
Travelling from Conakry, Guinea via Paris, France, my mom and I landed in Montreal. Our flight from Paris had been delayed for several hours, which resulted in our missing our connecting flight to Toronto where the Trent International Program Orientation camp staff/volunteers were awaiting our arrival. I don’t remember too much of it, but I do remember my mother speaking with an Air France agent and somehow getting her to agree to put us up in a hotel for the evening and providing transportation to and from the hotel, all on their dime. She also somehow got us booked on an Air Canada flight from Montreal to Toronto scheduled to leave the next day.
We arrived to Toronto and my mother (who thankfully had just done this trip a year ago with my older brother) booked us an airport shuttle to drop me off at Camp Kawartha for TIP camp and took her to her home for the next three weeks, Peterborough Inn and Suites. We got into shuttle van and after what seemed like an eternity, finally arrived at Camp Kawartha.
Stepping off the airport shuttle at Camp Kawartha, I was first greeted by a TIP Office staff member, Elena Koudiakova who said “We’re so glad you’re here, we were worried when you didn’t show up yesterday!” I remember thinking “Woah, this lady knows who I am? Neat.”
TIP Camp was a blast. I met a number of people and started my memories of life as a Trent student that day. One memory which remains with me today is myself and R (two Nigerian girls who had never canoed before) jumping into a canoe and paddling out into the lake. Neither of us knew what we were doing, but we were having a good time. That is, until we wanted to return to camp. Not having canoed before, we didn't know how to turn the canoe around. Oops. We finally figured it out, and slowly made our way back. I’m not quite sure why, but as we were nearing shore R decided to jump ship and swim back, leaving me to fend for myself. I may have had a slight panic attack, but I persevered and thankfully a camp counsellor saw me, paddled closer and encouraged me until I docked.
It would take too long to write about what happened over the next 10 years after that incident, but it's been quite a rollercoaster.
I’m not quite sure what I expected, but my journey in Canada so far has been nothing like I could have anticipated. I have made some incredible friends here, first at Trent University and later on in the community of Peterborough (and across Canada / the world). I’ve had countless numbers of memories. I’ve experienced heartache. I’ve survived off Ramen noodles. I’ve experienced snow for the first time. I discovered my voice. I learned that perogies are not the same thing as samosas. I learned that inequality exists in Canada just as it does around the world. I’ve found there are wonderful people who care deeply on various issues and work/volunteer their time to address them. I learned the J stroke. Most importantly though, I have developed a sense of community. There are a number of people I have to thank for my success here but I won’t list them, lest I forget one and hurt someone’s feelings. You know who you are. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I would be remiss if I did not mention my family though. They have helped me in innumerable ways and there really is no way for me to "pay them back" for what they've done. Ese pupo. (Yoruba)
I will admit, I miss my original home in West Africa though. I miss the beach. The actual beach with an ocean, not freezing Lake Ontario, sorry. I miss the food, the music, the weather (oh the weather!) and so much more. That being said, Peterborough is now and will always be one of my homes.
What is in store for me for the next 10 years, I do not know. What I do know, however, is that those first 48 hours in Canada taught me to handle a lot of what I faced in my first 10 years here. Not everything will go as planned. That’s okay, there is almost always another way. Sometimes, you can have a conversation with someone and get far more out of it than expected. Canada is huge and it takes hours to drive anywhere. There are people looking out for you, sometimes without you realizing. Sometimes people will ditch you, especially when you feel you need them the most. That’s okay, you’re strong enough to handle it. As enthusiastic as you are to try something new, it's okay to slow down, ask questions and determine if it's the best fit for you. There is usually someone around to help you, offer advice, encouragement.
Finally, call mom. Whatever you’re going through, chances are she’s gone through it (or something similar) before and can give you advice. Dad too.
You know how you hear about this person or that person being super cool, and someone you ought to meet? Well here are a few amazing women in Peterborough and the Kawarthas we've compiled. If you ever get the chance to have coffee with them, don't pass it up. In no particular order, here we go...
1. Peggy Shaughnessy
For starters, Peggy is the owner of the legendary Whistle Stop at the corner of George & Charlotte—which has some of the best poutine (and conversation) you'll find anywhere on the planet. But much more than that, Peggy is an angel to the less fortunate in society—or those just struggling in their day to day lives. She is a tireless crusader who helps people who come in off the street looking for help or through her mental health Redpath programs she runs across Canada. She is also one of the funniest people you'll ever meet, a great storyteller—and an even greater listener.
2. Maryam Monsef
Maryam is the current Federal Liberal candidate for Peterborough [UPDATE: and now MP] and was a close runner-up in the Peterborough mayoral race last fall. Politics aside, she has an infectious energy and attitude toward life. She believes anyone—regardless of age, race, gender or experience—can change the world through courage, passion, conviction and knowledge. She's living proof of that. She also totally loves Peterborough—it saved her life—and knows that everyone has a story to share, and that anyone can make a difference.
3. Sofie Andreou
Sofie is known for her passion of leveraging the power of online marketing—speaking and training people in Peterborough and far beyond. But she is also a community ambassador, with her countless roles with supporting local charities and business initiatives and economic development. This entrepreneur has instrumental roles with Women's Business Network (WBN) and the Bears' Lair Entrepreneurial Competition. She's also witty, supportive and helpful to all—a great sounding board. A true community builder.
4. Leslie Bradford-Scott
On a cash crop farm in Bailieboro, Leslie has the makings of a global empire with her funky gift products for men and women put out by her company Walton Wood Farm. Leslie has written award-winning screenplays but one could also write a screenplay about her own life—see her quirky "Owner's Story" here. She sees the great comedy in life's situations, which is reflected in her hilarious display copy and fresh approach on her Walton Wood products. Her story is one of perseverance, fortitude—and humour—and it's no wonder her business is taking off. If you meet her, you'll see why she has all the right ingredients to succeed. And she'll likely share some great nuggets of wisdom with you.
5. Kate Wells
Kate is a passionate autism advocate—often live tweeting the daily ups and downs of living with a child of autism. Kate is remarkably transparent about the huge extremes of dealing with her teenage autistic son Aidan, giving us a raw look into the impact it has on her family and mental health. But Kate's attitude is amazing through the highs and lows, and if you meet her in real life you'll see why. She's smart, funny, self-deprecating and insightful all at once. And she could care less about being judged. She owns her own life. Oh, and she is also a great writer who one day we'd like to see write a book about living with autism—an extended version of her Twitter handle.
6. Cindy Crowley
Cindy pictured with her husband Dave
Cindy co-owns Ricky’s All Day Grill with her husband Dave. She makes comfort food there, but also is comfort food. When you meet Cindy, you feel like you've known her forever—like re-connecting with a long-lost friend or family member. Cindy is a life-long resident of Peterborough and is supportive of all things that build community. Say hi to her next time you're at Ricky's and see you'll see what we mean.
7. Kemi Akapo
Kemi has the best smile in Peterborough—but that's just the beginning. A passionate community advocate and social activist, Kemi is Settlement Services Coordinator at New Canadians Centre—and earlier this year was an NGO delegate at United Nations Commission on the Status of Women in New York, attending as a representative of the YWCA. She also has a great radio voice—and is a terrific interviewer—hosting a People of Peterborough show on Trent Radio. Meet her if you can.
8. Anne Arnold
The former Director of Business Development at The Venue, Anne is also a wife, mom, nana, volunteer and passionate community ambassador. She's been involved with many organizations and charities over the years, including International Dragon Boat Festival, Habitat for Humanity Women Build Committee, Easter Seals Telethon Committee, Canadian Cancer Society's Relay for Life and more. She can offer great wisdom and advice based on her years of experience in business and volunteering. Oh, and she once took Bobby Orr waterskiing in Parry Sound. But we'll let her tell you about that.