Image Credit: Saskatchewan Polytechnic
Image Credit: Saskatchewan Polytechnic

Perogies and snowmen: Nigerian sisters experience classic Canadian holidays

For many Saskatchewanians, the holidays just wouldn't be the same without good food, some outdoor fun, and the company of loved ones. Over last year's winter break, sisters Hadiza and Hauwa Abbati Aliyu got a taste of the holiday spirit with the help of their new friends.

Although they were born a year apart in Northern Nigeria, their friends and family often call them twins because of their inseparable bond. Together, they arrived in Saskatchewan in fall 2014 to begin their business certificate at Sask Polytech's Prince Albert campus.

"Last year we went to a friend's house and we spent Christmas with them," says Hadiza. "I'm a Muslim, but I also rejoice with my friends during their time when they're happy. I gave them gifts and Hauwa and I spent time with them. Knowing what it was to be in the Christmas spirit, sharing gifts, was really nice."

Hauwa laughs as she recounts their first attempt at building a snowman with their friends. There wasn't quite enough snow to form a full-sized Frosty. "We couldn't get him to be tall so we made a snowboy," she says.

The sisters are incredibly enthusiastic about diving into new experiences. Another first for them was a trip to the bowling alley with their fellow international students during the winter break. "We want to know the Canadian culture," says Hadiza.

No Saskatchewan experience would be complete without perogies. "We spent Thanksgiving (2014) with our landlord in Prince Albert," says Hadiza. "We had turkey, mashed potatoes, and Hauwa's favourite food is now perogies. At first I didn't care for perogies but Hauwa makes me eat them every day," she adds with a laugh.

The focus on food and family during the holidays reminds them of home. "Canadian culture, I feel, is so similar to Northern Nigerian culture," says Hadiza. "If we were doing a ceremony in Nigeria, the custom is we have lots of food for everyone."

This year, Hadiza and Hauwa are working towards their insurance diploma at Sask Polytech's Moose Jaw campus. "I love everything about my program because I've been accepted by my instructors. I don't feel different in class. I love insurance," says Hadiza. "Hauwa and I had the opportunity to work with SGI during the summer. Everyone was so nice and I got to fall in love with the work and everything it entails."

As much as they love living in Saskatchewan, they miss their family and friends in Nigeria, so they'll be taking a two-week trip home during the upcoming break. It's the first time they'll have travelled home since leaving for school last year.

They plan to graduate in April and are excited to start their careers, preferably in Saskatchewan. "I don't care where I live as long as I'm in Saskatchewan," says Hauwa.

"When you've been accepted in a place you really don't mind where you are," adds Hadiza. "We always miss home, but sometimes the people here make you feel like you don't really need to go home."