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Story Slam winner turns life experience into prose

October is an important month for Sheena Brown. It marks the one-year anniversary since she moved from Jamaica to Yorkton. “A lot of people assume that you’re going to Toronto when you say you’re going to Canada,” she joked.
Sheena Brown reading at Story Slam

October is an important month for Sheena Brown. It marks the one-year anniversary since she moved from Jamaica to Yorkton.

“A lot of people assume that you’re going to Toronto when you say you’re going to Canada,” she joked.

Now, October is a little extra special for her. Brown is the winner of the Story Slam 2017 event.

“For me, ‘wonderful’ would be a word [to describe it],” she said. “I was pleasantly surprised.”

The Story Slam was held on Oct. 18 at the Yorkton Public Library. Writers presented their original and unpublished stories to an audience. They had five minutes to read their tales aloud.

Brown’s winning story was called “From JA to SK.” It detailed her experience of adjusting to life in Canada.

“What led to the story was a mixture of trying to balance...looking forward to new opportunities [and] dealing with some daily realities,” she said. “I’m trying to adjust to all of that excitement.”

Brown wrote the story back in February and shared it with the Parkland Writers Alliance. Their encouragement inspired Brown to submit her work to the competition. Between February and October, she completed five different drafts of the piece.

“The hardest part was not to fall too much in love with what [I wrote] that [I] didn’t want to edit,” she said. “Get to the key point and just bring it down to the essence.

“I had to be a brutal editor.”

Brown plans to write more stories about her experiences her new home country.

“Somewhere in the back of my mind is a story about trying moose meat for the first time,” she said.

From JA to SK by Sheena Brown

“Pickney! Child!” “Get up offa di ground, are you mad!, What are you doing rolling around in the snow and let people see you!”

I shouted inside my head as my 10 year old gleefully crawled, dived and tunneled her way through the snow on the playground. My Jamaican mother sensibilities wanted to scream that this was “out of order” behavior. Children should have manners and not embarrass their parents.

My daughter, Amara, flipped over on her back and began working a pattern into the snow with her arms. I took one determined step forward ready to end her fun but then she exclaimed.

“I’m making a snow angel! My first snowfall ever! Best Ever!”

Best Ever.  Best Ever.

Never did I expect this odd combination of emotions. My daughter’s obvious joy at experiencing snow and my... distress? disappointment? dissonance? Yes, my dissonance from this euphoric childhood moment. It was my first snowfall too but I was suspicious of this cold, plenty “nuff” white stuff that kept in getting my mouth, my nose, my hair and running down my glasses.

“Mom, Mom!” Amara jumped up, “There is sooo much snow, I wish we could pack it, like in a bag or suitcase and take some back to Jamaica.”  

We left Jamaica with 4 suitcases. It was 20 years of working experience, 12 years of marriage, 3 university degrees and 1 dream of better opportunities packed into those 4 bags. Now we were waiting to be cleared for travel to Canada by Jamaican immigration officials in Kingston, JA (Jamaica).  

“Good afternoon, so where are you and your family travelling today?” the immigration officer asked.

“Saskatchewan, Canada” I stated.

The officer blinked, looked at me, looked at the plane ticket and then back at me.

“Where is that?” she sounded as if she want proof.

“In Canada. One of the provinces” I replied.

“Eh heh, hmm...” she was not convinced. She held my gaze. Not blinking. Waiting. Our plane tickets firmly in her hand

“Is this Sas-Saschuwan place near Toronto?” she quizzed.

What the immigration officer wanted to know was, how could I be heading to a place called Saskatchewan which is not Toronto. So I attempted to answer.

“Well, Saskatchewan is very far from Toronto. Almost 3 hours by plane. Outside of Toronto, more heading west towards Alberta.”

It didn’t work. I gave her too much information. The extra geography seemed to confuse her.

“Just a minute”. She stood up and motioned to a senior officer.

I did not mean to eavesdrop. I just happened to hear the conversation that would basically decide our fate.

“That lady and her family travelling to Canada but she say dat, she and her family going to one place name Sas..Sasuchwan inna Canada?” she inquired

“Yeah man”, the senior officer said “You remember Janet’s husband cousin?”

“Yeah, her husband cousin migrate to Canada. Didn’t he go to Toronto?” she asked.

“No man, is the same Saskatchewan place him get his immigration papers for farm work” the senior office replied.

“So him really live there?” she asked

“Heh! Heh!” Senior officer laughed “He stay there for a little while but him say it was too damn cold and he left. Think him live in Toronto now”.

I sighed as she returned her attention to me.

“Thank you for your time” She stamped all four passports. “Enjoy your trip.”

“Thank YOU very much.” I was happily surprised and then quietly whispered “Thank you Janet’s husband’s cousin.”

My thoughts now landed back onto the snowy playground in Yorkton, SK.

“Hey Mom” Amara called “Dad is here with Ayanna.”

I looked up to see Ayanna, my 2 year old, bursting into a full flying hug towards her sister. Mark smiled and sat down beside me.

“Hey good news, I got the job starting Monday.”

Snowflakes could not compete with the happy tears misting up my glasses.

“Awesome” I hugged him tightly “We are going to do this.”

Mark called out “Girls, are you ready, let’s go out and celebrate!”

“Hey wait!” I quickly got up, pulled my toque over my ears, zipped up my jacket and jumped into a fresh pile of snow. I rolled over smiling.

“Let’s make snow angels together. Best Ever!”