BLOOM WHERE YOU'RE PLANTED

Words by Anja Roberts
Photo by Crystal Chowdhury

From Cumberland to the Caribbean, Chicago, and back: a local couple comes full circle.

 
 

This is a tale of resilience. A tale of how, if your resolve is true, you can make it to your destination. 

Even if it’s the same place you started from. 

Not so long ago, my husband Kerry and I were Cumberland DINKS (double income, no kids). With our former careers as rappel firefighters in the distant background, I had a shiny new career as a physiotherapist and Kerry was working as a helicopter hoist technician and paramedic. 

We skied, biked, ran, hiked, socialized, travelled. We had a dog and a cute little house. Yet we yearned for something more. I often left nose fog on the windows of empty buildings along Dunsmuir Avenue, wondering if I could renovate one into a funky Cumberland physio hub. We dreamed of starting a family, and Kerry talked of pursuing a career in medicine. 

Then, in the span of one week in the fall of 2014, our life’s path dramatically changed. Kerry was accepted to medical school on the tiny Caribbean island of Anguilla, and we learned we were expecting our first baby. 

Nine months later, with the baby born, possessions minimized and stored, and the house sold, we arrived on Anguilla. It was the very antithesis to the definition of nesting. 

Only ten days later, Hurricane Gonzalo struck the island. Before becoming a mum, I would have been perversely excited about being in the centre of a hurricane in a brand-new place. But as I clutched my two-month-old in the middle of our little Caribbean shack, fearing he would be picked up like a leaf in the wind, I found nothing to be gleeful about. It left me more than a little raw. 

The power was eventually restored, buildings were repaired, and life carried on. I’m a believer that “you should bloom where you’re planted,” so, while Kerry attended classes, baby James and I explored every corner of the island. We also tried to meet the locals, but often found an arm’s-length welcome. If you are not born and raised on Anguilla, you are openly referred to as a “non-belonger.” 

The neighbourhood children didn’t make that distinction. A family from the nearby island of Dominica lived along our lane, and the kids quickly figured out that I had “icy pops” in my freezer. They’d race their bikes to our house after school, lunge up the stairs, fling open the screen door, and shout, “Escuze me, Miss Anja, you got da icy pops?” Our lives were instantly infused with love and laughter as these kids filled our home.

Having been born and raised on Vancouver Island, I’d never before been part of a visible minority. I now greatly value having had this eye-opening experience. We did make friends who saw past our skin colour and shared their families and joy with us, alleviating some of the isolation we’d felt.

Eventually we moved to the south side of Chicago so Kerry could complete the clinical portion of his medical school program. With a second child now in tow, we enjoyed exploring this vibrant and accessible city and meeting people from all over the world. 

We returned to the Comox Valley in 2018. I returned to work and Kerry applied to residency programs across Canada (though we were hoping he’d be accepted to the excellent local medical residency program). It felt like we were home, but we knew we might have to uproot again to wherever Kerry was accepted. 

The day we found out Kerry had gotten a position in the Comox Valley, he whooped for joy while I bawled with relief. Kerry had done it. We had done it. Our crazy med-school adventure was complete. 

But I suppose once people are conditioned for constant change and challenge, it’s difficult to alter that pattern. So our recent projects have included a new house, a third child, and my launch (with Jamie Moore) of Perseverance Physiotherapy & Wellness Center.

To say it’s been challenging would be an understatement. Just becoming new parents can push people to the edge of their capabilities. Completing a medical degree with one, then two, then three small children, and handling multiple moves to foreign places was no small feat. But it built resilience in Kerry and me, both individually and as a couple, which will doubtless be tested in all our ventures and adventures to come.




Category: Volume 28