May of 2010 was when I landed in Canada. I came to the Yukon, directly from Nigeria. I was greeted by changes in the length of the day, a different array of animals in the woods, and some of the nicest people on the continent.
I was born in the northern most part of Nigeria – in the desert – in a town called Gusau, in Zamfara State. This town is known for its heat and temperatures can get up to 40-50ºC.
The desert fauna includes the camel, chameleon, and some lethal snakes, and the flora mostly consists of thorny shrubs, which is what the camel feeds on.
I have come to the realisation that, almost inevitably, Yukon locals will ask a new immigrant if he has experienced the winter in the Great White North – rather than questions relating to the marvellous beauty of the summer.
I began to hear stories about conditions below -40ºC.
The story that excites me the most was how, at the height of winter, boiling water thrown into the air will turn to ice before landing on the ground. While I believe that may be true I have not tried it. With many of the stories, I have just been thinking that time will tell whether one day I’ll be telling the same story to newcomers.
Little by little, from the moment of my arrival, the days of summer crept into the early days of fall and my amazement increased with the experience of each season that I had only read about in books.
In Nigeria, we don’t have spring, summer, fall and winter. We have the rainy season, the dry season, and in the north we have the windy-cold-dry season, called harmattan. During harmattan, the temperature drops to about 30ºC. What makes that temperature cold to us is the wind. But when it is cold, nobody cares.
Here in the Yukon, when the weather gets very cold, that’s when it’s dangerous. In Nigeria, when it gets very hot, that’s when it’s dangerous. That’s when the mosquitoes come out and carry the malaria parasite. And that is when people can get cerebrospinal meningitis.
Here, I noticed that the fall gives way to the decrease in the length of daylight, which I learned is a harbinger of the winter – and then my long awaited season was finally here.
When my siblings in Africa told me they saw the weather forecast in Whitehorse drop below -10ºC, they said, “That’s too low. How are you coping?” But I realised that this is the time that Yukoners are celebrating because it’s still “warm.”
The first day of snow for me was like a child wanting to go and play in the rain and sing the song of the rain, but replacing the word “rain” with “snow.”
Snow, Snow, go away,
Come again another day,
Little Tommy wants to play.
What was surprising to me about the snow was how a single drop of snow has a certain pattern. What is behind that? I am now in my fourth winter here, and it’s still surprising to me. A drop of rain just falls, it has surface tension. But snowflakes have a certain pattern. I was expecting snow to have an irregular shape. That’s why it’s amazing to me.
This thing just comes down from the sky, why will it have a pattern, and not just any pattern? If you were to draw the pattern of one snowflake, over and over, it’s as though an artist made it. It’s beautiful.
And snow is white and the clouds are white, so when it snows, it makes me think that the sky is shedding – trying to create a new cloud.
After a few days of my first winter, it got colder and the temperature plunged to -30ºC, but then it dawned on me that living in the Yukon is not child’s play – you must be ready for it.
My first big feat was to fully dress for the winter, and though I got lessons from people, I ultimately had to design my own dress code as it seems human beings experience cold differently.
The areas most important for me to cover are my lower limbs and my hands, but my trunk is not an issue.
In the house I prefer a wood stove because it replicates the temperature in Nigeria, and so I often say that in the house I am in Nigeria, and outside I am in Canada.
One fact remains undisputable: every day of the winter is a different story and experience in its entirety.
In my view, winter in the Yukon spells itself:
W=wood for stove
N=night all the time
T=tyres for winter
E=electric bills increase
R=risk of frost bite