Being a Friend First

Masala Dabba
Nanda soaks up the sun in her shimmering orange sari that she purchased on one of her visits home to India. In her lap she holds a Masala Dabba. The circular canister is filled with small cups containing her family’s favourite spices. The Masala Dabba is a mainstay in every Indian kitchen and are often passed down through generations.


When AJ Shirke was hired by Sobeys as an IT Specialist he moved to the county six months before his wife, Nanda, made the move. On one of his voyages back to Toronto he returned with a pamphlet that would change their lives dramatically.
The offering contained information from our local Multicultural Association of Pictou County from the New Glasgow Library and Nanda was hooked. Just one week after moving to the community she met with the association and her introduction to the county began.
The family originally landed in Toronto from overseas in February, for the first time in Canada, before moving to Nova Scotia two years later. They were not prepared, buying their jackets in the Middle East in anticipation of our winters they are celebrating the warm days of Canadian summers and have since bulked up their winter wardrobes.
Celebrating their tenth year in Pictou County on July 1st, Nanda was hesitant to make the move in the beginning and did face challenges but has since found her home here. Moving with her teenage son and husband, they decided to stay because they found the perfect work-life balance and made incredible friends.
Nanda, who is now co-chairing for the Multicultural Association of Pictou County (MAPC) also works as an English as an Additional Language teacher with the Celtic Family of Schools, helping new immigrants adapt to our school system and learn English. On top of volunteering for the association, being a teacher has helped Nanda connect with students, parents and educational professionals to integrate herself into the region.
Often hearing about how unfriendly the county and Nova Scotia is as a whole when it comes to welcoming “come-from-aways,” Nanda stresses the importance of a different perspective. Being active and involved in the community has been vital in ensuring her place in the community so she has joined a local book club, introduced herself to wonderful neighbours and volunteered wherever and whenever possible in a variety of capacities.

A few favourite family recipes that Nanda loves to share; Chick Pea Curry, Palak Paneer, Cucumber Yoghurt Raita Mango Lassi

“I have learned that you have to belong to a place to make it your own. You have to contribute towards the building of the community you dream of. Get involved. Connect with your neighbours. You have to get our there and be a friend first. You have to be equally involved in the process of being welcomed. Share about your culture (local library, churches, etc.) You might not always have an equally welcoming response 100 percent of the time… but you have to go on,” says Nanda.
As a practicing Hindu from India, moving between a few of the 26 Indian provinces as well as the Middle East throughout her life, the challenges she and her family faced integrating into life in Pictou County seem small in comparison to her other moves they have made in their lifetime. Not having a Hindu Temple close by, she regularly visits the Hindu Temple-Vendanta Ashram Society and has been to Hindu Temple of Nova Scotia in Frankville. Having a designated area in her own home and celebrating all cultures, including her own, has eased some of these obstacles.
Within the 26 provinces, the country has eleven official languages and Nanda speaks four languages from India, being able to read and write three of them, on top of the English she has learned in Canada.
Having to travel to Halifax for Indian food staples such as flour for Roti and a preferred rice, plus vegetables such as zucchini, lentils, gourds, and fresh coconut, she still finds a lot of Canadian food bland but has modified some to be spicier and more like home. Nanda does have new favourites such as strawberry shortcake and supports local when she can. She has developed a taste for biscuits from several of the local bakeries and she visits a nearby farm and the market in the summer for the family supply of vegetables. Seafood chowder is also a new favourite, not needing to add anything to it to make it delicious and Nanda adores Canadian breads. Authentic Roti and Naan breads from India differ from what’s available in our stores so are made regularly in the Shirke household but our own staple of bread is something the family adores as an alternative!
Buying an occasional meal from a local restaurant, especially the Shree Curry food truck, also helps remind Nanda of home and makes it easier for the days she doesn’t want to cook. Those days do not come often, however, as she is very fond of cooking food from all cultures, bringing the dozen different cuisines she knows from India.

Nanda dips a slice of naan bread into the Cucumber Raita. Yoghurt is a staple in Indian cooking and is used to make certain dishes creamier and helps to turn down the heat on some spicier dishes.

With the opening of Balai – A Taste of Home Filipino and Asian Food Mart in Stellarton, foods from other countries and cultures are becoming more accessible in Pictou County and Nanda has hope a shelf for Indian foods will be made available soon.
Nanda has been involved in supporting the new families from Syria that have been resettling in Pictou County. She acknowledges that her experience and how she came to Pictou County was different, but she can appreciate the struggles they have simply with understanding differences in culture. She sees this in her teaching when newcomers seem to have a fear of approaching teachers or speaking up and that her students are not all used to the idea that teachers can be asked for additional help or just to share a story with.

Understanding each other, being patient, creating opportunities and celebrating the growing cultural experiences in Pictou County has become ingrained in almost all aspects of Nanda’s life. Her work with the Multicultural Association allows her to continue to elevate this philosophy. From international potlucks, cooking classes and the Fusion Festival plus the celebration of Diwali, Eid, which is celebrated by Muslims and is also called the “Festival of Breaking the Fast,” has allowed the Shirkes the opportunity to not only celebrate their own special customs but to share in the many other expressions of culture that are surfacing in the region.
Nanda feels it is important to understand that the Multicultural Association of Pictou County is for everyone. “It’s not only Hindu’s that get together, it’s all the people from Syria, Muslims, and also local folks join us,” because it’s not only for international cultures but our own as well. Their celebrations of life and international holiday’s offers tremendous value with respect to understanding the world and its differences. “Everyone is okay to come, and enjoy the spicy food offered by the ever-growing potluck events,” she says
Like most people who move far from family there is a longing for parents, sibling and relatives that are far away. Nanda has made several trips home, too. This summer her sister was able to visit the county for the first time and Nanda continuously encourages her to move closer as she knows it would not be easy for her.

AJ now has his own business with a Department of National Defence contract out of Halifax, travelling back and forth through the week, and their son lives in Halifax but Pictou County is home. Nanda is impressed with the progress being made with respect to the availability of Indian food in the county and hopes the popularity will inspire someone to open an Indian-focused restaurant soon.
While Nanda enjoys flip flops, she hesitantly admits to enjoying the mix of seasons available in Canada. This is the first time in her life that she has been fortunate enough to live in her own home and have space of her own. “I don’t think you can own a beautiful home like this anywhere outside of Pictou County without paying a lot more money. So much light, it’s beautiful with so much light. This is like a dream place and that makes it home. This is home.”