My sleepy eyes opened before I raised my head from the bundle of sweaters beneath me. My dad had steered the car off the highway, and we were no longer travelling at lightning speed. The abrupt change had woke me from my light slumber, and I knew we were getting close. I sat up, the sound of my seat belt retracting, notifying my parents that I was awake. They began to talk and I barely listened. They said something about being respectful and not getting in the way. All I could think about was why my entire family hadn’t worn rain boots, after all, we were going to help with the flooding of Katepwa lake.
Since I lived in the prairie province of Saskatchewan, where water is not typically a large scale issue and hurricanes and high tides are not even in my vocabulary, I had conjured up some obscenely disastrous scene of what the small coastal community would be going through. My child-like imagination pictured a storm blowing ten-foot waves against the delicate sides of houses, feet of water where land had once been, dragging people mercilessly into the inky darkness. Which is why, for the life of me, I could not understand what my family could possibly do to help the disaster stricken people of Katepwa.
My dad drove the car over a turn we had made many times before when we came to visit our family at the lake. Except this time there would be no boating. The scene that awaited me when we approached was nothing like I had thought. I could see the water’s edge from where we parked the car. It glistened and sat still in the sun’s rays. The bright blue hue that made people smile in happiness was still there. The houses were still intact, in fact, people were still living in their houses, some people even continued their everyday routines. All the difference I could notice was that the water’s edge was closer to the houses than normal.
I heard my parents in the front of the vehicle, they had just spotted my cousin, who was running the sandbagging operation. His reddened skin dotted with sweat signaled the hard work he was doing. He’d sweated through his entire shirt, and his hands looked as if he would never get rid of the gritty sand that coated his skin and grinded under his fingernails. He heaved breath after breath, never stopping to take a break because his community relied on him to protect them from the melting snow that was making the water levels rise. When he spotted our vehicle, happiness joined the tired glassy look that coated his face, he probably couldn’t remember the last time he’d slept.
As he trotted towards my family, my attention became riveted on the large, yellow machine behind him. At the top was a large opening overloaded with sand, which led to a tinier spout that was spilling out sand into lumpy, beige bags. These sandbags were then carried directly to the waterfront, they were stacked one on top of the other to make a wall so long I imagined it to be similar to the Great Wall of China. The elaborate system seemed hard to understand, all I knew was that people were doing what they could to help. If somebody didn’t have the strength to carry a sandbag, they got help. If the industrial sized drink dispenser needed more iced tea for the workers, somebody provided it. People from all walks of life and differing attributes helped where they could in an effort to preserve the community. This is the day I felt Canadian. Watching people around me give all that they had and expect nothing in return. Even if all I did was serve pizza and sandwiches to the workers because I didn’t have enough strength to lift the sand-filled bags, I was still contributing, I was Canadian.