Until I started my career as an environmental guide at the Tohu in 2005, I never had a permanent job in Montreal.
Those were my traveling, university, French and English learning years but they were also my job searching years and I felt frustration more than several times.
During these years, I held various jobs that only lasted a day since they were contracts or because they were so horrible I couldn’t bring myself to go back the next day.
The first time I earned money in Montreal, I was translating a document from French to Spanish for a friend in my French class actually.
I had to lie and say that my father was a translator and writer and that he would translate the document. I understood French better than her despite the fact that we had started taking classes at the same time. And it was most certainly true that my dad had helped me correct it.
Then, I went apple picking in an apple field outside Montreal. They would pay me based on the quantity of apples collected, so I didn’t earn much since I had no previous work experience in apple picking. The apples would fall on my head and my toes and I had to wake up so early to arrive at the place where a minibus – which was not necessary – was waiting for us to get us on location.
The same thing happened when I went strawberry picking, except that it was much worse: I collected less, had to work crouching down, they paid me almost nothing and the boss scolded me because I hadn’t seen some strawberries that I didn’t pick. By the way, most of the workers came from Mexico and Guatemala to work for the summer and they had a lot of experience. Of course, I didn’t go back!
I worked three times in a factories, I was packaging flyers at two of them, and I was filling paper bags in another and putting them in bags, ready to be sold. One weekend, I went to deliver videos door to door in the city of Shawinigan. They were videos on animal rights that I had leave in the mailboxes.
Another job I had was packing aquatic plants, also outside Montreal. We would wrap them in a sort of glass wool which I had a slight allergic reaction to and which cut my hands a little.
I was recruited by the SPCA (Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) once to be night guard and a caretaker.
I had just graduated from university and they had explained to me that I had to monitor and keep an eye and on the animals, answer night calls and do a little bit of cleaning.
The problem was that in reality, the job was actually cleaning the building, including offices, toilets and cages. Moreover, the girl who gave me an interview that night told me that they had been robbed several times and suggested that, since I was going to be alone most of the nights, she will choose one of the biggest dogs to be my guardian. Of course, the next day I left a note to the person who recruited me saying that the job wasn’t what I was hoping for.
Thanks to my friend Graciela, the first one I made in Montreal and, who gave the contact details of an agency, I was able to work twice as a movie extra. That was really fun. The first time, we had to act as inmates in a women’s prison. They dressed us with orange construction overalls and we had to walk in prison courtyard when the director told us to. It was the only time in my life I spend in a prison!
They were filming a TV show based on true facts about a woman who taught her fellow inmates how to train dogs. The second time I was an extra, we were acting as a rock band’s fans and we were supposed to scream as the band entered the scene. I never was able to see both movies and I don’t even remember the titles. Perhaps they were TV shows.
Once, thanks to my friend Sophie from the Biodome, I was able to work in a pet grooming salon.
The owner taught me how to wash and dry them and how to handle them while she was trimming their fur. I didn’t keep the job because I landed a better paying contract at the Tohu. Since I knew the job very well, they contacted me several times to replace guides or to teach them the new guides how to do the tours.
With a great deal of luck – and a lot of resumes and interviews, desperate moments – I finally received a phone call a morning of December 2015; I was told that I was accepted as an environmental guide at the Tohu, and so, I finally started a career in environmental education.
After years of studying French, English, graduating from university.
It was a job that allowed me to learn a lot, know different people, make friends, travel, work in very interesting places. Now I have my whole future is in front of me, I will keep being a guide but I will also look for new challenges because it’s a part of my personality to be constantly on the search.
Author: Helena Arroyo
Translation: Noëlla Moussa