Wednesday, December 11, 2013

In Conversation With...Krista (Orr) Nguyen

First published in The Oxford Journal on Wednesday, December 4, 2013 by Sara Mattinson.

Every week, several copies of The Oxford Journal are mailed out to the United States. One of those papers lands in a mailbox in Eros, Louisiana. 
This begs the question, “Why there?” and when Krista Nguyen (pronounced “Win”) answers the phone, she does so with a strong southern accent, evidence of a life lived in Louisiana almost as long as she lived in Nova Scotia.
“I went to nursing school at the Halifax Infirmary the year before they closed the school,” says the former Krista Orr of Collingwood. “My brother Trevor was in nursing school with me. We graduated at the same time. We went to a nursing job fair and there were people from Louisiana there. It was something about their voices, their accent that fascinated me. They were funny and fun. They kept calling us to come down and interview with them so we did.”
That was in November 1993, when she was 23 years old, and by January 1994, Krista had moved to Louisiana and started working at a hospital. 
(Her brother joined her a month later but he eventually moved to North Carolina.)
“I would have loved to stay in Nova Scotia but it wasn’t possible,” she says. “There were no jobs in Canada at the time. I got a job in home health care but it didn’t pay much and the work was sporadic. There were no benefits. It was hard to live.”
Krista says she planned to go down for a year to get experience but given her initial experience while travelling down, she should have guessed her life was going to get interesting. 
“With all the crazy January weather, there were delays and I got delayed in Memphis, Tennessee,”  says Krista. “It was the weekend of Elvis’s birthday. I had Canadian money but I didn’t have any American money or a credit card so I had to sleep at the airport. When I woke up, all these Elvises were coming towards me. I thought, ‘What have I got myself into?’ “
After working on several different floors of the hospital for eight months, she applied for an opening in the Emergency room -- and that’s where she met her husband. 
He wasn’t a patient; he was a doctor. Krista met him during a night shift. 
“I was the Nurse In Charge so I went up to him and introduced myself and told him if there was anything he needed, just to let me know. Little did I know, he started to like me then,” she laughs. “He just worked weekends and worked residency during the week. One Saturday, he told everybody that we were going to breakfast so when I said okay, he told everybody NOT to go to breakfast. So just he and I met there.”
Dr. Hoa Nguyen grew up in Baton Rouge after his family left Vietnam and came to the US when he was 12. Krista and Hoa (pronounced “Wah”) were married in Oxford in 1999. 
“So I guess if I had found a job in Nova Scotia, I wouldn’t have met my husband,” Krista says.
Nor would she have four smart, beautiful daughters aged 14, 12, 9 and 8.
Krista says there were a couple of things she had to adjust to: the spicy food and the weather.
“The biggest adjustment was the summer heat. You can’t go outside. It’s so humid. Even the wintertime, it’s humid and with the cold, it’s bone-chilling. I remember dry, itchy skin and being dry all the time,” she says, “but I guess that was from the fire being on all the time.”
She’s philosophical about the differences.
“This is what I say: It’s about adaptability. If I can adapt, I can survive. You know? Enjoy your life, adapt to your surroundings. I guess it was an adventure, coming down here. It was not planned out.”
At the same time, it’s not as if Krista went from Collingwood to a big city; she went to a place that is a lot like Nova Scotia. 
“Exactly,” she agrees. “People down here are fantastic and funny. Everyone is so kind. They are very accepting. We have so many friends. It’s a little Nova Scotia.”
But her accent definitely has lost its Maritime twang.
“A few years after I moved here, I went back and was in Halifax,” says Krista. “I met a few friends at a bar and the people that I knew for years said, ‘Where have you been? You sound so weird!’ But I don’t sound any different than y’all.” 
When I point out what she just said, she bursts out laughing. 
“That’s so funny. How y’all doing? That’s the way. It’s friendly here. Everyone is y’all. It’s not ‘How are you doing?’ The only thing that gets me [caught out] is if I say ‘outback’.”
And there it is: the Canadian “oot” instead of the American “owt”.
“That’s the only word,” she says. If I say out, they say ‘Where are you from?’ ”
While she has acquired an American accent, that’s all. She is a permanent resident of the US but, “I still have my Canadian citizenship,” she says.
Despite 20 years in Louisiana, Krista says she definitely still feels Canadian. 
What does she miss about Nova Scotia?
“Oh, I miss the seasons,” she answers immediately. “I miss family and friends, my parents. I miss snow. I miss seeing it fall. The prettiness of that. Just to walk outside and have it hit your face. And I think I miss it for my kids, you know? The snow makes Christmas.”
Her subscription to The Oxford Journal was a Christmas gift from her mother four or five years ago. Krista likes to read the Old Time News, Williamsdale News and Collingwood News. 
“I always know a few people,” she claims. 
Krista drops a bombshell into the conversation: A famous Maritime novel is on the curriculum at her girls’ private school. 
“Oh, yeah!” she exclaims.  “In Grades six, seven and eight, they have a list of classic and contemporary novels that they have to read and do book reports on. Anne of Green Gables is on the list!”
Krista and her family visit Nova Scotia -- home -- every summer and she hopes once all four daughters are graduated from high school, she and Hoa will retire and spend six months of the year here. 
Now, given that I’m speaking with someone living in Eros, Louisiana(four hours north of New Orleans and the coast), it’s time to ask about a certain TV program. When I say, “Now, here’s my Duck Dynasty question – ” Krista shouts, “Yes!  We’re from there! They are from West Monroe. Actually, Phil and Kay don’t live too far from here. They live outside of Eros and we live in Eros.”
Is it real portrayal of country life in Louisiana? 
“It is a little jazzed up,” Krista says, “but it’s fairly realistic.
“And yes, I have eaten squirrel.”    


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