mercredi 30 avril 2014

In the beginning...

Today marks the day that I left Canada 12 years ago. I can't believe I've been gone this long - where did all these years go? At times it feels as if that day was yesterday, but sometimes I am well aware of how much time has gone by. If I think back to the first few years after I left certain moments are foggy - I try to reach out to grasp certain memories and they just slip out of my fingers. Sometimes I feel that I remember the part of my life before I left Canada more vividly than my life just after moving abroad. There are some things, however, that I'll never forget.

I don't really celebrate my France anniversary. My transition to France was easier than what I experienced during my first two years abroad. At the time I moved to France permanently in September 2009, my French was pretty decent, I was moving to be with my now-husband, I knew the city (Bordeaux) that I was moving to having already lived here during my studies and I had the experience of living and moving to a few European countries under my belt.

My parents raised me to live in our Italian-Canadian community in Ottawa. I was supposed to marry an Italian-Canadian electrician, have a bunch of children, work in an government office as a secretary and live within a 10km radius of them. They taught me a lot about manners, generosity and hard work, but they did not teach me about the world. 

The Den Nation that left Canada in 2002 was a very different person to the one that arrived in France in 2009. I was young and naive, I wasn't in a stable relationship, I didn't have a degree and I didn't have any world and life experience. It was my first time on my own, working a full-time job, living completely independent of my parents.

I can now say that I learned more in my first two years abroad than in any other year afterwards. I basically spent the first few years of my life abroad just floating along. I wouldn't change anything, though, even though there were some moments that have marked my life forever.

It was my first day at work at a new job in Belfast, Northern Ireland. I worked as an audio typist way back then. I remember having a difficult time trying to understand everyone's accent. I would listen to those tapes over and over again, trying to grasp the words that I was hearing. It was around 2 PM on that day and I was typing away. All of a sudden, an alarm went off over the loudspeaker. Everyone got up without saying anything and shuffled into the hallway. "No, you are not allowed to take the lift, you must take the stairs," said my colleagues. "What's going on?" I asked. "Bomb scare," they said, without even a hint of fear in their voices. 

An anonymous caller had called into the police station to report a bomb that had been left in the open car park of the building next to ours. This was what normally happened, at least back then this was what happened. An anonymous caller would call in to report a bomb and the police would go in and blow up the bomb with their robots. At this point, 4 years after the peace agreement was concluded, terrorists usually planted their bombs with the intention of not killing anyone; they just wanted everyone to know that they were still there and that the fight was not over. Most of the calls coming in to report a bomb, however, were prank calls. In these cases, the police still had to respond and evacuate everyone from the neighbouring areas.

Only this time there actually was a bomb outside. The police blew it up as I was going down the stairs. I make it sound like it was a catastrophe, but thankfully the bomb was very small and the police knew what they were doing - the Northern Ireland police force is one of the most experienced police forces in the world when it comes to terrorism. They knew exactly what they were doing. 

Honestly, it wasn't the bomb that shocked me the most, it was the recording in the stairwell and everyone's reaction. People were laughing and joking like it was nothing, even after the bomb had been exploded by the police force. And then there was that recording. The entire time I was going down those stairs, I kept hearing a recording of a voice telling everyone that there was a bomb scare and that they had to evacuate the building using the stairwell. This is what really shocked me - there was actually a recording for bomb scares instead of a live voice! And that voice, it sounded like the man was smiling as he was making the recording, and I fully expected him to exclaim, "Have a nice day!" at any moment. 

I realised at that moment how blasé the local population had become about bomb warnings. I felt very sad for them. And I realised that things must have been very, very bad for them to react like this. It was at that moment that I started to lose some of my naivety and realised how messed up the world was sometimes. 

I was 19 years old.

A few weeks later I was shopping with my ex-boyfriend's mother. I saw some toy water guns on the supermarket shelves. I instantly thought back to my childhood in Canada: running in the park on hot summer days squirting each other with those plastic water guns. Hiding behind some bushes and then jumping out when your friend was close and squirting them in the face. "Gotcha!" Those were the days before internet...

This is the conversation I had with the mother: 

Me: Did your boys play with toy guns? (thinking that I would get an affirmative reply)
Mother: Oh, no, never. I never let my children play with any toy guns. Never. It was strictly forbidden. 
Me, dumbfounded: Why not? 
Mother: A soldier could have easily mistaken them for an aggressor and shot them. Sometimes when we ate dinner I would see the soldiers standing outside our kitchen window staring at us eating and pointing guns at us. There's no way I would let my children play with any toy guns.

What are you supposed to say in response to that?

At just past the two year mark I almost went back to Canada. I was living in London at that point and had just went though a breakup. That was the only time I ever seriously considered going back, for good. It was May and I was half-heartedly looking for a job, having just arrived in London. I spent a few weeks going over it, back and forth, again and again - Should I stay or should I go? I even looked at flights and one day I found a one way ticket direct to Ottawa for around 250 pounds. My hand hovered over the mouse, ready to hit the Purchase button. I pulled my hand away. I put it back on the mouse. My hand quivered. I thought:  

Just stay the summer and then see. Have some fun, this is London, for goodness sake! Find a temp job, meet some people and have some picnics. Come on, just pull your hand away. Enjoy summer in London and then reevaluate the situation.

I pulled my hand away and walked out of that internet café to greet a glorious London summer. I didn't leave at the end of that summer and here I am 12 years later, married to a great man, travelling and living the life that I dreamed of having when I was a teenager. Yes, I really am lucky - I am (almost) living the dream that I had for myself back when I arrived in 2002.

I am so thankful that I never hit Purchase and pulled my hand away.

Here's to the next couple of years!

16 commentaires:

  1. 2002 was my first move abroad too - I can't believe it's so long ago now!

    I've got a few friends who grew up in Northern Ireland during the Troubles, and like you, I'm always amazed when they describe a) just how bad it was and b) just how calm everyone was about it. It's amazing to think how much progress has been made since then.

    1. I guess when you grow up with something it just becomes normal everyday life and you don't think about things being any other way. Then when people like me come in, people who grew up in a very safe and protective country, things are a bit shocking and the abnormality of it really shows.

      It really shocked me when I used to listen to them talk about bombs and bomb warnings. They would talk about these things without any hint of fear in their voices, as if nothing was out of the ordinary. Well, I guess after so many prank bomb threats you would start to not pay attention anymore. Maybe it's better that way then living your life in constant fear.

  2. Réponses
    1. I see that Gwan's mum has found me! Welcome to my blog and I hope to see you commenting again.

  3. What an experience to go through as a 19-year-old! Did you tell your parents at the time?

    That must have been a hard moment for you in London. Good for you that you toughed it out and decided to have fun. Funny how time gives you perspective on a situation, eh?

    1. No, my parents know nothing and I will never tell them. They never approved of me leaving and by me telling them about my experiences in Northern Ireland, it would just make things worse.

      London was a difficult time in my life abroad. I am so glad that I made it through and didn't go back. Life abroad is like that, though, ups and downs. Yes, time really does change everything.

  4. You are very lucky to be living your dream. I have never thought that I would live abroad as I'm very attached to my family, it just happens.

    1. Like I said to Zhu, I am really lucky to be living my dream. Maybe I do make it sound like I have everything, but you know what they say about your problems following you everywhere. I had some issues when I living in Canada, mostly really low self-confidence and family problems. I'm still trying to deal with this - just goes to show that just because I am living my dream doesn't mean that I got to leave all "my baggage" back in Canada. It's important for readers to know that.

  5. I really hope we get the chance to meet one day because we had such similar experiences, it's like our lives mirrors each other's. I was a naive little girl at 18 when I left France with a one-way ticket to Hong Kong. I thought I'd never come back... and I did a couple of months later, only to head to the Americas and eventually end up in Canada.

    Life is full of surprises. It's awesome :-)

    1. I don't know if you'll see this reponse, but I am going to Canada this summer!

      Yes, I feel the same thing, I have a lot in common with you and I feel that I am living your life in France and you are living mine in Canada.

      As a young girl in Canada, I dreamed of living in Europe. When I say dreamed, it really was just that - I never thought that I would actually be able to take that big step and leave my parents, who were and always will be against me living abroad. It was a big deal to leave Canada for me because everyone was against my decision back then. People, including my family and friends, have come around, but I had a couple of years where I had to bear the sting of their disapproval.

      I dreamt of living in France, Italy, Denmark and the UK. I have done all that and more. I still can't believe that I made this happen. So many people either can't (because they live in a poor country) or they just don't have the courage.

  6. Another September 2009 arrival, what was in the Evian those days?!

    Really well-written post, I've learnt a bit about the Troubles obviously, but wouldn't have understood how ingrained into people's lives it was.

    PS I see my mum (bossi) has found your blog, ha ha.

    1. I figured your mum would find me eventually. She seems to like reading France expat blogs.

      I actually wish that I had been more "on top of things" when I lived in Northern Ireland. I didn't ask enough questions and I didn't make enough of an effort to take in as much as I could have. I think I was just too young to appreciate the chance that I had.

      Sometimes I wonder what it would feel like to go back. Belfast has obviously changed - what would I feel if I saw it now? Would my past experience there follow me around forever?

  7. Wow, that is amazing. It is true there are moments that shape our existence forever after. Glad you stayed and had fun. I think you were/are pretty brave!

    1. Thanks Mil. My parents have no idea what my life was like in Belfast. They never ask and even if they did, I would never tell. I still wonder how I ever went to live there as an innocent 19-year-old. Sometimes I even feel that that time in my life never happened, but other times I am so aware of how it has changed me forever.

  8. Wow. 12 years! I keep thinking 7 years is a long time to be away from home, but you've got me beat!

    One of my best friends is from Belfast. We met while teaching English in the same town in France. I went to visit her for a weekend in Belfast one time, and she told me how she wouldn't take me to a certain neighborhood, because every time her dad took her there he was like "I was beat up there.", "I was mugged there", etc. It freaked her out and me by extension. I was just like "That's fine!"

    I've changed a lot since I left home. Living abroad has aged me in certain ways, but for the better. If that makes sense?


    1. Yes, it's been a long time, but probably in another 10 years I'll say that 12 years in wasn't that long.

      Well, the thing about Belfast is that in certain areas neighbourhoods are segregated according to religion. Maybe your friend didn't want to go to those neighbourhoods because when she grew up (or her father) it was "off-bounds" because of their religion. People sometimes know what religion you are just by looking at the clothes that are on your back.

      Or maybe, because there is such a big drug problem since the Troubles ended, she just wants to avoid taking your somewhere where there is a lot of gang/drug violence.

      Yes, I've changed a lot as well. Belfast killed my naivety, but France has made me into a cynic. I've gone from one extreme to the other.