Friday, January 20, 2006

An Immigrant Accounting

I've been devouring Isabelle Allende's 'Paula' on the tram in these days. It's a book I have back in New Zealand but one I had to replace over here. She writes in the most beautiful poetic prose and it makes me want to take notes so I don't forget what she says.

I was reading today and noted a passage that went like this: There comes a moment when the journey begun cannot be halted; we roll toward a frontier, pass through a mysterious door, and wake on the other side in a different life.

And that's how it has been for me. I was married, have a daughter, went to university so late, got a divorce, moved to Turkey and now, here I am making another life over in Belgium ... and if I had to pinpoint a moment when the irreversible journey began I would choose 1998 because before that moment in time I might have been living something that looked like a normal life.

Allende did an accounting of what she had lost after leaving her native country of Chile. It made me think a little, about what I have lost by beginning a journey that almost reverses the one made by my great great grandfather so many years ago, when he fled Scotland and everyday church services on the Isle of Lewis.

I have lost 'the ease of knowledge'. This ease covers societal rules; that manoeuvrability that allows you to have things repaired, locate offices for payment and then methods of payment, and how to make your way through something as simple as the medical or dental procedures. And language is a part of that ... you lose the simplest things, from being able to read the instructions on the washing powder through to the best flour to buy ... even the word 'flour' has to be located and learned in the new language; you have to search out the words for beef, for hair conditioner, for any small thing that you need ... you have to rename and relocate it in whichever new world you're in.

You lose who you were and who you were known to be. And with the loss of language you become like a baby in that new world ... reliant on the gentle intelligence of the people around you. You can't bring any mana in from your old life, you have to find a new place for yourself and learn all that you knew all over again.

You lose the familiarity of family and friends, and then there is the loss of familiar geographies. In Turkey, I remember my first weeks in a city where I lost my apartment whenever I went out ... but I had made the move wanting to find my own way in the world, so I did it.

You lose landscapes and I loved my New Zealand landscapes. I could talk forever about every region in the South Island, with lists of what I love about each of them. You lose the scent of your country, an instinctive knowledge of the weather, and in my case, seasons you recognise at particular times of the year.

And so there are losses.

But there are gains. If you succeed in this you begin to believe you can do anything ... learn Nederlands, start running, haggle in the Grand Bazaar, teach 165 students in a private school, and find your way through all the airports on the long journey home.

People took me into their worlds of tradition, celebration and feasts. There are people who open their doors, their lives and their hearts to this woman who wandered away from her home.

There are the experiences; walking through Istanbul for the first time, or later when the city is beginning to let you know some of her secrets and you walk as if you are home. I have accidently wandered in the places my grandfather fought in WWI ... Gallipoli where he survived and Flanders where he was injured.

I've spent Christmas Day with a Belgian family, Sweet Bayram with a Kurdish family, another Christmas Eve with a Turkish family, a Roman feast with friends in Roma, and had so many meals with the Chechens ... dinner at the tables of strangers who became friends.

There are the pieces of language learnt, even by the monolingual Kiwi. 'Seni seviyorum, ik hou van jou ... 'I love you' was relearned in new countries.

I have learned things that have made New Zealand simpler to negotiate; made me appreciate the natural beauty of home but at the same time, I've seen things that make me think the whole world is my home ...

So when the accounting is done, it works out okay, I'm more in the black than the red and I like how the journey is going.

1 comment:

shashikiran said...

Move from a home like New Zealand to a completely different place that Turkey is. And then Belgium. Struggle. Love, participate in the traditions and enjoy the people of the new place. Remember home in an altogether new perspective. It's a wonderful life.