True North Strong and Free
I’m sitting in my Canadian “home” as I write. Missing Morocco with a physical pain in my stomach. I miss Marrakech and Morocco and all my life includes there. Especially now that Ramadan is over. I have been reflecting on my time in Canada and of course my next steps. Because I’m still “on the move”, “in transit”. I’m not settled yet. Things are fluid and so its a time to plan and be excited but also a time to reaffirm that all these new directions are in fact the right directions.
I recently read another blog written by someone who is also Canadian and who is also living in Morocco. But unlike myself, she has chosen Morocco as an experience that has an end date. She is living in Morocco for two years and has returned, like me, to weather the hot months in patriotic familiarity. Coming from a very different emotional base she has missed many practical things that Canada offers. Friends, family, straight lanes and orderly traffic, the politeness of the people, the willingness to help without asking for money, recycling, street scenes. And I get that. I really do. I have some thoughts on being home as well but my perspective is different of course. Because we are different people. But its interesting to reflect while comparing a similar experience.
I have been thinking a lot about Canada lately because it is my intention to do some iconically Canadian road trips in the next two years. While I plan to spend as much time as I can find exploring Europe and Africa, coming back to Canada once in awhile is also on the agenda. And I’m really excited about it. I want very much to do the Toronto – Ottawa – Montreal – Quebec City circuit. I’d like to do that in August but things are still up in the air on that one. I also really want to do the west coast experience. Vancouver – Victoria – Whistler – the interior. I’m thinking about Banff, Lake Louise, Jasper. Maybe a different trip than B.C. but who knows if there is time for all this. I’ve done all these trips of course, but I never tire of them. Never. I never tire of the west. I loved my time in Victoria. I loved my time in Banff. I think of Canada and I think of those places first every time.
But I am a girl of two minds. I remember when I was younger and I was heading off to school in Boston. My mom said, “whatever happens, never give up your Canadian citizenship.” I think she was worried (and very rightly so) that I would meet someone and marry and disappear into the States. And I tried. Not to get married but to disappear into the States. I didn’t get the whole “never give up your citizenship” thing then. I was young. My mom went through a significant part of my teens and early twenties when she was ALWAYS WRONG. And alas, I had a little run-in with INS and back I came to Canada. At that point my only reference in Canada was Ontario and a bit of Quebec. I hated Toronto. I was born in Hamilton and it was my civic duty to hate Toronto. I would N E V E R move to Toronto. I spent a glorious 12 years away from Ontario. Boston, Banff, and Victoria. Returning only for holidays and only under duress. I loved B.C. and Alberta.
When I finally returned to live in Toronto (!) to be near my family again, I still hated it. I came back in 1999 and it wasn’t until 2004 that I finally gave in and tried to see things in a more positive light.
The question in 2005 became – where to move to now that I can choose (having left my Toronto based job) Not Victoria surely because I was single and it’s a family place. Not Vancouver because I can’t tolerate rain for very long. Not Banff because I have lived there and it wasn’t the right place for me. Quebec? Uh, no. Out east? Not the right answer. So I chose Calgary. I knew what I was getting and I tried really hard to enjoy it. But ultimately – not for me. Then I moved back to Toronto for my dad and the question became “Now where should I land?” Toronto? Hamilton? Should I try to make something of the old family home? And the answer kept coming back, over and over and over again.
My heart doesn’t live here.
My heart does not sing with the sites of Ontario. I am not of this place. I am not rooted to a place here. Since I was a young girl I have had a burning desire to live somewhere else. Is Marrakech the final answer? Who knows. Maybe. Maybe not. But I do know that’s more of a right answer than Toronto.
I am “home” now. For the summer. Here to build my Moroccan business in Canada. Living in my old neighbourhood. Hanging with the old peeps. I am SO happy to see my friends. Thrilled to see my friends. But I was just as happy to see my friends when we went to Valencia in the spring. It’s not the place that I love, it’s the people. I come here because this is where my friends are. Same as I go to Banff because that is where Carolyn is.
There are some things that I miss. Shoppers Drug Mart. Kraft peanut butter. TV in English. Driving. Speaking English. Lots of things that make me feel at home. Things I don’t have to think about because its just natural. But there are also things I don’t like. It is SO expensive here. Incredibly. Expensive. Bottom line is that I miss a few Western things when I am in North Africa, but all I really need to do is go to Europe and I’m pretty happy. I can live without many of things that I find “nice to have” when I come to Canada.
And this is all really hard to reconcile because I LOVE BEING CANADIAN. I get it now : what my mom said. “Don’t ever give up your citizenship.” I get that. From a national perspective, I am a very proud Canadian. There is no other passport that I lust after. I am afforded the freedom to choose where I live in the world BECAUSE I am Canadian. I am polite and friendly and inclusive and tolerant and polite (Sorry, did I already say that?) and healthy and well educated and wealthy – BECAUSE I am Canadian. I know the capitals of all the States and most countries around the world, because of my Canadian education. I am welcomed with a smile and open arms – everywhere I go – because I’m Canadian. I am deeply proud of our national values. I get goosebumps when I hear our anthem and see our flag. I love maple syrup and poutine and my weird relationship with French. I love that our Prime Minister had a blast at this years PRIDE parade. I love that we invited Syrian refugees to come here. I love that our government has an efficient digital immigration system and invites people to visit. And stay. For as long as you need. I love that we are collectively appalled by Donald Trump. That guns are used, actually, for hunting (generally). I love that you can feel safe here (for the most part). I LOVE BEING CANADIAN. I just don’t feel like living here right now. And I LOVE that my passport gives me the chance to explore far and wide.
So I am going to pack up what remains of my stuff and put it in storage. I’m going to fly back to Marrakech and make a home there, and establish my businesses. I am going to work between Morocco and Canada and I am going to fill with pride whenever I say “I’m Canadian” AND “I live in Morocco.” I am going to continue to help my Moroccan friends and work with them. I am going to enjoy my new place in life and explore that gorgeous delicious culture for all its worth. I am going to embrace the chaotic, frenetic traffic. The nations poor who ask for help (and the rest of the population who is bound by faith to offer it) and I will gladly pay a nice man $1 for his help when its offered. I will enjoy eating whole food and try not to miss convenience food too much. I will explore and establish and when the time comes I will move on or move in further. Whatever it is, my time now is meant to be spent there. I can not wait to return to Morocco. I long to go back. I miss it greatly. I miss Morocco so much more than I missed Canada when I left it. But isn’t a marvellous thing that I have the freedom to say that? That I have the freedom to choose? That I will be welcomed back to my safe homeland should I choose to return. Isn’t it amazing to be a Canadian. Even if I am a Canadian who chooses to live abroad?
Don’t worry Mom. I will never give up my citizenship. Ever.