Sometimes all that’s required for things to work out is patience. When we came sight-unseen to Canada our quality of life took a nosedive while we got ourselves established.
Living in a fantastic country & too broke to see any of it!
Keeping our home in the UK meant financially we were stretched across two continents, with no lump sum to kick-start a new life. Our strategy was to start with nothing and add things once we knew we could afford them. With no phone, TV, internet, car, gym-membership, etc. things were very different from back home, giving the inevitable culture-shock a whole other dimension of deprivation.
We worked through the tough times by supporting and confiding in one another, reminding ourselves this was our decision and in reality we were very fortunate, we’d just made different choices from most people we met. Passing up the freedom to eat out on a whim or spend without thinking was how those choices manifested themselves day-to-day.
Climbing every mountain & fording every stream takes time…
Tough times bring out the best and the worst in us. There were times I’d gaze out the window and feel resentment for all those people gliding effortlessly by in their cars, “In my other life I drove a Merc – look at me now… “
But other times found us rising to the challenge. When most Canadians wore snow boots and frost protective jackets, we made do with sturdy walking boots, extra socks and plenty of layers. I thought of Scott and Amundson, George Mallory – all those heroic explorers of Earth’s most inhospitable corners equipped only with the most basic kit by today’s standards. We pretended we were on our own arctic expedition – fortunately we were never forced to eat the imaginary huskies.
Snatches of Cherry Apsley Garrard’s autobiographical account of ‘The Worst Journey In The World’ swirled inside my head as snowflakes swirled without:
“In Antarctica you get to know people so well that in comparison you do not seem to know the people in civilization at all.”
And it was true – our hardships, while bringing us closer together, simultaneously increased the gap between us and the average Canadian. It was harder to relate to inhabitants of one of the world’s most affluent countries, for whom the purchase of kit worth hundreds of dollars for recreational activity was nothing untoward.
Same country, different planet
We felt incongruous when conversations about Glee or Mad Men sprang up. K was notorious at work as the Englishman who cycled through ice and sub-zero temperatures when car-driving colleagues couldn’t chance the treacherous roads. We trudged through blizzards to buy groceries, the pushchair far exceeding its recommended weight on the return journey, the juice and babywipes that accompanied us frozen solid.
But you know what? We have the BEST memories of those times. They might not have been fun, but we came through them together and stuff like that binds you like glue.
Like the day we walked 10km to the nearest Walmart (don’t worry, it was summer) only to arrive too tired to shop – we ended up arguing over nappies and coming home in a taxi.
Or the sleety winter morning K decided to cycle there. There were some things our local supermarket just didn’t stock. I worried about him the entire time he was gone – Canadian roads aren’t cycle-friendly and neither was the weather. After three hours of visualizing myself widowed in Canada with three children and no clue he returned, icy and triumphant, with a weighty rucksack full of corners that jabbed him in the back the whole way home. Among the items was a teapot for me. He was so relieved it was unbroken – just remembering that makes me smile.
I’m reminded of that day every time I spoon tea-leaves into it.
They say Nature abhors a vacuum and our losses left room for unexpected gains. We had some great conversations on those long walks – it was real quality time together that we have to work harder to achieve now our lives are less Spartan.
Slowly things improved – K got a cell-phone through work, an internet connection allowed us to stream TV and movies, giving our handful of DVD’s a much-needed break.
One year in, I’d just written my first blog post and we finally got a car! I’ll never forget the exhilaration of flying along familiar routes that took ages to walk but flashed by in seconds outside the window – the tree with the rusty key tied around it, the fire hydrant with the graffiti face, the bush T did his first alfresco pee behind on a bright snowy day, all blurred into obscurity, lost to us in our new high-speed life.
A month ago we bought family membership at the Abilities Centre, a new local facility delivering sports, arts, music, and life skills opportunities for all ages and abilities. Now our kids enjoy extra-curricular activities just like their friends, and K and I get some time alone together.
And last weekend a long-awaited trip to Ikea (three years people! How’s that for patience?) meant I finally got the bookcases that stopped our house looking like a mismatched, half-finished book depository. You know that thing when the furniture from your old place doesn’t fit the dimensions of the new one? Yeah, that.
But wait, it doesn’t stop there – this weekend we’re getting cable TV! I’m excited though skeptical the enjoyment of Canadian programming can outweigh the frustration of looped adverts every few minutes. After three years without a media mouthpiece in the room I’m loathe to succumb to the brainwashing. Still, I’m sure the younger family members will feel one step closer to the rest of the human race. And we’ll have “Everyone loves Marineland” imprinted on our brains once again…
So, it looks like things are finally coming together. You know what’ll happen next though don’t you… an opportunity to take a post abroad and start all over again!
Expat life – it’s neither good nor bad, it just is…