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Diary Entry: Writing to cope with immigration

I write every day to process, and I hope to learn from my past.

For instance, I recently wrote this: “By now, I’d accepted that one day I might be blown to bits by a car or truck bomb. Amazingly, I even could see the silver lining to that dark cloud: I wouldn’t know much about it. What worried me was the bomb that didn’t kill me but left me a multiple amputee, perhaps unable to see or hear.”

These words date back to the 1970s. Was I writing a novel set in Baghdad or Beirut during that time? No, I was writing about the facts of life—and death—in my native city Belfast, a United Kingdom city torn apart in the early 1970s by a religious conflict that dates back to 1690, when protestant King William of Orange defeated catholic King James at the River Boyne in Ireland. Back then, as a fresh graduate, sudden death wasn’t my only worry: there was the usual laundry list of QLC (Quarter Life Crisis) issues—relationships, careers, a serious cash shortage, the gathering storm of full-blown adulthood and so on.

I did my best to navigate this sea of troubles, but when the possibility of emigration came along I jumped at it. Unfortunately, I left hastily with no planning and landed alone, mid-winter, in a small rural Ontario town where I had no family or friends.

I was totally unprepared for my new life. I’d taken a job that most of the townspeople felt should have gone to someone local. Then there was winter. In Ireland in January the average temperature is about 5ºC, – 20ºC days are unimaginable. As one of 10 children, I’d never experienced solitude which would be a hallmark of my new life. It wasn’t easy, but I survived.

Three very isolating years later, I moved to Montreal, which was love at first sight, as it still is. Mind you, my new life was still a struggle. I had no relatives or friends, no Northern Ireland community and few possibilities of friendship in my workplace. I had to learn to work and live in French, and much more.

On top of these adaptation challenges, I lived with survivor’s guilt and worried about “that call” bringing news that mum, dad, a brother or sister had been injured or killed in a bombing. My sudden amputation from Ireland’s green rolling hills, ocean beaches, sea breezes and rainbows was a low level, but persistent sensory deprivation. I might even have had a touch of PTSD. It’s not surprising that it took me three decades of sustained effort to feel truly at home.

My friends, even after decades, even as they succeed, still say, “We love it here but it’s not home.” This between-two-worlds; at-home-in-neither, life is, I know, a default setting for most of us who arrive as adults and it’s where I’d still be without my writing.  In the end it was writing that brought me home and for that I am so very grateful.

 

Graphic by @sundaeghost

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Diary Entry: An Immigrant’s Prayer

I can’t sleep without gritting my teeth.

My mind is racing, traveling miles away.

I can’t focus on anything but the constant rapid beating of my heart.

This sickening feeling in the pit of my stomach hasn’t left me for over a week.

This constant anxiety seems to never leave me.

Nothing holds my attention anymore.

I haven’t had a decent work day in over eight days.

I seem to be existing rather than living.

 

What is wrong with me?

Why does my daily routine suddenly seem so exhausting and futile?

I hear nothing — not even the sound of city streets, nor the sounds of my supervisors urging me to get myself together.

If I close my eyes, I can picture it perfectly.

Flying colours of red and white, the green cedar standing out. The ground vibrating as the dabké nears the corner. Exhausted chants of revolution filling my eardrums.

A single tear escapes my eye. I don’t want to be here.

Montreal is now at its most glorious days, with fiery replenishing colours invading its every corner. And all I want to do is throw myself into the burning fires of the Lebanese revolution.

As the clock struck midnight on Oct. 17, my spirit answered the long-awaited call for riot — seeming to forget where it actually was.

No responsibility seems too dire, no task too urgent — nothing matters but the uprising in my native country.

I know I should be stronger than this. I know I should be mindful of my surroundings. I know now is not the time to long for home.

Yet more than ever, the pull is strong.

The ache in my heart is unbearable.

My people are tired, my people have had it.

They took to the streets, and said “no more,” and with that made all my lost hopes soar.

It wasn’t three weeks before I was asked if I had witnessed any change in Lebanon’s youth, and if I anticipated any sort of uprising. I had chuckled dryly, and shaken my head. “Not in my lifetime,” was always my answer.

And I was never happier to be proven wrong. And god knows I love being right.

So hear a broken immigrant’s prayer:

Do not let your foes fool you once more.

Do not let them lay further traps.

We are now louder than ever before, and hold the whip on their fear.

Fight, and rise from the ashes of corruption, my beautiful phoenix. It was long overdue.

 

Photo by Laurence B.D.

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