expatriation

You know you have to come back when…

pretty-cup

Suddenly, you start receiving one, then two then dozens of spam comments on your blog. That’s the sign. It means that you haven’t been writing for what feels like decades and that you have to come back or your collection of sparse thoughts will implode and be swallowed whole by the Internet. So I am. Back.

Not writing is easier than writing. Not doing is always much easier than doing. Anything. But I like this little place too much to let it go and even if right now I feel like I don’t have much to say, I will make the effort of keep coming.

Over an extremely long summer (it’s still surprisingly hot in northern Europe) with my newborn baby nicknamed Otto two things happened: I stopped feeling an expat in Belgium and I realised that no matter how far you go, national feelings are innate and not the byproduct of a single-countried upbringing.

How I started to feel a little Belgian. Since I last blogged there has been the World Cup to keep young and less young people busy during warm summer nights. It happened then: the Belgian Red Devils were all over the place. Supermarkets had special aisles dedicated to the football team and sold all sorts of gadgets. The husband spent a whole Saturday afternoon at the Carrefour with the children and they came back with packs of red, yellow and black Marseille soaps (by the way, the black one actually soiled your hands instead of cleaning them!), themed sunglasses, special Red Devils editions of crisps, cereals, mustard, beer…We had themed ads on tv every single day and dedicated shows where the Red Devils would open and reply to letters received by their youngest fan. Frankly, it was amazing. I come from a 4 times World Champion country but not once I have witnessed such nation wide joy and hope and warmth and support for the football team. Supermarkets in Italy never sold tri-colored Marseille soap bars. (I am sure the green one would soil hands too).

Watching matches was more than witnessing a football game happening far away on a medium sized screen. It was cathartic. Biblical. A myth. The small, discreet, boring little country in the middle of Europe bravely defying the giants of football. A bunch of young, funny, ambitious guys taking a leap of faith. It was cool. And then one night at a party, after Belgium had already been eliminated by Argentina, I found this picture on the inside door of the club’s loo:

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and I felt a little Belgian. Which of course according to Murphy’s law must mean that I am about to move somewhere else. It’s like the last box: I don’t know if this ever happened to you but throughout the several movings of my 20s I used to keep an unopened box, somewhere in the basement. The box you are going to open one day, when you’ll have the time. If you ever come to open that box and thus completely settle in your new place, usually something is going to happen and you will be moving again shortly.

With the help of an extraordinary weather since the beginning of the year I am at peace with this strange place I have been living in since 2003. Do me whatever you want, Belgium, I have finally come to love you.

How my half-blooded kids feel very much pureblooded. I have always thought that a sense of belonging to a certain country, culture and set of values comes from growing up in a place. I couldn’t help but notice when I was in school that children that had transferred from abroad very often were a little different from us, single-countried Italians. They spoke with a metallic accent, they ate different foods, they were less interested in football than us and dressed differently. Nationality went hand in hand with a constant exposure to sunlight, pasta and roman architecture. Well, apparently I was wrong.

I feel very much Italian despite the uneasiness that plagues me every time I stay too long in Italy. I AM very Italian indeed but I never preached it. I have friends actively promoting the Italian-ness of their kids, by teaching songs, traditions and foods and patiently correcting each and every grammatical slip up. I am too lazy to correct grammar every time (and, sincerely, most of their genuine mistakes are so funny that corrections seem unfair) and not orthodox enough to teach things I have forgotten myself. But despite my (non) efforts in this sense, it turns out my children think of themselves as Italians (and a little bit French, not Belgian. That’s another story). It’s not about the sun, then. There must be something more.

What do you feel after your years abroad? And what do your children think they are, if you have any?

When your dreams take your life: another story of expatriation

Yesterday a boat charged with around 500 people took fire a few miles off the coast of Lampedusa, a beautiful Sicilian island sitting only 70 miles north of the African coast. The Italian forces recovered so far over 100 bodies and they think 200 more are still at sea.

It was the middle of the night when someone ignited the corner of a blanket on the boat, hoping to be seen and rescued by passing fishermen. It was a matter of minutes before the whole ship started to burn and capsized. Hundreds of people jumped in the water, most of them unable to swim.

A few days ago a dozen illegal immigrants died on a Sicilian beach,  thrown in the water off the coast by the same reckless middlemen who extorted them thousands of euros with the promise of delivering the chance to a better future.

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Watching the images of the aligned bodies on the beach I was overwhelmed by sadness.

I spend so much time dissecting all the possible nuances of expatriation. I write of being lost in translation and of the perks of being a foreigner, I have lyrical moments thinking of my birth country and others of mere exasperation. And I do all of this from my comfy home, sitting in front of my cute laptop, sipping russian tea and eating organic dried fruits.

At the same time, thousands of people across the world share some of my dreams of cutting the cord, see the world, get a better chance, build a  future, give children a different education. Only, they are fleeing wars, famine, persecutions, lack of any fundamental human right. They don’t have the time – or the opportunity –  to think about expatriation. They just gather all of the money they can think of and jump on a boat.

I am aware that by doing so, they are breaking the law. At the same time I can’t but feel compassion, and sympathy for them. Had I grown up dealing with daily survival, I would jump on that boat too. Crossing my fingers, hoping for the best and telling myself that anything is better that rotting in a world deprived of freedom and humanity.

My thoughts today are for the other expats. Those we will never cross in airports’ lounges, coffee shops or colonial hotels. The expats that don’t know about visas or working permits or the difficulties they will have to face, should they reach the other side of the border. The expats that just dream of a better tomorrow, and are ready to risk their life to have the chance to see it.

They are not different from those who travelled for hours in the trunk of a car or under a bus seat to escape oppression and dictators after WWII. Who fled war and racial persecution by walking nights and days in the snow, crossing mountains. Who defied armed and ruthless wardens to escape from a concentration camp. Who hid in impossibly small suitcases to conquer freedom.

It’s thanks to those brave, amazingly strong men and women that other oppressed human beings kept faith, and continued to dream. May there be a day when no one will have to die hoping for a rosier future.