Homeland Insecurity

The other day I had my first real bout of missing Canada since arriving in the UK three months ago.

Our new table top stereo had arrived from Amazon the day before, replacing and closely resembling the unit we gave away when we left Vancouver, another casualty of the voltage difference between the continents.   I bought the new one at a steep discount, the vendor advertising it as “slightly scratched, with damaged packaging”, but when it came there wasn’t any damage at all.  Pleased, I plugged it in, set the clock, made sure I could dock Renata’s old iPod, and then a USB stick, and finally began to tune the FM radio stations.  It was then I realized I didn’t know anything at all about radio in the UK.

Since our arrival I’ve only once listened to an actual radio.  We had taken the Tube and then the bus to a northwest London IKEA to buy a few things and, as one does, emerged three hours later, tired of slow walking and pushing two enormous shopping carts full of projects.  No way were we getting home on public transport.

The guy at the IKEA delivery desk took one look at our horde of mostly small treasures and informed us we didn’t want his next day service. He sent us to a neighbouring desk, that of a taxi company.   Ten minutes later, after anxiously submitting our postal code to be vetted, we were out on the pavement hurriedly throwing everything into the back of a minivan, an older one of the kind that looks not far off a giant and slightly melted microwave oven.

It was a hot day, the only one we’ve had so far really, the front windows were down and, as we crawled along in London traffic, a pleasant selection of classic rock & pop was playing on the radio.  “You know Billy Joel?” our young driver shouted at me over the noise of the traffic outside his open window, smiling proudly, as if he had just discovered him.

To be more like Jesus I ignored his question and replied with my own. “Where are you from?” I asked, having picked up on a heavy and distinctly non-British accent.  To be honest I could already tell from his physical appearance and accent he was of Somali extraction, but I was trying to be polite.

“Croydon,” he replied.

“Were you born there?” I continued, again being polite and not believing for a second he would answer in the affirmative.  I already had my follow-up question about Somalia at the ready.

“Yeah,” he said, “in 1991.”

Wow.  I thought of my own children, born and raised in the Netherlands; are they – second generation immigrants themselves – still so easy to identify as “foreigners”?  I wondered.

We chatted all the way home, he informed me of the name of the station he was listening to, and I gave him a decent tip for the help of  getting our things indoors and for the bother of time wasted in the traffic jam.

Now, weeks later and tuning my stereo for the first time, I couldn’t for the life of me remember the frequency of that station.  I duly consulted Google and came up with a list and descriptions for all the tunable FM stations in the London area.  The BBC dominates with half a dozen offerings pegged at different slices of the local demographic.  As for my UK-Somali friend, he had been listening to Smooth FM.  Very fetch.

The next day, radio tuned, it was my turn to cook dinner, something I enjoy doing and have long preferred to do while listening to the radio, in the company of a glass of red wine.  In the past five years, while living in British Columbia, I grew fond of CBC Vancouver’s late afternoon show, “On the Coast”.  Light banter, news, human interest stories, music, contests – it’s a really lovely mix for someone of my age and interests.  But, sadly, that too had to go when we moved to London.   (Yes, I could listen online, but am not likely to do so at 02:00 in the morning.)

At first I thought my irritation was because the red wine was missing.  I’ve given up most alcohol for the time being – long story – and there was a disruption in my regular pleasant pattern of cooking and sipping.  I was unsettled.

But then I realized it wasn’t the lack of vino that was causing my irritation, it was the newsy BBC radio station I had tuned to.  It was only news.  It wasn’t comfortable and homey.  So, leaving the onion half-cut on the cutting board, I went over and messed with the radio, selecting another station.  One that turned out to be hosted by the most obnoxious, self-absorbed, screechy chatterbox of a host as ever I’ve heard.  Again, knife down and another station.  Too much music; in fact, only music.  No good.

It was no use.  I was now missing CBC radio, missing Canada outright, missing my old life with all it’s familiar comforts and routines.  And my homesickness continued to build all through the evening and into the next day, for no apparent reason.  For one full day the UK just wasn’t good enough.  The weather, the traffic, the lack of mountains, the overcrowded grocery stores, it was all crap.

I’ve resided in numerous countries on four different continents, with my first intercontinental move coming at the age of three.  International transitions are not new or unfamiliar to me.  But no matter how often I do it, still there comes a day when I miss all that was good in my previous life, and I am temporarily blinded to the benefits of my new one.

Losses are just that.  They are genuine and not mere sentimentality; they must be grieved.  That life I left behind?  It is never coming back.  Even if I were to return to the same location, fill my life with the old routines, I myself will have been changed in the meantime.  My new home is already leaving its indelible mark on me, chipping away at my soul to change the contours of my being.

And that’s okay.  My heart may linger over what is gone, yes, but it will also grow to embrace what is new.  One day I will miss this present life and know that it too was good.

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