Friday, 20 February 2015


Lost in Translation    

We are all immigrants really in some shape or form, seriously if you think about your great great great family members great aunts, uncles, grannies, granddads.  Where in the many many centuries ago did your relatives originate from?? Good Question huh?

If your Caucasian and you live in Africa the continent of Africa is really not your ancestral native land.  If your African and live in the United Kingdom or South America your native ancestral land is really not these continents.  The same goes for South Americans, The Asian Communities who live around the world, The Greek Nation who have lived on other continents for centuries etc.  If we be logic about the real meaning of immigrant, immigration and we look back at our ancestral heritage we really are all immigrants living somewhere else, living life and doing the best we can do to belong.  Just some food for thought

Moving home and changing your life as you know it. Such as new employment, new school, moving provinces or even countries is and can be a daunting task.  It is a huge stressor and can take a toll on your health, your relationships and your overall psyche.  You can become overwhelmed as you feel as I like to call it   "Lost In Translation"!

This blog is about being an immigrant of todays standards.   And how oftentimes I still after 13 years feel lost in translation and not quite at home.  Please remember these are my personal experiences and opinions but I hope that many other immigrants will feel some sort of solace or encouragement to keep on going. And remember your not alone on this immigrant journey.

Being an immigrant is no easy task, the initial decision wrapped around leaving your home country, your community which include your church, doctor, dentist, hairstylist, school teachers, pharmacy, local butcher, local hangouts, all that is familiar to you, family, friends, colleagues and the list can go on!  Things we really don't think about or realise till the BIG move has begun or has already taken place.  

Your community (the people around you, the ones you have interaction with on a daily basis) affect your daily living, your mood, your ease at which your day unfolds.  We seriously only really realise this once what we knew has gone and we have pressed the re-fresh button on life as we know it, our life as immigrants.

We as immigrants often all have a unique story to tell BUT we have some stories and feelings about our change and experiences that are common.  I only noticed this when striking conversations with many other immigrants.  I am fascinated by the many many stories of migration I have heard from the times of Idi Amin and Uganda Refugees originally from Pakistan who had settled in Uganda and were ousted! To settlers in the Belgian Congo (Zaire) or as we now know it The Democratic Republic of Congo who fled  with the uprisings and Chinese communities who fled when Hong Kong was handed back to Mainland China. All such interesting and sometimes heartbreaking stories. 

BUT here is a brief background to my very simple and I think quite easy story (compared to the stories I have heard and my own mothers quite boring really):

Anyway here we go I am and love being a New Canadian Citizen.  I love everything about Canada, I love the people, I love my lifestyle, I love the weather.  I have been provided the opportunity to start a new life,  in a fabulous new place and feel blessed!  I think it a blessing that immigration opportunities are open and available.  To be accepted into a new community that you can call home and will hopefully provide a much healthier, secure, filled with opportunity lifestyle.  We move because we want more for ourselves, for our families and for our future!.  ** The key to your success is remembering your initial reason why you chose to move.

It takes COURAGE to be an immigrant!
My journey started slightly different to many immigrants and those that I have spoken to.  I had the opportunity to graze, to tantalise the taste buds of a different life in a different country (Canada) and then was afforded the  opportunity to make a LIFE changing decision.  This I think made my decision to move and leave South Africa a lot easier than many other South Africans.  We had a choice to either stay or go and after wetting our appetites of what a Canadian Lifestyle offered us we decided to stay.   Having made all the decisions and steps to move the journey of immigration had begun.  BUT I must add I made the decision whilst I lived in a Canadian city but also in a place I was not very happy in.

The winters were long and very very cold, I did not connect very closely with the people and truly felt like an outsider and as a South African we carry a certain amount of baggage that is handed to us not by choice but by the political, economic and social issues that still shroud Southern Africa today.  My international counterparts with no ill will on their part have certain opinions about the place we called home.  This was a mine field to face all on its own, besides getting to know the new health care system,  driving license application, banking and more.  One can feel like a kid on the first day of school, exciting, nervous but what and how do we handle this task at hand. 

To top it all I felt terribly homesick!  I missed my clients, my friends, my life, the sun, the Sunday meet ups, the familiarity of all that used to surround me and more.  My husband travelled a lot and so I spent a lot of time alone, in this new country and in a new home.  So instead of wallowing in the shadow of homesick (first 2-3 years) I tried to keep on the forefront of my mind why we/I had chosen to stay.  I got outdoors as much as possible in winter,  I got involved in the city events, running, joined a gym, taught classes, took extra mural activities and studied further.  
Most important than anything else I took the time to travel back to South Africa.  During my brief trips back (I only went for 14 days at a time) I would pay a brief visit to my favourite coastline Umhlanga Rocks in Natal with family.  I would soak up the sun and surf that which soothed my homesick soul.  As an immigrant what we need to remember your initial move is just like experiencing a death BUT whats not to be forgotten is in this death the person, the place is going nowhere you can visit at Christmas, you can call on Birthdays and special occasions you can still maintain contact as much as you wish.   Yes, I paid a visit to South Africa as often as I could and you know what I learnt and realised was with each visit I soothed my soul but more importantly nothing had changed and even now after 13 years nothing has changed (nothing has even improved!!)

This in the beginning was a comfort back in Canada. Knowing I was not missing out on anything new and exciting because each time I travelled back everything was still the same!!

What was and has changed now is me, I had and have changed personally on so many levels.  Travelling back to the place I used to call home and experiencing this helped me to settle back in to my way of life in Canada because I realised just how fabulous a new life and journey I was experiencing.  Those experiences had changed my life day to day but my whole outlook on life.  I have now became a visitor to South Africa and no longer a South African returning home.

I noticed on my trip back to my place of birth was that I became "Lost in Translation" there too on some level!  My friends or people I met were not interested in my life in Canada.  It seemed as if I did not live on this place called earth.  I felt like South Africans thought that once you immigrated you sat on the sofa in your new home country and ate bon bons all day.  That life and its tribulations did not shroud your life at all because you live somewhere else.  Which is so far from the truth.

We as immigrants not only have to face settling into a new home, new lifestyle but also a new way of thinking, breathing and total living.   This is where we become Lost in Translation when we relate back in our places we used to call home.  Unless your families and friends take the time to visit your new home towns and cities, meet your new found friends, view your new communities they do not nor will they ever understand your new life and the place you now call home.  This again causes you to feel Lost in Translation.

It is and can be an exciting process, your starting a fresh, you can choose your friends and experience the exhilar of a new beginning.  How you approach your immigration status and the changes ahead are all in the mindset, your mindset!!

I have a girlfriend who immigrated from South Africa on totally different terms.  Her family as a unit had for many a year strived to move to Canada.   Her family were familiar with the city in Canada they chose to migrate to.  A mother with two children wanting a more secure life, better education and overall lifestyle for her children.  Their experiences have been mixed, they still miss South Africa but going back is not an option because although they feel lost in translation in their new hometown they love where they now live.  It takes time to settle - 2, 3, 5 years...we are all different!

They have had to navigate the Canadian School System, the health care system and all the other bits we as immigrants have to face.  You may think that well moving somewhere else it should all work the same - well it doesn't.  Practical day to day life functions differently on every level.  For instance in Canada everyone files their tax returns self employed, employer employed etc etc.  There are even some different driving regulations!! That's correct you don't jump red traffic lights just because you are tired of waiting.  And here people obey the law, Canadians are law keepers and I LOVE THAT!!!

My friend has faced a sense of loneliness as she navigates her new home and she does miss the place she still calls home BUT when I ask her if she wants to go back to her life in South Africa she says no.

So really what is it about being an immigrant.  We are a breed of our own.  We are millions and millions of people "Lost in Translation" navigating our way to some sort of equilibrium and happiness in our new home towns and cities.  We as human beings hope for solace, happiness, security, freedom, a great life and the opportunity to enjoy our life - because Life is Short.

Being an immigrant with all the other immigrants being Lost in Translation actually in a weird way brings us together, unifies us.  We really now don't belong anywhere! Thats why I say being an immigrant takes COURAGE - because what challenges we face with or without family and friends makes us stronger, more opened minded, understanding human beings.  We perhaps look (I do) at the world differently, especially the places we came from our original homes!

Not everyone can take the step to becoming an immigrant but there is certainly a helluva lot of us out there and that is quite comforting...

My advice to fellow immigrants: Leave your old ways behind, your ego, your judgements this new place you call home has a different heart beat, learn to live with this new beat.  See it as a journey of letting go of the old and starting a new!

If you can travel back to your home country during your transition as often as possible do it.  That is if you feel comfortable with this, this could be extremely helpful in your transition.  Trust me getting back on the plane to leave is heartbreaking BUT it gets easier with each visit.  

Also keep your eye on the target, why did you move, what does your new home offer you and assimilate yourself into your new home countries traditions, celebrations and day to day lifestyle to make you feel more at home. DONT ISOLATE YOURSELF!!

Being an immigrant is certainly a courageous tidybusiness. I did it, I live it, And I appreciate it

Till next time


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