The Irony of Travel

 

It occurs to us often that our decision to leave Canada is terribly ironic.

There is no denying that so many people around the world can only dream of the life Pete and I were given – the loving upbringing in a warm home with fresh water and food to spare. A stable government that provided a good education and the means to pursue any career of our choosing.

And on our travels we’ve met people who emphatically shared their dreams with us to one day live and prosper in a country like Canada. Yet there we were, with our homes slung on our backs and holes in our clothes, having given up our well-paying jobs and cozy place in the suburbs with no desire to return to the comfortable lifestyle we once had.

Along the way we have been asked: “Why would you leave Canada?” That can be a hard one to explain sometimes.

*****

On our first day back in Canada, this irony of our travels came full circle.

Canada flagsI sat with my family in the front row of a small theater in downtown Calgary. Around us were teachers and executive staff of Bow Valley College, and behind us were hundreds of people representing dozens of nationalities. They all had something in common – they came to Canada in search of a better life. And that better life started at the College, where they were all students of the ESL (English as a Second Language) program.

My sweet departed sister worked at the College and after she passed, I proudly worked beside my family and many of her friends to develop a scholarship in her name. Every year, a deserving recipient receives a bursary to help offset the cost of his or her education.

This was my third time at the ESL end-of-the-year award ceremonies, and each was a treasured experience. There was always much laughter and ample enthusiasm throughout the crowd. It was a time for the students to be proud of their accomplishments over the previous year, to be recognized for their efforts, and to celebrate and remember the fun times they had.

Singing

 

My younger sister Teri rose to make the scholarship presentation on behalf of our family. (I’ve tried to do it twice before, always stumbling through tears and muddling words. Teri is much more eloquent and poised and she delivered a beautiful speech).

And as she read the profile of this year’s recipient, the petite young woman standing beside her wiped away tears. Teri spoke of the plights of Neelam’s life in Pakistan – how she lost her father at a young age and then her mother, how she came to live in Canada with her two younger sisters when she was 18. To be with family, to pursue a better life as her own in Pakistan crumbled.

Their chosen guardian, an aunt, was not kind to the girls and they soon moved out. Neelam continued to raise her sisters on her own – acquiring two jobs and working thirteen hours a day for three years to make ends meet.

Nico-Hofferd-Scholarship-2012_009From her self-written profile: “Neelam wants to be successful in life and wants an education. Her goal is to take Accounting or Business Administration. She says that she has been young, alone, and has survived by herself and worked a lot. She can do anything. Her role model is her mother who always taught her to never lose hope. Neelam never has.”

She is happily pursuing a life that we left behind, and in an obvious contradiction, I look forward to one day continuing my own travel-education by visiting her departed Pakistan.

Always keeping in mind, however, to be grateful for the maple leaf in my passport that allows me to travel so freely. For had I never left home, I probably never would have truly appreciated how fortunate I am, and the impact of Neelam’s story wouldn’t have been so profound for me.

And maybe that is the greater irony.

*****

Many thanks to my sister Teri of oneartfulvoice.blogspot.com for use of her photographs.

 

35 Comments... Read them below or add one of your own
  • Ter
    September 17 2012

    Thanks for the mention, y’all! GREAT post.

  • September 17 2012

    Yes, I feel the same way, too. The feelings are especially bittersweet as I’m on my RTW, but also for the fact that I haven’t lived in Canada (for a 3-month period) since 2001. But perhaps, we are all “missionaries” or better yet, “ambassadors” in our own way when we travel as representatives of all the good little pieces which make up Canada and the people which make the nation.

    • September 18 2012

      That’s a good way to think of it Henry, and we try to be good ambassadors when we travel too, although we have met some Canadians along the way that certainly aren’t. 🙂

  • September 17 2012

    “The Maple Leaf in my passport allows me to travel so freely …” What a fantastic and completely true statement. I travel so that I can be cultured, understand the good and bad of other countries and be educated by experiences. None-the-less, I am proud to be Canadian and the more I travel, the more I appreciate all of our liberties here and learn to not take them for granted.

    • September 18 2012

      We travel for the exact same reasons Shari. And I don’t know how you feel, but I am a little disappointed in myself that it took me leaving Canada to truly appreciate Canada…but that’s how it is I guess…you just take things for granted when you’re around them constantly!

      • September 21 2012

        You hit the nail on the head. There is
        nothing that can make you appreciate
        the richness of your own cultural inheritance
        like seeing the world. No need to feel
        bad about that.

  • Pakorn
    September 17 2012

    Nice sentimental story, thanks for sharing that.

    A lot of people come to Canada to get a job and send money back home. It’s not really for a better life for themselves but rather to make money.

    Getting out of Canada to explore the world as you guys do? That’s a dream so far-fetched, so fantastic, and so far out of reach, that others just dream of moving to Canada instead.

    Love your blog. Thanks for your writing.

    • September 18 2012

      Thanks for your comment Pakorn. It is true, I have met some students at the college who do exactly as you say, come to Canada to send money back home. It is still with the dream of a better life though, for themselves eventually, for the family left behind, and the money does help with that.

  • September 18 2012

    What a beautiful post!

  • September 18 2012

    Great post! Someone asked me recently what I thought my life would be like had I never left home. I still have no answer. It was always my dream to find a way to travel the world and now that is actually happening.
    Jennifer recently posted..Sarajevo’s Coppersmith Street

    • September 18 2012

      I get asked that too, and I can’t answer either, except to say that I would probably be miserable in comparison. 🙂

  • September 18 2012

    It definitely is one of the great things about traveling – being able to appreciate how truly lucky we are to have been born in countries that afford us so much freedom and the ability to go just about anywhere in the world. It’s great that your family supports students in this way. Right on!
    Amanda recently posted..Serendipity Saves the Day in Bulgaria

    • September 18 2012

      Thanks Amanda! Sad to think it takes us LEAVING our home countries to truly appreciate them, but it’s true!

  • Ali
    September 18 2012

    I love this story Dalene! Everyone comes from a different place in life, so everyone’s desires are different. I so admire the woman from Pakistan who struggled to take care of her sisters and make a life for herself. It’s a different dream than the one you and Pete went after, and it just shows that what is a wonderful situation for one person doesn’t fit for another. And maybe you and Pete leaving the corporate world left 2 openings for people like her for really want that life.
    Ali recently posted..Simple Preparations for Your Flight

    • September 19 2012

      I love the way you always make me look at things in a different way – seeing as Pete was a former accountant, maybe he DID leave a job opening for her! 🙂

  • September 18 2012

    I am ever grateful to have a passport that lets me just go basically wherever I want to. It’s amazing. Also, this is a lovely heartwarming post 🙂
    Laurence recently posted..In photos: from the Facebook page–edition III

    • September 19 2012

      That is one thing to be extremely grateful for – the luck of having been born where we were.

  • September 18 2012

    This is a beautiful post, and a great example of how traveling enlightens your appreciation of the life-journeys other people have taken.

    • September 19 2012

      Thanks Candice! Getting outside of the nutshell I used to live in sure opened my eyes and made me empathetic towards others.

  • LegalAlien
    September 18 2012

    Enjoyed this. I think most people in the “first” world, through no fault of their own, grow up taking their incredible blessings that are denied to the overwhelming majority of humanity for granted. In the same way you are appreciative of having discovered how fortunate you are to have traveled abroad and realized your numerous blessings, I too – being an immigrant who arrived in the USA at age 18 – am incredibly thankful for growing up in an unstable country with little opportunities to speak of because once I got to the USA I never took my opportunities for granted! it took me years of struggle and self sacrifice to complete my higher education, become a homeowner etc etc and after what seems like a lifetime, I finally became a Citizen this summer! Words cannot describe what it felt like to finally hold my passport in my hands. My ticket to freedom! My wife and I plan to sell our house too and do an RTW trip and just won’t come back ever even though I love my adopted country for giving me so much. I want to see all 7 continents by age 45 and summit Everest as well and God Bless North America for making all this possible.

    • September 18 2012

      This is the best comment we’ve had on this blog for a long time. 🙂 It is hard for me to understand how you can be grateful for such struggles (as I surely can’t really conceive of that) but what an amazing perspective for you to have!

      Congratulations on your citizenship and your passport, and your decision to head out RTW! All the best in your travels!

  • September 19 2012

    Great post guys. The thing about travel is that it completely changes your frame of reference. I appreciate what I have that much now because my eyes have been opened.
    Raymond @ Man On The Lam recently posted..From Cranes to Caves: Unique Accommodations to Live Like an Eccentric

    • September 19 2012

      You and us makes three Raymond. And I’m sure there’s many more…if only we would have known it many more years ago!

  • September 19 2012

    Wonderful post. It is so important to never take for granted how lucky we really are and to give back as much as we can. Even if sometimes it is just smiling at a stranger.

    “A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions.”

    • September 19 2012

      It is easy to forget that sometimes, when we get caught up in our #firstworldproblems. This day was a wonderful reminder for us.

  • September 19 2012

    It makes me wonder how differently I would have approached college as a whole if I had traveled before. I highly doubt I would have stayed in Austin.

    Thank you for sharing Neelam’s story – I think people lose sight of the people aspect of immigration sometimes.
    Erica recently posted..Nature’s Playground: The Golden Circle with Superjeep.is

    • September 19 2012

      I wish anyone who rages about immigration would attend a ceremony such as that, or one welcoming new citizens as well. Too often the human side of it is forgotten, and those events, where people are SO HAPPY to be there and have gone through such a hard time, are very enlightening.

  • September 19 2012

    I love to travel but Canada will always be home in my heart, even if I live in another country.
    Ayngelina recently posted..How to properly see a Broadway play in New York City

    • September 19 2012

      Same here. But I never expected that when we left, I never expected to become so grateful for being Canucks.

  • September 21 2012

    What a cool thing your family is doing to celebrate your sister.

    We maintain that seeing the world is the best way to gain an appreciation for your home (for us the US) and also to see areas of opportunity. We no longer buy into the idea of american exceptionalism, but we do feel quite proud to be form the US.
    Caanan @ No Vacation Required recently posted..There’s Something About Maui

    • September 22 2012

      Truth. We left Canada three years ago eager to go, a little disenchanted with the state of affairs here. Now, we definitely appreciate it a lot more and are very proud.

  • September 21 2012

    I haven’t lived away from home for a great length of time that you have. But I always find, after being away for a trip, that I feel more myself when I get home to familiar surroundings. My wife differs from me in the sense that, by the end of a trip, I look forward to getting home.

    You are certainly fortunate that you have so much to go back to – your family, etc. If I ever travel on a regular basis like you, I’m sure being away from my Mom and siblings for so long will be one of the toughest things.

    • September 22 2012

      That is tough. This last stretch was the longest ever – 14 months, and over 2 years with some of my other family members. I suppose it gets a little easier over time (and thank gawd for SKYPE!), but it still is really difficult.

  • lisa
    September 23 2012

    This is very touching, and a beautiful tribute to your sister.

  • September 24 2012

    Gosh Neelam sounds like such a brave woman. You are right hough, we are so lucky that we have lives in which so much opportunity given to us – having the money, confidence and freedom to travel being one of the best opportunities. It does make me sad when I travel to other countries where others are not as fortunate though.

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