Stranger in a Strange Land

May 30, 2017 1 Comments

Montréal skyline

There we were, piled into a taxi van with two kids, four suitcases and several smaller items of luggage. Just after the taxi pulled away from the Arrivals hall I belatedly realised that we were missing something. The stroller we’d checked at the gate hadn’t appeared when we exited the plane. We assumed it had joined the rest of our luggage. By the time we’d been processed, rubber-stamped, relieved of some cash, and reunited with that luggage, the stroller had been completely forgotten. Nevermind we thought, it was half-broken and the main buggy should arrive within a few days anyway. We’d get by just fine with slings until then. It wasn’t worth the hassle of trying to retrieve it now. Hah! We would live to regret dismissing that grubby and battered old thing quite so quickly.

We inched through traffic until we hit a highway, then coasted past in the taxi lane while the baby fussed and wailed. After the long plane journey he had had little patience for the hour and a half in the immigration queues. It would have been a lot longer only for the kindly officials that had fast-tracked us through on his account. On rare occasions carrying a baby about does result in VIP treatment, and this was one of them. Yet despite his fatigue he had refused to nap in the sling with all the activity going on around him and had eventually hit the wall. During another lengthy conversation with a customs official I paced and shushed him until he finally screamed himself to sleep. Just in time for us to be officially let into the country. At which point I discovered a massive poo leaking out of his nappy which unfortunately necessitated waking him with an old-fashioned strip, rinse and reclothe. Following up this experience with a taxi journey was not going down well at all.

Shortly into the trip the baby passed out once more and silence descended, apart from the driver muttering to himself about bad drivers on the road (before cutting others off himself as we winced at the near misses). Our eldest had surprisingly run out of questions to ask, to our great relief. His favourite hobby these days is to see how many increasingly nonsensical questions he can pose before no adult will answer him anymore. His head slowly drooped against his father and he joined his brother in an exhausted sleep. We didn’t have that luxury ourselves. Instead we stared out the window looking for landmarks that weren’t there. Just a concrete sculpture of half-finished highways sprawling towards the sky. Construction on a scale far beyond that of Irish ambitions.

Unknown brands and logos on French billboards emphasised that we were somewhere foreign to us. It was easy to fall into the usual travel mode of thinking how great it was that things were not the same as at home. That’s why some of us travel. To have experiences that are different to our version of normal life. Taking a visit outside of our comfort zone makes us appreciate what we’ve left behind and see it with fresh eyes when we return. Here was a wealth of newness for us to explore. Then a jet-lagged brain remembered that this was now supposed to be home for us. My gut protested the notion as the unfamiliar skyline continued around us. The idea of home should conjure an easy sense of familiarity. The mammoth constructions and hot dusty breeze rolling in the windows did not conjure that feeling at all. As soon as I tried to stick the label of ‘home’ on this place I had to purposely quell the automatic dislike that surfaced inside of me. A stranger in a strange land instinctually seeing anything different as ‘wrong’.

Amongst the strangeness there were plenty of signs of new experiences and opportunities for our family that we would not find back in our country of origin. I looked upon the bustling city with immigrant eyes instead of those of a traveller, and hoped that the disquieting sense of not recognising this as home would eventually fade. For now it will be enough to find in it a home away from home. It makes sense that some time will have to pass before it’s possible to have that same feeling of belonging. Perhaps no matter how long we settle our family here, home will always be Dublin Bay sparkling below us – the city sprawling to the left, green fields to the right –  as a plane circles to land. Only time will tell. Some day though, this terrain might trigger the same sense of recognition that the Irish landscape does when we see it, and will quietly whisper “you’re home” to our hearts.