Finally, it struck me. I felt the enormity of my decision to start a life abroad.
I was shopping on Amazon for stockings - a cheesy attempt to plaster festivity on the walls of a tiny but cozy Airbnb in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada. It was the night of December 9th at 11:47 pm. The temperature had dipped to 0 degrees celsius and I was unashamedly an island girl, wearing layers of clothes and wrapped in a brown fleece blanket from head to toe. Hours prior, I had gotten off the phone with my family who was quietly (and safely) observing double birthdays back in Trinidad. My mother talked about the fish she had prepared and asked jokingly, "What time are you coming over?" (We are all staunch believers that our mothers cook the best food. Period.) It was the first time I was going to miss a family gathering. Ever.
With my insides shrieking, I fought back tears and calmly ended the call. Whew - one down, a lifetime more of these to go. Itching for a much-needed distraction, I started looking for stockings to jump-start my children's first "white Christmas." Throughout my life, I've discovered that we gift children material things to compensate for shortcomings. For me, it was finding THE PERFECT stockings. I needed these stockings to stir the right amount of warmth and 'seasonal vibes' that only grandparents, aunties, uncles, cousins, pastelles, parang and sorrel could yield (sorry y'all - black cake and I were never friends). I spent the next three hours with my usual indecisiveness searching Amazon for these stockings. And somewhere past midnight, I started to cry.
I cried because, after almost three hours, I couldn't decide on the right one and felt like a colossal failure. It was more than the stockings. It was the start of our family's first tradition here in Canada. It was a mother's honest attempt to gift her children a new, exciting memory. To fill a cavernous space with a pretty trinket. I know that young children are the most adaptable creatures. I know mines are ecstatic about their new life in Canada, and I see it every day. The way they enjoy the snow. The sheer freedom of walking to the nearby park (or anywhere) minus the paranoia.
I was expecting these stockings to reassure my children that the journey ahead was going to be smooth; that Mom and Dad were going to do our absolute best to provide a safe and comfortable life here in Canada; and that there are hundreds of new faces to meet and friendships to forge.
About three weeks ago, my husband and I crammed 10+ years of our possessions into 8 suitcases as we practised our nightly routine of running through checklists and strategizing for the following day's tasks- calling the banks, collecting the PCR test results, making our final pharmacy run, and reconfirming the time of our airport taxi pickup. Those final days in Trinidad felt as routine as any other week - the emotional toll of it all compartmentalized in some chamber inside of me.
Here's the honest-to-God truth. Over the years, I felt that my relationship with my only ever home was becoming increasingly abusive. I also promised myself that I'll never be one of those Trinbagonians who'd smear my birthplace the minute I landed on foreign soil. But I had to leave. We had to. I felt that I needed to love Trinidad and Tobago from afar.
Believe me, this is heart-breaking to write, especially since I know most of my family and close friends (and readers) are still in Trinidad. I had reservations about penning this blog; I was jostling between its resonance (hurt, panic, a big kiss-meh-arse steups), and, being honest. Canada isn't perfect (no where is really), but it was the place I felt I needed to be. I craved safety. My husband and I had numerous conversations about the fact that our children weren't going to enjoy the freedoms we did. The worries were often paralysing. Over the past few years, these conversations were converted into a lifelong action plan - immigration.
It was a gruelling process, one exacerbated by the pandemic. After what was almost three years in the making, there we were at Gate 9 of the Piarco Airport on December 1st, 2021. At around 4:03 pm, I felt my chest compressed as the aircraft titled in the air, tucking its wheels inward.
Is this really happening?
I always wondered how I was going to feel when we were taking off. Whether I'd grip my husband's hand and cut off the oxygen supply around his fingers. Whether there'd be endless tears gushing down my face. But at that moment, my anxieties were disarmed and I felt peace. I knew it was time for a new chapter. I watched the disappearing square swaths of agriculture along the Caroni plain. The undulating hills of the Northern Range draped in a lush green carpet. I thought of all the things I was going to learn to live without or enjoy in minuscule doses. The comforting hugs, laughter, and a sense of belonging I felt during gatherings with loved ones. Royal Castle pepper sauce. The solace that Pigeon Point offered me. The scent of honey roasted peanuts at the corner of Frederick Street and Independence Square in Port of Spain. Eating on a sohari leaf. The annual Christmas ritual of buying pounds of pigeon peas off the highway and "shelling" them over old "guardian papers." Swearing by the cleaning power of a cocoyea broom. The festivals and commanding sound of drums. The way we greet strangers with "Good Morning/Evening." Looking up in awe at Moko Jumbies and wishing that I too I could walk among the clouds. Stepping into my parents' home and feeling the weight of adulthood lift off my shoulders each time. That sense of community that only small island nations know about. And everything else in between that won't fit in this blog.
Then, I looked out the window and saw the peaceful sea asleep for miles and miles beneath the aircraft. The airplane symbol on the passenger screen was no longer hovering over land. I accepted the fact that we were no longer home...