I like it here, in Québec. I like it very much.
There’s my beautiful apartment with its big bed and hardwood floors, and my wonderful, smart, funny and indulgent roommates.
There’s my neighbourhood with its dozen independent bookstores and multiple little coffee shops–including one that sells Sambi Coffee from Burundi.
There’s the freelancing and teaching English that have enabled me to stitch together a living, not to mention the widening smiles on my students’ faces, their posture straighter and more assured as they grasp a new sound or structure. The relief at having pulled myself out of a financial hole that kept me from sleeping.
There’s Vieux-Quebec itself at dusk with the bracing wind and the view of the lights of Basse-Ville from the hills, which stretches out like an unending purple bolt of fabric sewn with multicoloured sequins, as vast and reassuring as the sea.
There are my colleagues from all over the world, 20 of them, with whom I’ve become closer and closer over the last few months. Piecing together a weekly radio show since September, plus planning an epic trip down the US East Coast and tolerating each other for a week in a single three-bedroom loft in Brooklyn, New York with a single shower cemented our bond. (There’s no surer way to get to know someone than to travel with them, except perhaps to play “Never Have I Ever”, so let’s play “Never Have I Ever” in a rented flat in Washington, DC!–in whispers, to avoid freaking out the rather odd, strangely maternal ‘birther’ landlady any more than she already is). There are the three professors I like who compensate for the other two, well-intentioned but insufferably arrogant academics. Especially the radio show faculty advisor, a competent but slightly flaky Radio-Canada retiree who calls each of us vous but enjoys giving out fatherly advice and backslaps– and has gone to bat for us more times than all the other profs put together. Behind the crusty man-of-few-words exterior is a guy with a strong sense of justice and respect for others and their achievements, with zero condescenscion. And my other Quebec City friends– I don’t have many, but friends and friends of friends from Russian and Burundian and Ottawa and British Columbia days have settled here, or at least been passing by, and we’ve had delightful moments.
But a month ago the department head (Thierry) put me on a list of exchange students bound for Belgium. To say I hadn’t seen this coming was an understatement; I felt rather like Harry Potter who sees his own name popping out of the Goblet of Fire. I hadn’t filled out any application or anything of the sort.
Of course, it’s my choice. And I have been thinking about staying back. Where would the money come from? Where would I live? Here, I have work, and a place. But staying back would mean having to work on a thesis. I don’t want to work on a thesis you damn fools, I want to work in a newsroom. I didn’t enroll in a journalism program to contemplate the nature of media, damn it, but to find work in a newsroom. I have the possibility of working with the Agence France Presse in Dakar, Senegal this summer. But Thierry was categorical– no Belgium, no Senegal.
If I can find work freelancing and teaching here, what’s to say I can’t do it in Belgium? Or Senegal?
The last of the boxes shipping my stuff to Quebec from Europe just arrived yesterday. After spending a year bouncing from here to there with six shirts and a couple of bilingual dictionaries, it feels extremely odd to have an armoire and a bookshelf choked with my old stuff and a pile of thought-you-might-need-this (most of which, admittedly, I actually do need) from my family. My desk too is beginning to look like a settled person’s desk, cluttered with pretty things– a beautiful painted box that my grandmother gave me, Dieudonné’s bird, Nadège’s drum, wooden clacking spoons that I won at an Acadian folk concert in (wait for it) Lausanne, a handpainted wooden coin bank from Russia in the shape of a smiling moon that I got at a flea market here in Sainte-Foy (and it really did bring me relative prosperity), a carved wooden elephant that I bought for seven Queen Elizabeth dollars from a Senegalese market lady in Harlem, feeling guilty about interviewing her about politics while resting immune to her earnest patter.
But mentally, part of me is already separating everything into piles. Ship home, take with me, give away, sell, leave here, I dunno yet.
I miss those days when half of what I owned could fit into a backpack. I’ve certainly had it up to here with scrambling, with rent panic and with being frugal to the point of losing weight. But I’m certainly more likely to get a job with newsroom experience than a thesis, at least that’s what I think.
I have no lover here to worry about leaving behind (although I do have a cell phone contract to sort out). My job moves with me. And I keep hearing the voice of a faculty advisor who presented to me and others before I went on my first exchange, to Russia, way back in 2008 which seems like a century ago. “Canada will still be here when you get back.”
Why wouldn’t it?