Approaching each other, we do the sidewalk dance: I go left but the other person goes right, then I go right as they recalculate and go left. And I– with luck we– laugh as we work it out and pass by.
It’s not as clear cut as an escalator (stand this side, walk the other) as there are more variables, such as window shopping and intersections. But I seem to be having more miscalculations than usual, despite being sure I am on the correct side. It reminds me of when I was first in England in April, although Londoners were unlikely to smile, let alone laugh.
Then I realize. After spending two months of the last three in countries where they drive on the left hand side of the road, my sense of which is the correct side had shifted.
That’s not the only perception that has changed.
In 2019 so far I have been in seven countries, not counting airport transfers or Canada. Three and a half months of the six I have been travelling on my passport. I have marvelled and enjoyed the differences. (If you’re new to my blog, you can find some impressions of my travels here: Just the (travel) facts, ma’am)
I remember when I would go on holidays for several weeks and walk back into my house, gently surprised by the sense of strangeness in surroundings that should be so familiar. This time I have no house to return to, but I am more aware, and appreciative, of my home town and country.
I have never really taken the beauty of Vancouver Island for granted, but seeing it with a traveller’s eyes makes its glory shine even brighter. I understand why so many tourist come here, and how many, like my parents, decide they will return permanently some day.
Having been in other countries also makes me appreciate the laws and culture of my own. In Japan, women are fighting for workplace and domestic rights that our daughters take for granted. In India and Egypt the impartiality and honesty of government and police is not assumed to be the norm. In Israel and Palestine, violence and rockets can hit with no warning. In England, Brexit seems to have brought out the worst of English racism and xenophobia, and in India sectarian divisions are being actively promoted by the recently re-elected Prime Minister.
Of course there are problems in Canada. There may be some government cronyism and police brutality, but these are aberrations that are decried when they are exposed. The situation for First Nations people is often appalling, but awareness of it is rising. There may be far-right politicians who appeal to the worst of human nature, but they are not the norm. The left/right divide is not a chasm, as we all agree with basic human rights, such as universal Medicare and others components of the social safety net. Gay marriage has been legal in Canada for more than a decade, and contraception, abortion and homosexuality have not been criminalized for 50 years.
I also appreciate the multiculturalism of my country. Canada resettled the most refugees of any county in the world last year. I was part of a group that sponsored a Syrian family three years ago; my cousin in a Northern Ontario town of 1200 people helped sponsor, through her church, a Sudanese family as there were not enough Syrian families to meet the Canadian demand. We are aware that most of us come from an immigrant background. We know our differences make us stronger, and our similarities bind us together.
In a week I leave again. But I have defined more clearly what home means to me, as I continue my brave travels.