Lima Al-Azzeh

Overdue Thanks and Ode to Community Involvement

In Vancouver Events on November 19, 2010 at 2:32 pm

Mixed Messages Photo by Bouldering Monkee

On Wednesday, November 17th, 2010 I had the great privilege of telling a personal story pertaining to the theme of  “mixed messages” for the Rain City Chronicles – a community storytelling event created, organized and hosted by the illustrious Karen Pinchin and the extremely amiable Lizzy Karp. It was a fun-filled and unforgettable evening and this thank you note is somewhat overdue but I really wanted to explain, whether they know or not, how much this event really meant to me…

When I first moved to Canada 15 years ago, I was the epitome of a mixed message in and of myself. I was (am) a foreign transplant who arrived on the first day of elementary school well into the final term of the year, when everyone had already forged their bonds of friendships and declared their enemies.

My elementary school teacher, the kind and gentle Ms. Gayle, introduced me to the class, she made special mention that I was from a whole other country, which doesn’t exactly help me in my newfound “new girl” position. I sat down next to a friendly girl who wasn’t intimidating (as I feared) but jumped right in to help me feel welcome and catch me up to speed on things – what page we were on in the novel we were reading – and even took a moment to whisper some first day “need-to-knows”: that guy in the front over there is my twin brother (incidentally, the first set of twins I had ever met in my life, which was quite exciting), the girl sitting right there is new too, it’s her first day of school here and she got here this morning etc. etc. My first day was off to a good start.

As time went on though, my differences and innate foreignness stood no chance of being helped. There were simply things it would take a painstakingly long time to catch up on. Like fashion.  While the other kids ran around the play ground, enjoying the crisp Spring weather sporting their  Skechers and their snazzy crew neck Club Monaco sweatshirts, I was shivering in my down parka, which would intermittently cough up feathers from its puffy midst. Underneath said parka I wore my decidedly less popular United Colors of Benneton sweater along with my matching corduroys purchased from a catalogue.

My speech was also a matter of curiosity. Growing up, I attended a private international school where we were taught in British English. To me you protected cuts and scrapes with plasters, not band-aids, we went to the cinema to watch films, disposed of our waste in dustbins, and wore trousers to cover up our underpants. Every time I spoke, I was an enigma and had to be corrected.

As such, fitting in was often a difficult task. There was so much to get used to, so much to change or alter, so much to learn about this new culture, these new people and how they all interact. What was even more taxing, was trying to discover just exactly where I fit in. I was a little too foreign for the white kids, but not quite foreign enough for the foreign kids. As I got older, my circle of friends shifted constantly as I attempted to identify with different people, but somehow there always came an inevitable point where something would happen that I just didn’t understand or just couldn’t get on board with, usually because of some conflict with my foreign ideologies.

What I desperately sought all those years was a solid community. I realize now that my earlier failures could be attributed to the fact that I was attempting to find like-minded people, when what I really needed was open-minded people. There was no doubt that I’d never meet someone with a similar story as mine, but I could meet people who have their own stories and who are happy to share and, more than that, seek similarities without dismissing you because your story is strange, or on the surface, unrelatable.

I left Rain City Chronicles that night with a smile from ear to ear and a twinge of giddiness in my heart. I went, I communed, I became a part of a tradition that I hope to contribute to for a long time.

So, major and overdue thanks to the wonderful organizers of Rain City Chronicles for giving this once-foreign girl a place where she feels she finally belongs, just as she is. Much, much love and eternal gratitude.


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