Empty Suitcases
Author: Saima S. Hussain
Date: 2012-06-28 14:05:43
Category: all categories
Metatags: South Asian, Racism, Immigrant, Canada, Resilience,

Immigrants's Suitcase, 1982, by Jan Sawka_image
Immigrants's Suitcase, 1982, by Jan Sawka


Although he may be persona non-grata in some circles, the author Salman Rushdie has given us some very memorable lines. I recently recalled the following passage from his 1983 novel Shame:

“When individuals become unstuck from their native land, they are called migrants. When nations do the same, the act is called secession. What is the best thing about migrant people and seceded nations? I think it is their hopefulness. Look into the eyes of such folk in old photographs. Hope blazes undimmed through the fading sepia tints. And what’s the worst thing? It’s the emptiness of one’s luggage. I’m speaking of invisible suitcases, not the physical variety.”


Truer words about the general migrant experience have not been said. No matter how much money, or how much furniture, clothes and accessories you bring to your adopted country, in the real sense you have come empty-handed. You have left your life experiences, work experiences and social networks behind. And you must start from the beginning in order to build a life again.


You were a doctor in Pakistan? That doesn’t amount to much anymore unless you redo your residency and write a plethora of exams.  An engineer in India? That only counts if you have Canadian experience. An economic analyst in the United Kingdom?  Ok, but what about Canadian experience?  A community worker with 10 years’ experience in New York City? That’s nice, but New York is not Toronto or Vancouver. Where are your professional and community connections here?


It takes a lot of courage to stand once again at that start line. To look into the wide blank space and take that first critical step into it.  Then another. And then another after that. Until you have made some headway into the blank space. But not without wondering if another way, another route, another direction may have been the better option, the more rewarding path.


There is no point looking back. What was once there and what could have been there if you had stayed doesn’t count for anything anymore. This is your place now. Make some tough decisions. Face some difficult days and weeks. And most of all, overcome those gut-wrenching moments of pure terror.


Take a deep breath every time terror strikes. Take each day as it comes. The furthest you are allowed to look into the future is the next day. The day after that is out of bounds.  The weeks ahead even more so.


And on the worst days remind yourself that once you have hit rock bottom the way to go is up.


Before you know it, little by little, your empty suitcases will start to fill up again. New friends, new colleagues, new experiences, new anecdotes, and new life lessons learnt will pile up to enrich your new life and become that new happy load you will proudly lug around and stop to cherish every so often.


Saima has first-hand experience of empty suitcases. She returned to Toronto last year after a five-year stint at Dawn newspaper in Karachi, Pakistan. Her first book will be published by Annick Press in the fall.


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