Five years ago today I moved to Canada. On June 10, 2008 I boarded a plane at glistening Heathrow Terminal Five with the idea of living in Canada for a year. That year would be a fun-filled 365 days of great life experience. I’d run round Vancouver’s Stanley Park every morning, enjoy the summer, and meet loads of awesome people. When the summer was over, I’d move to a ski resort, then I’d get a job there for a few months. I’d snowboard, party, whatever. After my year was up? I’d go home, to England, and get a career. Reality was different: Since I left England, I’ve been back in my home country for a total of about a month. How things changed.
When I originally left I hadn’t even entertained the idea of staying in Canada permanently. It didn’t even register as an option. I knew I wanted to go back to England and be a journalist. Perhaps I’d work for a car magazine, maybe I’d live in London, or more likely I’d end up in one of the small towns near where I grew up. Life was pretty set out for me.
Well, that all changed when I got to Vancouver. I still remember the day – July 1, 2008. Having been in Canada a little under a month, I was sat on Jericho Beach with some new friends I’d made, enjoying the sun. It was Canada Day – a day where everyone in this fair country celebrates. My face was adorned with maple leaves, we’d just finished playing football in the park, and now we were all taking in the view across the calm waters of the Burrard Inlet. Snow still speckled the peaks of the north shore mountains, and I scanned the horizon from Cypress across to Grouse Mountain, then below that the majesty of the Lions Gate Bridge, leading down through Stanley Park, to pristine downtown Vancouver. What a place. It was fantastic. Something clicked, and I knew it would be difficult to leave this place.
So, a few months later I set off on another journey. A journey of immigration. Fortunate timing was with me – British Columbia needed people to work in tourism-related jobs to help stem the influx of visitors, because of the 2010 Winter Olympics. I managed to get a job in that industry to sponsor me. I could stay in Canada, build a life for myself. I did that. Three years after moving to Canada, ceremoniously crossed the Canadian-US border and came back again. I became a permanent resident. I could stay. No more visas, no more applications, no more problems.
In those five years a lot has happened. My life could have taken a very different path had I accepted that offer of a second interview for a journalism job in a local town. I knew I’d get the job if I went to that interview. It was pretty much being handed straight to me. I’d have a career in the industry I’d studied for. But something was missing. It sounded boring. I’d accept the job, and that horrible sinking feeling would emerge. I’d be trapped.
I wanted to see the world – at least a little part of it. I did that. I stayed in Canada for four years. Then I left last spring, on a bicycle, due south. This past year has been the most memorable of my life. I cycled down the west coast of the United States to California, before ditching the bicycle in favour of hitchhiking. Baja Mexico was conquered this way, and so was the overland journey back north through the US with the help of a few ride-shares, or “organised hitchhiking”. Vancouver was just a stop on my journey this time, before I switched hemispheres and ended up in Istanbul a few weeks later.
Next came six month period of being based in historic Armenia, drinking wine on the balcony, hitchhiking around the countryside, meeting fantastic people, and hosting many Couchsurfers from many places around the world along the way. It was a fantastic six months, and one that took me to Georgia and Turkey numerous times, as well as a few weeks in Iran. A great experience.
The next three months were spent in Lebanon. They weren’t the easiest months of my life, but I cherish them. We lived in a two-bedroom apartment. It was shared between eleven people, two dogs, five turtles, and a rooftop infested with pigeons. The roof was by far the most tranquil place to be, so I spent many nights camping with my feathered friends, and fighting off the advances of the turtles, who took a liking to camping underneith the groundsheet of my tent. Our neighbours in Borj Hammoud – the Armenian neighbourhood of Beirut that I called home, would give me many quizzical looks as I emerged from my tent on the roof into the early morning light. It was a simple life, living in extremely close quarters, knowing that soon the electricity would turn off, and we’d be lighting candles to see.
Those three months in Lebanon I took in the incredible amount of history in the Middle East. Crusader Castles, Roman Ruins, and took in the sad situation of the hundreds of thousands of Syrian people who came across the borders to escape a civil war that has killed almost 100,000 people now. We came across a refugee camp one day by the side of the road, and had coffee with the people living there. It was sad to see the state these people were forced to live in, having fled their homes with whatever they could carry. They were now living in shacks by just past the highway shoulder. They all dreamed of going home one day. Whether their home would still be there when they returned, nobody knew. They had nothing, and were still so welcoming, and wanted us to sit with them and enjoy each others’ company. It made me sad to see how easy I had it. My British passport allowing me free reign over almost the entire world. And these people were stuck here, in a shack by the side of the road, with just a faint hope of better times to cling on to. I want to return there and help these people. Do something, anything to make life better.
After my travels were over, I returned to Vancouver a couple of months ago. It’s not been easy fitting back in, but I’ve been making the best of it. These days I find everything here too perfect, too easy, too convenient. Sure, there is reliable transport, good health care, and it’s easy to make a living. But it’s actually quite boring. I miss the drama, the uncertainty of life elsewhere – the risk. It’s what made me feel alive during all those months on the road, and especially the past three in Lebanon. I loved life there, and also life in Armenia, and it’s difficult.
I have no idea what the next five years will bring, but having had such an interesting time in these past 60 months away, I hope the next ones are just as memorable. Here’s to life.