I am an at-the-desk and sitting-up-straight-on-a-chair person. Always have been. I could never do homework on my bed. My laptop always sits on my desk, perched like some space-age typewriter. But today I am doing something I never normally do. I am sitting on our new sofa with my feet up, with my laptop on my lap. I worked on a translation thus for two hours before turning my attention to this post.
The thing about emigrating is that you know that your life is never going to be the same again.
The thing about life is that you know your life is never going to be the same again – or that you are never going to be the same person again on account of the fact that the experience you have had in the last second has altered the person you were the second before.
Do I believe that? Yes. Yes and No.
Several years ago, on someone’s birthday (it might have been my father’s) I said something to him by way of finally letting us both off the hook for all those heated political and religious arguments we had had when I was about fourteen and intermittently since.
I said, “The thing about ageing is that we stay the same – only we become more so.” For a split second he raised his eyebrows in defence, thinking that perhaps I was raking over old coals. His easy smile returned when I went on to explain that I am of the view that our essential being, the fundamental core of who we are, does not change; rather it is reinforced and confirmed by each successive experience we have in life.
Yes, we change, inasmuch as our life is changing all the time. If we are fortunate and very vigilant indeed, we are able with age to temper those wild raging ideas, passionate beliefs, and psychedelic imaginings with all manner of things. Anything we can lay our hands on, basically. We temper, refine and bring into sharper focus what we in truth know we have always held dear; the stuff that is what we are actually made of: the substance of our soul. Well, no arguments there! He went on to say similar things in his own words. Oh, happy day!
Of course your life is never going to be the same if you emigrate! Different country, different culture, different climate, not to mention different flora and fauna and food for which you do not know either the common or scientific name. If you thought you were different before, you will certainly get to explore just how different you are from those around you once you achieve immigrant status. And how very much the same.
Is life better now, or worse? You cannot compare, except to say that it is different, but the same in many ways.
Which brings me to survival tactics. For most of us, this means exerting ourselves, doing something over and above what we perceive to be the normal call of duty. It means taking on an extra job or two to make ends meet. To make it work, because, as the motivational and other so-called gurus say, “failure is not an option”.
I am a translator, I say to myself as I exhale the drag taken from a rolled cigarette of cheap tobacco. Yeah, right. So what are you doing stealing a smoke break from your job at the laundry, leaning against the wall looking up at the grey wet sky covering the village where you now live?
Am I surviving? Will we survive this? The thing about physical exhaustion is that it tends to deaden the thought processes. You end up with all these tiny little trains of thought trundling off in so many different directions, all disappearing over the horizon on tracks only they can see. Before I know it, I am silently thanking God that a friend got me that once-a-week gardening job. My smoke is finished; my seven and a half minutes are up. Back to the bleach. Bleach not beach. Yes, vestiges of the linguist, the translator, are still there.
Eighteen months of stolen smoke breaks (true confessions: two a day) later, I have translated this and that on occasion. Odd jobs one might say. Pennies from heaven. I have done more gardening for other people. In the old country, I gardened for occupational therapy – and to grow food, and sometimes for the sheer creativity of it all. And because my Labradors loved to sit in the soft cool earth of the vegetable beds I dug. Here, I do it for the hourly wage, and what snippets of joy breathe through living things. Sigh.
Then, a lifesaver: a translation job offer from a former client in the country south of the place I came from. “Yes, we can giggle now about translating two pulp fiction titles on the trot.” she said softly, shrugging her shoulders.
But in truth, the real me had to stand up; it was time for the translator to leave the laundry and translate full time from home. With a bit of luck and a following gale, that is how it will be from now on. I am living the dream. I am in the very centre of the rainbow every day.
All freelancers know what taking the plunge means. It means taking a chance. It means to let go and let life. It also means that you continue your gardening jobs to guard against the quiet periods, and so that you have a cabin-fever release valve when there is no quiet period at all.
Freelancing also means that you make your own job description to a degree. So when the local Chinese doctor is looking for someone to teach English to her daughter who will write her final qualifying examinations in Chinese medicine next year, you say that you are willing and able to do it. You say yes, despite it being a massive understatement to say that Mandarin is not your strong point, although English is. At least your English student has already studied the basics. Tutoring this student is rewarding, if only because you have finally found a practical use for the words “the rain in Spain falls mainly on the plain”. This particular diphthong presents a challenge to my student. Repeat after me: train, training, chain, chaining, change, changing, strain, straining, strange, estrangement. Then: say “change”. “Change!” I am relentless.
Even though you are translating at least the number of hours per week that you would work in a full-time job, and you have an English student for four hours per week, you still keep the gardening job. You do this because you cannot anticipate when next a client might delay payment or, God forbid, not pay you at all, because hey, they get a kick out of scamming.
There is a small chapel on hill near here called São Faustino (Saint Faustin). It has been there for 101 years, almost as long as the lady who used to clean it. She has gotten too old, and needs to stay home to look after her older sister, who is frail and needs supervision. Apparently, all the old ladies on the chapel committee voted me in.as the new cleaner last year because they know I am a “good worker” (laundry, gardening, helping a friend out occasionally with various chores at the chapel on a voluntary basis); because they knew I needed the money (refer to scammer above) and, more importantly, because I was still strong, being under fifty years of age and all. Oh, and because I can read, and turn the pages to the correct readings on any given Sunday. I am in the First World where illiteracy – mainly among older folk – is a problem. I say nothing, because it is one more thing that is different. I accept the job, and am glad of the acceptance by this small community, even though I attend the main Church in the village proper.
So there I am on a Saturday morning every fortnight in a little chapel on a hill. You will find me joyfully weeding and sweeping for Jesus.
He, in turn, weeps for me, although, I think not particularly because of pity, having loaded my life so richly with blessings.
Thank God I am a translator!