To Stay Or Leave?

Is it only me? Are you by any chance also troubled by this talk of referendum? During the past few days when I watch the news on TV and I listen to people talk about leaving Montreal and Quebec, to flee the language police, the charter of values, I can’t help but worry. Mainly because there is a wave of hatred and racism that’s being nurtured by different factors here in Quebec. And with time the divide between the English and the French is getting wider and wider. 

The question that’s on my mind now is what’s next? What if the situation worsens? Especially when I hear the premier of Quebec, Pauline Marois, talk about separation and borders and all. I can’t help but be concerned. Do I stay or do I leave? It seems to me that it was only yesterday that I crossed yet another border.

Feb. 1984, Lebanon. Beirut is divided into two parts: East and West. The Museum Crossing is the only crossing open between the two sectors. People cross on foot during the day. Sometimes they are caught in gunfire between the rival militias. The crossing itself is controlled by the army, which opens it to civilians for only a few hours. People cross from West Beirut to East to flee the country either by sea, through the Jounieh port in the East, or by air, traveling through the mountains, crossing the border to Syria to fly from Damascus airport. I took that road only a few months after my wedding and crossed to the East with my husband. Here’s what it felt like (taken from The Lost I):
“They reached the Museum Crossing in no time. At exactly a quarter to seven, the Lebanese government army opened the crossing and they started to walk towards the army checkpoint. There were a few others like them. When it was their turn, she looked at the soldier. He was so young and so thin that his uniform seemed an ill-fit. His face was pale and sordid. Could he ask them to go back? And what if he did? Oh God! Please, no! She was afraid. They were not the enemy. They were at the mercy of this soldier. If he didn’t let them cross, they would have to go back again.”

Twenty two years later, before immigrating to Canada, I flew to Lebanon with my teenage children as a last stop to bid farewell to my family. A few days into our stay hell broke loose between Israel and Lebanon and the airport closed. On July 12, on my son’s birthday the bombing started. It was the first time my kids were being exposed to such terror. Within 24 hours the airport and the main roads to the city Beirut were bombed. Luckily I was staying with my parents east of the Bekaa valley close to the Syrian border. There were rumors of that border being bombed too. My late husband who had stayed in Dubai to take care of unfinished business, managed to email us e-tickets to Dubai through Damascus airport. 

On July 15 2006, at 4:00 am in the morning we said goodbye to my mother, my brother, his then pregnant wife and two beautiful little girls, and along with my father got in the car that would take us to Damascus, Syria. Half an hour later we were at the Syrian border. Sitting in the car with my teenage daughter and son, I looked around. There was not a single soul passing, not a single car, it was dead quiet everywhere. I had waited in the same spot more than two decades ago, when I was fleeing the country to join my husband. 

And now, to have to face all these rules and regulations and threats? What if the hatred intensifies? There’s nothing worse than knowing that your neighbor hates you not for the person you are but for what you stand for. And who was it who said, “No one ruins another person’s life that we are ultimately responsible for our destinies.” 


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One Response to To Stay Or Leave?

  1. Dear ChK, I can assure you that there is *absolutely* no comparison between what’s going on in Quebec now and the awfull and dramatic situation you had to go through in Lebanon. I have been living in Montreal for 25 years now and I cannot imagine anything like this happening here.

    Do you remember the students’ strike two years ago? How many killed? None. How many wounded? A handfull — in fact I just remember one serious case of a young man sadly loosing an eye in Victoriaville, that’s all.

    As a matter of fact, I live in an specific area of the city where there is an important minority of Hassidic Jews. These “strange” (from my perspective) but lively and peaceful folks tend to live by and among themselves. I like them for being able to live on their own standards and I try to help French Québécois stressed by them understand, accept and tolerate their difference with respect and flexibility. This is not easy, though, and especially not as long as these people do not express a symetric tolerance, care, and understanding for the majority.

    The point I’d like to make is that there is no ethnic war going on here, no such hatred that we could get to the point where you would have to leave. However, we have to talk, and talk, and talk again. We must communicate to understand each other. We must pay attention.

    This is true for everyone — not only the “Québécois francophones” but also for the English Québecers who resent the consequences of history and the immigrants as well, that should make their own efforts to understand their fellow French-speaking citizens and get along well with them. It always take two persons to dance the tango, doesn’t it? 🙂

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