” While the expatriate is merely living away from his or her homeland physically, the “ex–patriot” has evidently distanced him or herself emotionally. (Washington Post, Letters to the Editor) “
Expatriate and Ex-Patriot. I guess I qualify for both, sorry to admit it.
I grew up in one of the most sprawling cities in Germany, Frankfurt, sharing it with 80.000 other people. I did not mind until I got older and started travelling. That was when I saw what the world had in store for me. Besides Frankfurt. Or Germany.
Whenever my University studies allowed it, I explored Europe, in a self-remodelled old VW-van, as was the fad in those days. Rumbling through Italy, France, Spain and most of Yugoslavia, I was inundated with new impressions of this hot, spicy, relaxed, and friendly South. Later, we sailed as a group across the waters of the Mediterranean and Adriatic Seas, getting flooded with the feeling of borderless freedom, anchoring in new harbours every night.
At one point flying was added to the means of travel and I discovered the exotic outlandishness of the Orient, soaking up mysterious smells and tastes while connecting with strikingly foreign people and landscapes. All culminated in the narrow back streets of Hong Kong on the shores of the South China Sea.
I knew I was hooked on travelling. But there seemed to be more. The reason for being drawn away from home continuously became more evident: I was looking for something, something different, something I had not found yet.
My older brother delivered the breakthrough. On his proposal, we planned to see Canada. I had no idea what was going to hit me. But I vividly remember that first day paddling our canoes across Opeongo Lake, smack dab in the wilderness. I was stunned: “This is just like a Lassie Movie. And I am right in it!” The doors to an unknown dream had just opened. Canada. I was determined to live there.
And I did. 5 years later, after more travelling, paddling and hiking, which steered me from interior Ontario to British Columbia on the West Coast, then up north into the Yukon.
Then—all of a sudden—I arrived. I landed. In 1993, I finally immigrated to Canada and left Germany behind. I left my job behind, my place, my family, and all my friends. Everything. And I did so with a mortifying ease that still thrills me. I immigrated to this glorious land, and I loved living there every single minute since. I never looked back.
While becoming an Expatriate, living away from the country I was born in, I also became an Ex-Patriot, by not missing my native land at all, at any minute, ever after.
Julian’s Revelations of Divine Love (about 1393) is believed to be the first published book written by a woman in the English language.
In spite of sounding like the most boring cliché, I did know what I wanted to become since my earliest childhood.
In grade 4, I was convinced my future as a veterinarian was solid. I talked about it all the time. I even had a companion who seriously volunteered to be my sidekick when the time would come. We were both ten years old.
After nine years in High School, this belief was still going strong. By then, I had decided to become a country vet. Not even the discouraging discussion with our headmaster, who thoroughly questioned my abilities to deliver an unborn calve, could sway me.
However, the globe’s overpopulation, or if I am very honest, my insufficient studies, put an end to all this. In Germany, too many people had the same idea. The Numerus Clausus was invented as one method to limit the number of students who may study at a certain University. Smarter people than I, with better average of final marks in high school, were admitted. I looked at a four-year waiting period and then looked no more. In those four years, I was able to complete my study in Linguistics. I left Johann Wolfgang Goethe University in Frankfurt with the degree of M.A. in Modern Philology in my pocket and my eyes still roaming the horizon.
Because, in the meantime, I got myself infected. With travelling. I travelled a lot. All over the globe, looking for something I did not know yet.
But I could not find what I was I was looking for, so I went to work in an American Computer Consultancy. For the next six years, the just-emerging home computer fascination captivated me like nothing else. I worked overtime; I worked on weekends, sometimes without pay, at home on my (first) own computer and at nights. We all did. And we loved it. At the company, we were all under the spell of this radically new technology which eclipsed everything old and close to a typewriter – or mainframe. In those days, the late 80s, a PC, lovingly for personal computer, probably weighed between 10—20 kg, including a monitor the size of a small doghouse. We worked on two 5-inch disc drives, when innovation swept us away with the coming of 3.5-inch disks and later, hallelujah, the first hard drive with an intergalactic 128kb of RAM, which was soon, we hardly survived the joy, upgraded to 256kb. No Windows, No OS, we all worked with the fluorescent green C:> on a dark background.
However, we felt like visionaries. We soaked up everything that came up on the US market. Our boss, being an American himself, brought the newest developments and gadgets (such as a handheld scanner) back to Germany, and we presented these innovations to the European Industry. We were breaking a path to a new intelligence, which today would be sneered at as crude and archaic. Those were the days.
And then Canada came and my days in Europe ended.
Oh yes, the stereotype is alive, again.
I absolutely started writing when I was in my teens. Whenever I did not have the chance to talk I wrote.
And I was talking a lot in those times. I remember long hours – recounting whatever story just popped into my mind – to my older brother, whom I adored so much and not only for his stoic patience to listen to my ramblings.
At high school, I was known to “fight with words”, which only today I start to understand.
Today I often find myself in the woods, walking the dog between writing periods, when the so-called writers’ coma should happen, only that I am having these magnificent dialogues in my head, where I win each discussion without uttering a single word.During these periods of eloquent silence, endless pages of writing are born.
While I do love a meaningful dispute, well structured, substantial, conclusive, and purposeful, carried on colourful wings of words and phrases, I am more addicted to writing.No, honestly. I have to write.Nothing entices me more than an empty page with nice straight, empty lines. Lines that beg to be filled with words, sentences, a story.
I feel a pull, the mutual desire from me as well from the empty page, to sculpture that sheet of paper into a literary monument, shape it to perfection, whittle it down to its essential importance and clearest message.
The desire for beauty.There are times when I can’t resist to even embellish or perfect mere grocery lists or mental memos.
I remember when I was young, and I wished to possess this clean, accurate, stylish handwriting, where all letters are the same size, elegantly slanted and so lovely. And now I have it, and it gets used all the time. I have seen me throwing out sheets of notes or drafts or lists, which just did not meet the pleasure of my eyes.Such is my pride. Or vanity.
But I would be a poor writer if it all ended there.
I entered a new level of literary fulfilment when discovering memoirs. Naturally, it all begins with diaries, for which I had an ample supply after I took to travelling. For a while, they never seemed worthwhile to be offered to the public.Not until Canada.Living in this amazing, wonderful country, entering my new, so fulfilling life, inspiration sprang from every corner. There was no way out. Not for me.
I write to show and share.
I wrote about our nearly three-month-long paddle on the mighty Yukon River, which guided us from the dry inland of Canada’s Yukon Territory through all of Alaska to the salty waters of the Bering Sea. I wrote about our winter-long stay at a self-built cabin, when we lived in the Coast Mountains, completely cut off from the outer world.Lately, I finished a memoir of my years with my best late friend Mabel Brewster, a true Yukon icon and elder, who had no conception of pain or fear. The adventures on our horses bridge friendship, love of the land, learning, and laughing, being scared, and being unbelievably happy.
I love writing.The amalgamation of plan and preparations, adventures and impressions, historical facts, and personal feelings styled into a literary testimonial. Then I add my heart to the mixture.Just as other people like putting together a photo album.
Each work is a piece of myself, offered up to be seen, absorbed, and hopefully loved.
All I write is the truth, and nothing but. The truth of wonder and admiration, of sadness and pain, of love and loss, information and fact, and never without humour.But always the truth.
This country gives me an endless source of inspiration, so I have no need to invent or pretend.
Because I really believe I have a wonderful life, I will keep writing about it.
The Wilderness Guide
I had set my mind that, once we landed at Vancouver Airport, I would kneel down and kiss the blessed ground I was going to live on from now on. Just as the pope does.
Naturally, I did not. I chickened out.
Immigration officials grilled us for an hour, despite our legal papers showing that we were allowed to come and live here indefinitely, or at least as long as we did not commit a capital crime.
My documents presenting an education as a linguist and work experience of a computer-consultant, inspired one of the immigration officers to the question if I knew how many secretaries already lived and worked in Canada. Well, I did not know that, and even the realization that it might be a great multitude could not take the joy away from me.
With the intoxicating fact of finally having come to my personal paradise, Canada, I was determined nobody could ruin my happiness.
Although the highway lodge we operated for the next 2 years nearly did just that. Ruining it for us. Luckily, we were able to divert fate’s cruel plans and made her twist another pair of strings under the tree of life.
In 1994, we left the utterly uninspiring realms of highway hospitality service and started our own business as wilderness tourism outfitters. Yukon Wild Adventures was born, and with my husband Rainer Russmann we invited and guided guests from all over the world through our new beloved surrogate country, showing and sharing the Magic and the Mystery of the Yukon, Canada’s True North.
We had come directly to Canada’s most northwesterly region, with Alaska as our neighbour, the Arctic Circle dipping right through us, and the small crown of arctic waters above our heads. On purpose, we selected a major wilderness, where nature and wildlife still run supreme, where the population of some 25.000 people inhabiting an area of over 480.000 km2 seems rather negligible. Really, when 80% of this population lives in its capital, the rest of the land presents itself as one vast open space and wilderness refuge.
And that refuge became our playground, our office and weekend escape. We hiked, we paddled, and we camped and rode on horseback. We crossed ice-blue lakes and floated down wild rivers. We scaled mountains without names and wandered through untamed valleys. We did it alone for our personal enjoyment. And we did it with customers to make money, still enjoying it—to some extent.
For 15 years, our life was simpler, more back to basics, bringing in our water from our own well, hauling wood, heating the log house we had built ourselves. We hunted in the fall and picked berries and mushrooms. And when winter came we relaxed among a world of brilliant white under the diamond air of the North, illuminated at night by the unworldly displays of the Aurora Borealis.