Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Ever feel you've been forgotten about in the waiting room?

As I am now two days away from the one month mark I feel it is safe to say that I will not receive a translated copy of that letter from the Consulate in Montreal.  I made a request to my official contact there explaining that the only thing that gives the letter any bearing is that it's on official paper, though people can't read it since it's in English.  It's a bit much, to ask people to trust my word as I explain what this official paper says.

So no translation from the Consulate (no response in fact, actually,) means that I won't really have a means of convincing anyone (like a prospective employer) that I belong here until I have my identity card.  I can't even open a bank account until then.  The *next* step (nobody knows if it will be the final step) in that wonderful process is on May 14th, when I go back to the same office I was in before, hand over 5 more photos of myself, and maybe... (but probably not) walk out with an official identity and address?  Until then it's just watch and wait and try not to drive myself crazy while I keep myself occupied with productive activities like physio for my shoulder, and TEFL certification stuff, and resume translation and reformatting, and... yeah.  I'm still kind of driving myself crazy while I do these things.

I can only hope really that all this waiting will end soon.  Belgians tell me to expect that any administrative process will take as long as it possibly can, and will be as convoluted in process as possible.  Super.  Meanwhile, as I wait to have the basic thing I need to feel like I can even really get started on the basics of life here my frustration grows.  I have not felt this limited for a very, very long time, and it's not a comfortable thing at all for an independently minded girl like myself to feel so *un* self-sufficient.  So my strategy is to distract myself from the waiting with activities that will help to build my skills for when I finally do get the green-light, as far as legitimately being a participant in the Belgian economy goes.

So far the only thing I can say this experience is truly allowing me to practice for the moment is this: my patience.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

3 weeks of baby steps and little earthquakes

Recent news:

Boyfriend and I went to Doel last Sunday, a city in the Flemish half of the country which we'd heard about thanks to the blog of a fellow Canuck I stumbled across while looking at expat stuff.  The residents of Doel have been given until September of this year to leave, as the government plans to expand their harbour.

At present, Doel is an almost-ghost town, with some holdouts still resident but with more than half of the population gone.  What is left behind is an interesting landscape of abandoned space and abandoned objects.  Of course, this is Belgium and so the bars are still open to the end for any thirsty residents or any 'exodus tourists' like ourselves who happen to stop by.  We spent the afternoon holding our breath trying to inhale as little dust and mold as possible while snapping a few hundred pictures, and then went for a beer when we ran out of steam.

We thought it must be a very strange thing to live in Doel now, with people coming by to try and peer into and photograph all the empty spaces; people who are fascinated by the demise of your community as you knew it, not to mention those people who show up to 'liberate' the vilux skylights, bathtubs, and various other fixtures left behind in the empty buildings.  If I had to judge by the presence of large dogs people keep around barking behind their front doors or from behind backyard fences, it doesn't always feel safe to live there now.

I wonder why some have decided to continue trimming the hedges and keeping manicured lawns despite the bulldozers and backhoes tearing everything down.  Some of these people have children (who occasionally peer out from behind curtained windows to glimpse what is going on outside their bubble of security,) and really, this place isn't healthy.  Many of the empty structures contain cultures of black molds, there are dead cats (we saw at least 2), and you can only imagine what is taken into the lungs every day as the machines do their work of turning complete houses into rubble.  Creepy.


In other news:  MTV here is pretty bad.  Essentially there are 10 songs that get heavy rotation, and that's it.  If I had a silencer, I'd go and muzzle the artist known as Florida.  The 'real' MTV, of course, doesn't even really play music, but has horrible reality tv shows where boob-jobbed girls try to lie to frat boys to win money to pay for their aforementioned boob-jobs, (omg!  I'm going to be on MTV you guys!) and so on.  yech.

After my little falling apart the other day, courage has come back in little bits, but it's a wavering thing, and so I'm trying to take advantage of my braver moments while not pressuring myself too much in my weaker ones.  It's funny how one moment though you feel like you can do it, and then it turns to 'maybe' and then you are again thinking you'd rather not leave the house. : /  Every day is definitely mentally tiring, filled with a mixture of job-research and language learning, and though I'm 'tired' when I go to bed, I'm still not sleeping really well most nights.

What did help to bring me somewhat back on track though was a sort of re-recognition I had of the realities of the situation here.  Although there is a definite economic crisis right now in Belgium with hundreds more hitting the unemployment line daily, and although my situation is limited in some ways by language, cultural difference, and transportation, I do have a unique set of skills that not every schmuck on the unemployment line can offer, and hopefully I can parlay these things into sources of income...

First: The skill I'm hoping to push along here: chocolate and confectionary.  I have found a few places that are actively looking for artisinal chocolatiers, and so we're going to check out at least one of them this weekend in Brussels.  It would be a bit of a bitch to commute there every day, but you know what?  I'd totally do it to be able to continue working in chocolate and candy.  The other choco-job prospect is even further afield, just on the Belgian side of the border to France, in the area of Lille (and a *complete* misery to get to by transit,)  so short of moving it's very much an improbability, but still I'm curious so I'm going to try and trip out there in the next couple of weeks to check it out.

Second skill: I speak English!  This is nothing special in Canada, but being a native speaker, when marketed correctly here could be a good thing.  I've decided to go for a TEFL certification, and whether that comes in handy here or elsewhere, the probability is that it will come in handy at some point in my life and travels, so why not do it?  There is a language school here with a location in Liège that is looking for native English speakers who are TEFL certified and/or experienced.  I stumbled across them while looking at possible resources that could help me in picking up a little Flemish (Dutch,) and it was a happy surprise to see they were looking for English speakers.  Sooo... we'll see what happens with the whole linguistic thing, but either way it seems I'll be learning a lot while I'm here.

Monday, April 20, 2009


So, last week was, um.  What happened to last week?

I found a longer running route in the forest near my house, (over 10k) which is nice, except that when it rains the forest becomes a mud pit for a few days.  This is super important overall though, because running is something along with yoga that really helps to keep me feeling balanced, even if I'm in a situation that isn't really.

The most noteworthy thing that happened last week I suppose is that I totally freaked out after a night out with a bunch of people.  Some were friends of Boyfriend, and others neither of us knew at all, friends of friends.  I can't say it was a bad night, but there was something just perhaps a little 'too much' about a night spent feeling at times like I was being sloshed about in a washing machine full of somewhat-region-specific French, and a lot of vulgar conversation at that.  I knew that this experience woudn't really be comfortable, and I expected the first bit to be rough but when we came home that night, I was feeling very...not home at all.  Having just spent the night in a very warm room where I was the *only* one not smoking, I just wanted to be able to breathe.  *Visualize for a moment: a fish out of water.*  When I opened the door to the garage to let some cool air hit me, something else hit me too.  *Visualize for a moment: a plant uprooted.*  That's pretty much the image I saw in my head, and it hurt, and I just started to cry.  I don't cry often.  Particularly not like this.  Boyfriend was definitely a bit alarmed.

The next morning after waking while we talked about it I told him that sometimes people just need to let the things that build up out, and sometimes we laugh, and sometimes we cry to do that.  I could see he understood what was going on, (some of what we talked about probably sounded a lot like what he faced last year when he was being sloshed about in Canadian culture and the English language, while I watched and worried.)  *Visualize for a moment: a lifeguard watching a weak swimmer struggling to the side of the pool.*  In fact, we talked about how it's very much like this, (the experience of being the native watching the non-native try to survive) ...because you want to save the person when you see them struggling, but you know they won't learn to really 'swim' if you do that.  So you just watch...carefully, try to be supportive, and fret.

I definitely felt a little better post-freakout, but it doesn't mean the source of this stress has gone, (culture shock doesn't just go away like that,) and so every day it's just about doing a little more, as much as I can, and hoping that these little steps help me to 'root in' a bit.  These experiments in surviving in other places are something that tell us much more about ourselves and our abilities to be tenacious and adaptable than they do about the place we're trying in I think.  For me this experience won't be a success really unless I can come out of it knowing that Belgium is a place I could live.  I don't want a country to kick my ass because really I think I'm a stronger person than that.  So I'm alright if I cry here and there along the way so long as I keep going.  Just like running, sometimes it hurts and you just want to stop, but it's only when you make it to the end that you see what you are made of.

Today I'm made of procrastination.
I have not been working at what I should today, and instead have found distraction in just about everything else.  I realize this is a little bit of fear, (and a little bit of practicality because hey, I did take my clothes out of the dryer and hang them up.)  It's silly though I know, and after lunch while I'm digesting, I'll be translating some Canadian work-stuff so that these documents are ready by the time I finally (if ever) am officially registered 'in the system' with an address and identity card.  

When I am done with this task, I should be done digesting and I'll be out the door for a run as reward/decompression.  After grinding my teeth so hard last night in my sleep that my jaw has hurt all morning, I know I need it.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Quickish Update:

It's been just a bit more than a week since I've arrived, and I'm settling in slowly but surely.  The first few days were definitely tiring and a little disturbing between fighting jetlag, going to a crazy-amazing party in the Netherlands the same weekend I arrived, recovering from said party, and trying to process primary administrative stuff, like registering my address, all while dealing with pretty full on French immersion.  Administration in Belgium is fun.  Job number 1 for me was to go to city hall within 8 days of arriving to register my address.  Here this involves sitting down with someone who takes a LOT of information from you aside from your address (nevermind that to get into this country you've already jumped through a million administrative hoops.)  Funny thing about that... I realized sitting in front of this French-only guy, in this French-only place, that the letter I have explaining the qualifications and the program under which my visa was issued is in ENGLISH.  haha.  The letter even says I should keep it with me at all times in case I need to explain to someone why I'm here or the particulars of my visa.  Very useful, considering it's in a language hardly anyone I've met yet here understands.  : /  I have to email the consulate in Montreal and ask them to send me a French version.

After speaking with French-only guy and having him attach my id photos to my documents, guy tells me it could take up to 2 MONTHS for a policeman to come visit my house to make sure I live here.  After that I'll be mailed a letter with an appointment date and time to come back to see same French-only guy, so I can have my ID card, and (finally) officially have an address.  Here, an address is needed to get a bank account, and a job, and so on, and I hadn't counted on having to wait for several months before being allowed to work, particularly not since I'm here on a *working* holiday visa.

Thankfully we know someone who was able to put in a call to our local police department, which helped to speed the process along I think, as the policeman has already stopped by.  So now I have to wait for a letter from city hall so I'll know when my appointment is to go and see about having an address, in the official sense.  Hooray for administrative process the world-over!  :p


As for the language, my ears become a little sharper every day and I'm understanding and using more of it.  Some people speak very clearly, and others...well let's just say a lack of enunciation and proper emphasis isn't solely a problem that occurs with speakers of English!  I'm told that my use of grammar has been good, but I am one of my own toughest critics, so I feel I have light-years to go.  But I kind of always feel that way in a sense, and I suppose that's what keeps me learning and pushing myself.  Mind you, when I'm dealing with everything else all at once, it's tiring, being that way.


I have stepped on a few toes here already.  Twice in the past week I have been offered chocolate, and after my (wonderfully sensitive) boyfriend felt compelled to jump in and tell whomever it was that "she doesn't like brand X" for some reason I have yet to figure out... I've had to explain to the fallen faces of our hosts that it's not that I *DON'T* like it... it's just that I work with chocolate and I think there are finer brands than this one.  At first this was more of a polite explanation, as I had little experience in fact with brand X's products, but I have to say after trying several brand X products, that I think it's true...I don't like it.  It's not a definite judgement yet, but it's pretty close to being definite.  Hopefully they've got some high-end stuff tucked away somewhere that I don't know about yet.

But you know what?  If someone told me they didn't like Labatt Blue or Molson Canadian, my national pride wouldn't be hurt at all because I'd know that my country brews a myriad of beers that are *WAY* better than these two, though they are two of Canadas most "popular" beers.  What can I say, my tastebuds are a little snobby.


My least favourite tidbit: Two days before leaving Toronto, I saw my doctor for my annual physical.  I had been experiencing a strange pain in my right shoulder for a few weeks prior.  Turns out I have tendonitis in my rotator-cuff.  I was told that I should rest the shoulder for 3 months, do physio for the supporting muscles, and to avoid working in a KITCHEN during this time.  Dum dum dummmmm   :o  Hearing that from a medical professional seriously sucked, and having to be careful with my DOMINANT ARM...the one I use for ALMOST EVERYTHING is definitely a drag.  And it's really thrown me a curveball in the way of strategies for finding work here too.  But we'll see how it goes, since I'm forced into waiting about on paper here at any rate.

I've seen some interesting corporate things while peeping out the job market here a little, though I really had little desire to return to an office environment.  There are some non-profit organizations here that it might be interesting to do something with, and of course there is also *ugh* retail.  I just have to be good with my shoulder until it's better, and then after that I just have to be smarter with it.  I'm hoping that if I can't use my arm for now in a kitchen, that instead I can use my English to score something interesting.  The job market here is a little freaky though.  There are a ton of people losing jobs in Belgium for the moment, thanks to "la crise" (the current global financial turmoil.)  This means far more people than normal are seeking jobs for the moment, and I'll have to figure out a way to be competitive.

Thursday, April 2, 2009


I'm in Belgium, safe and sound. :)  Now for a shower and some dinner, details will come later.