Fish, Chips, and the Meaning of Life.

One of the reasons I encourage everyone (especially students) to travel is because traveling, I’ve found, helps you to discover yourself; and my latest adventure – to the East coast of Canada – proved just that.

Since calling this country my home, I have longed to visit Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and other must-sees of the Atlantic. Still, it took the end of a master’s degree and a need for something new and inspiring to push me over the edge and towards the other side.

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Point Prim Lighthouse, Point Prim Road, PEI.

Halifax, Nova Scotia and Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island are capital cities for a reason. Both tell the stories of the greater pieces of land they represent all too well: Halifax, a bustling city, guarding the history of many cultures beyond its surface; and Charlottetown, as quaint as it gets in the best way possible, and the tip of the iceberg of a beautiful island.

In addition to the change of scenery, the timing of this trip coincided with a very deep train of thought that took over my mind: what is the meaning of life?

Without much explanation, once my studies terminated, I began to contemplate the point of it all: the purpose of living; a reason for having dreams and goals if, at some point, life ends anyways. Very morbid to say the least, but I thought a getaway from my current world of endless job applications would help me find an answer. And surprisingly, it did.

What helped me find that answer was a brilliant non-fiction book I purchased before my departure called, Man’s Search For Meaning, by Viktor E. Frankl. In it, Frankl describes his time during WWII in Auschwitz, the people and things he lost while there, and the power and inner strength he relied on to survive inside the camps and later, back in the world. There were so many quotable parts of the book, so many “ah-ha” moments that I wish I could copy and paste here. But a few of them really stood out, not just for their message, but also how they seemed to coincide effortlessly with my travel discoveries:

By declaring that man is responsible and must actualize the potential meaning of his life, I wish to stress that the true meaning of life is to be discovered in the world rather than within man or his own psyche”.

Charlottetown taught me quite well that our purpose lies beyond the interior. The quaintness of the city is lovely but limited. Eventually, we rented a car and immediately experienced the benefits of going beyond our (financial) limits. Point Prim lighthouse, Anne of Green Gables, Brackley Beach, and Cow’s Creamery – we saw so much! Even better was the fact that our trip took place at the cusp of tourism season; so it felt like we had the entire island to ourselves! Bliss.

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Anne of Green Gables, North Coast, PEI.

“We can discover [meaning in life] by creating a work or doing a deed”.

I saw the purpose and passion of a community – Africville, Halifax, one of the oldest settlements of Black Loyalists and freed peoples in Canada – in the fight for land ownership and cultural reclamation.

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Map of Africville, 1964, Africville Musem, Africville, Halifax.

In 1958, the Halifax government began a process of forcibly removing Africville residents to use the land – located by ideal waterways – for commercial industry and transport uses (one tactic included placing a garbage dump right by the community). Though most residents have now left the area, one resident remains: Mr. Eddie Carvery, a former resident of Africville, has continued to protest the extradition of his community for decades since its redevelopment. On entering the on-site Africville Museum (which is highly inaccessible due to negligence by the City of Halifax), it’s hard not to notice the big sign that reads “AFRICVILLE PROTEST” in all white letters.

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Just outside Africville Museum, Africville, Halifax.

Finally, love.

Of course, Frankl spoke of love, one of the most powerful qualities of life that continues to pull us through:

“The more one forgets himself – by giving himself to a cause to serve or another person to love – the more human he is.”

Relating back to the first quote, one can find meaning outside of themselves, either through a cause (like Africville) or a person. I traveled to clear my mind, yet from that, I also realized that the world is much bigger than me. There are so many other people on this Earth that are familiar only with their own lives, their own community and their own problems. Traveling exposes us to other cultures, other people and other hardships unlike our own. It creates space for patience, understanding, empathy … and love.

Since finishing Frankl’s book, I’ve had several conversations about this heavy question with close family and friends – some of whom have lost loved ones or come close to losing their own life – and for the most part, it seems everyone is still trying to figure it all out.

The Maritimes is a heavenly part of the greater beauty that is Canada and, over other adventures, it’s surprising to learn what you can discover in your own backyard. There is meaning outside ourselves and in the world. And there is purpose in one’s passion for a cause or one’s love for another. Eddie Carvery found his.

And I continue to find mine.

À la prochaine,
Moi

Music of the Moment:

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Comme les Éléphants

While wondering the halls of the musée Dauphinois right by my French residence, I happened upon a quote by mountaineer, Caroline Villeneuve, that read, “Mon rêve, c’était de faire comme les éléphants, de revenir où je suis née” or in English, “My dream, it was to do as the elephants, to come back to where I was born.” For some reason, this has resonated with me since then and I did not really know why until now.

I recently returned from a fulfilling trip back to Jamaica. It was the first time I travelled for the holidays since moving further north, and I have decided that travel during the winter season to a warmer destination can cause some painful withdrawals, upon return, which I do not admire at this time.

Uptown Kingston at primet-time: Hop on while you can!

Uptown Kingston at prime-time: hop on while you can!

Still, though I have taken this trip before, I had never taken it like this. The fragile innocence of youth can blind one to the realities that they have lived, and this trip exposed me to many of these facts and figures I had not concretely defined before.

Simply put, it was a family trip to celebrate the start of the end and the end of the start.

Nevertheless I went into this with an agenda; comme les éléphants, I knew that there was much to rediscover and I only had two weeks. I prepared myself as I had during last summer’s European adventure: I made a list of destinations after a quick search on TripAdvisor and I made a promise to myself that no time would be wasted; at least once every day, the sun would shine on my face. Soon I came to realise that my agenda was becoming of something more.

Negril: Rick's Café at sunset is a must.

Negril: Rick’s Café at sunset is a must.

It is quite difficult to explain exactly my experience; to analogize, it is as if I have been telling a story I once remembered so clearly as a kid, as clear as real life. Every time I retold this story, something was added to it or taken away; and so everytime I retold this story, it felt less true, less authentic, like I had never really known it before. So once I began seeing characters and objects from this story again, things slowly came back to me, still faint but ever so familiar.

Unlike my European escapades where walking was a must, we drove everywhere; it was a blessing and a curse as the heat could kill, but I had to absorb everything in 5 seconds or less. Even so, for the things that took more time, like going to the supermarket or meeting my father’s friend from high school, I was like a sponge in water.

St. Catherine - Flat Bridge: on the road.

St. Catherine : on the road to Flat Bridge.

Conversations had more depth, people and places had more features, and my memories had more flavour. I concluded then that, in all my denial as a proud immigrant against acclimatization, I could now properly justify my multinationality as the proof was right there.

I did indeed live a part of this story, but a long time ago; when trees grow, their roots stretch out, reaching ends once unknown to that same trunk. So I may have lost my accent, and I cannot easily differenciate between uptown and downtown as other locals; but my roots all started from the same spot that I can and will always return to.

It never hurts to learn what you have always known.

À la prochaine,
Moi

Music of the Moment:

On est là.

I used to do this thing as a kid while travelling; once I arrived somewhere, the first thing I would do was always to take one deep breath in and taste the air of the foreign land. The air was always new, unfamiliar to me, and desired immensely.

Once I arrived in France this past week, it was only natural for me to do the same. It struck me by surprise, however, that the smell was no different from where I came from nor where I’ve been.

I don’t know if it’s because I was still inside the airport when I inhaled, but another thought which explains otherwise has crossed my mind. Before I left for this trip, I mentally held the journey, this country, and its people so highly, much more highly than my own life (sort of like a fairy tale experience that only happens in dreams). Because I put it all on such a high pedestal, I made it out to seem almost impossible to feat myself, which explains most of my pre-flight fears.

But as I habituate myself to the area, its inhabitants, and its incredible views, I slowly come to realize that the task was not so unreachable.

Now, that’s not to say that the French are mediocre people and their way of life is seldom unique; on the contrary, the French are quite a relaxed yet active people, a combination which I do not see often. What I’m really trying to say, I guess, is that I needed not to change myself in order to understand where I was going; France and I would merely discover each other.

For instance, I arrived in Lyon, a city just above Grenoble where I currently reside and will reside for the next six months, and stayed there for two days (including New Year’s) to take a look around and prep myself for what was to come in Grenoble. Upon arrival, my arm pits were honestly sweating bullets and I felt lost for a second. I didn’t want to open my mouth and immediately be targeted as an Anglophone, or worse, a foreigner. But it wasn’t like that at all.

Once I got out the airport, I met a too-hip-for-his-age taxi driver who drove me to my hostel, Cool & Bed (if you’re ever in Lyon, pay it a visit – nice place!). The city is absolutely beautiful – a must-see if near the area.

To build a bridge...

To build a bridge…

My trip to Grenoble was very interesting, to say the least. I used the same too-cool-for-school taxi driver who played rap, jazz, and soul music all throughout the ride. While I spoke to him about my life in Canada and he described his love for Snoop Dogg, I finally felt at peace. It’s silly to think that rap music can calm a person, but it did the job!

My residence is on a mountain (literally); Le Rabot is a bit of a trip to get to by foot (my taxi driver was worried we were lost as I pointed him in the direction of the residence) but the view from my rooms is, as I continue to repeat, spectacular. As soon as I reached my room, I was acquainted with a floor mate who has kept me active every day since. Often times, I just want to stay in my room and relax, really ease myself into the area; but at others, I know I should dive right in since this opportunity comes only to so little and only so often. So with that, I am very pleased at our acquaintance.

To sum up the week, I’ve went grocery shopping; ate a crêpe (comme il faut); went on an adventurous trip to Ikea (yes, they have one here, and yes, it’s just as crazy inside as it is in North America); visited my university and today, recently went up further on the mountain which holds my residence, all the way up to the top to La Bastille, an old prison used by the French monarchy and an important symbol for the French Republican movement.

Et on marche...

Et on marche…

But all in all, life here is normal just like anywhere else. I think back to the shock of the not-so-unusual scent once I landed, and there comes a point, I guess, when you realize that life is life. We each have our own to live, and that is no different anywhere else in the world. We all need to eat, breathe, sleep, connect, feel; it’s an old tradition, one that’s kept us alive and will keep doing so.

So the next time I sniff, if anything smells differently, it’ll probably be due to a washroom entrance I’ll find myself standing by.

À la prochaine,
Moi

Music of the Moment:

Tengo Pollo Loco en Mis Pantalones!

I recently saw a quote by India’s first prime minister, Jawaharial Nehru, that read,

We live in a wonderful world that is full of beauty, charm and adventure. There is no end to the adventures we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open.

This quote really hit me the past few days ago. I’ve actually given myself the opportunity to explore exactly where I have traveled, at long last.

A look back on my previous posts made me realize that I have been so focused on the work being done here, that I haven’t given myself the slightest of chance to stop – breathe – and look at the different kind of beauty that surrounds me.

I managed to do that this week after a few mishaps put me in that kind of position: nearing the end of last week, I accidentally fell into the canal with my non-waterproof camera strapped around my torso (that was a bit of a scare, but it’s dried out and properly functioning again, phew!); I also lost my glasses two days later in the ocean whilst working a turtle in the dark of night (still haven’t found them, I’m pulling “Velma from Scooby-Doo” everywhere!).

But though I’ve lost quite a bit of sight, I’ve managed to open my eyes to many things I didn’t see before, as Nehru’s quote implies.

Sunrise: Te quiero mucho...

Sunrise: Te quiero mucho…

I finally went to the beach just to relax for the first time. I also finally caught one of the river turtles that swim around by the station’s dock in the canal.

And most importantly, I finally got to breathe and just take it easy, which I oddly hadn’t really done since I got here.

I guess I could say that straight vision often  gives you a straight direction, which, if too focused, can block your view of even the smallest of wonders around you.

Until I get ahold of new frames, being half blind isn’t all too bad. I just need to learn to stop continuously sliding invisible glasses back up my nose.

Pura vida,
Moi

P.S. Thanks Dave for the title idea!

Music for the Moment: