It’s 2AM and we’ve just pulled into Edmonton. I step outside to stretch my legs, hoping to have a quick toke but the security guard walking back and forth scares me into keeping the joint tucked in my pocket. I shouldn’t test my luck. It was a miracle that I had managed to snag a last minute train ticket home. The conductor blows his whistle and as we reboard, I know I’m not sleeping anytime soon. I grab my laptop and my sixth cup of instant noodles in three days and take a seat in the empty dining car. It’s time to start reflecting and figure out what exactly went wrong.
I had travelled four days on the train only to spend a mere three in Vancouver before vying to go back home. I cut my trip short by an entire week and spent the last day sitting at my friend’s café, researching if hitchhiking back to Toronto was a viable option. Why was I so desperate to leave? Was it because Vancouver wasn’t all I had envisioned it to be? A greener city is still just a city, after all. My past travels have taught me that wonder is easily stumbled upon when one chooses to strip themselves of comfort and dive into the unknown. Unfortunately BC was all too familiar and frankly, I was bored.
I had no plans of what I was going to do with my time in BC. Yes, I could go hippie hopping on the islands but to what avail? I know jack about sustenance farming and ecological practices. Despite having an overflowing plethora of ideas, I’m not very educated. At home, I can’t help but engage in white noise via the internet instead of learning useful tidbits about the world. I ended up leaving two weeks later than planned because my somewhat overbearing family wanted me to stick around for awhile, even if that just meant disintegrating into the couch all day (brown parents smh). By then, I had limited time my #viarail pass was valid for and I didn’t want to spend more time commuting than I had to.
I don’t like inbetweeners-airports, buses, cars, the place between home and destination. Nothing makes me antsier than having to sit still while on the cusp of adventure. But this time, the train was the adventure. A few days into the ride and I had made a number of good friends over games of poker and beers. Many of the train-goers were youth and we shared the commonality of travelling alone for the first time.
As the train rolled through the luminescent prairies, smoky mountains, and hundreds of Canada’s smaller lakes, we talked about our big ol’ country. 150 years. Not all of us were celebrating though. I sat in the back of the dorm car, tuned out of my book and instead eavesdropping on the group sitting in front of me –a Chinese guy, Guyanese girl and European dude. All of them were either immigrants or first-generation Canadians but they were well aware of the plight of indigenous people. The girl was a teacher and she shared how her kids asked her the simplest questions when educated on indigenous issues: Why can’t we help them? I asked her what she tells them and how we can play a role in reconciliation. She told me after I’ve educated myself, I should try and get corporations on my side. It’s a capitalistic world, after all. The conversation ended with her encouraging me to go to political protests and make some noise.
I won’t forget the characters I met; the drunk cartoonist stumbling around the train, coaxing us to drink and yelling profanity until he passed out in the lounge. The caring mother figure that I was lucky enough to have as an Air BnB host. A transgender male who owns the only sex shop in a quaint artsy little town called Wolfville located in the Maritimes. An Arcadian French girl telling me about the struggle her parents are experiencing while trying to learn about their adopted kid’s culture but not being welcomed in their native community because they are white.
I was reminded that home is a feeling that you find inside of people. I meet up with two very good friends of mine in Vancouver –Tefa and Ryme. While eating ice-cream, Tefa shares her larger than life perspective, her resilience in the face of shattered relationships and how she makes it a priority to do no harm. Laying on the grass, listening to her speak made me feel so lifted. I sometimes wonder if a natural, beautiful landscape could coax out the same feeling. I look over at Ryme as she serves in her artsy lil café in downtown Vancouver, admiring the way her eyes crinkle when she smiles. I’ve grown attached to the way she repeats her words in French after she says them in English, her strange sound effects in between her sentences, how she’ll repeatedly ask me “how are you” when she doesn’t know what to say or when there’s simply too much to be said.
I’ve met so many wonderful people the past year. But in the midst of it all, I’ve forgotten to work on the relationships I already have. There are too many coffee catch ups I haven’t come through on and flimsy plans that never see light of day. I have been meeting so many temporary people that I am becoming a temporary person. I’m realizing that creation requires commitment, whether that be in relationships or projects.
In the beginning of July, I was molding into my couch, taking days to complete miniscule tasks that should have taken me a few hours. I figured a fistful of adventure and reckless abandon was just what I needed but I was wrong. I am reminded of a quote an indigenous leader said at an Amnesty conference: “Reconciliation is a universal effort. You can’t reconcile others unless you reconcile yourself first”. I don’t regret leaving. Vancouver gave me perspective of what needs to be changed and these sentiments are echoed in a book I’ve read recently called “Forth Goes the Road” by a man named Christian Watson:
“We have to learn self-discipline so we can use tools intelligently. My phone isn’t the devil, convenience isn’t some evil enemy but if I let it dictate every waking moment of my life there’s no beauty to be shared with others. We are not built to stare at screens, they desensitize us from our real selves. The identities we build and share through the internet are not always a bad thing. They can be keys to helping us grow, I do believe that. Though they can burden us at times, they are built for the right purpose if we back that purpose.”
I’m going to be attending school in Montreal come September. Distance from home is going to be a guarantee and not a fleeting escapade.I have to make sure I am leaving for the right reasons; to gain tangible skills and make something of myself. Remaining gentle with myself in the pursuit of all the things I want. Remembering that there is value in sharing my words with others. When I am not overpowered with the compulsive tendencies that come with social media, I am able to dictate back to the internet what I find important.
And what I do find important is this ever fleeting concept of home, which can be found tucked into the dimples of a friends smile, in the familiar smell of cooked dish, and luckily for me, in the unconditional love of family members. But home is also a personal relationship with oneself, one I’d like to get better at. No more slipping away from myself into a train or plane only to realize that there is freedom in discipline and in unconditional self love.
The first night on the train, I recall waking up in the middle of the night shivering and thinking “fuck this, I’m so buying a plane ticket home”. But it grew on me and I’m going to miss my two weeks spent on the via rail. The soft humming of the engine, the occasional jolt when it stopped due to freight trains passing, travelling alone but never lonely due to the warmth of surrounding people and the perspective it has given me.