I was feeling really sad leaving Canada this morning after just a week there — a few days in Montreal, another few in Quebec City.
I was thinking I’d tell you about some of the sights I saw, the other people in my senior tour group (Road Scholar), our fabulous tour guide, Lise, and most definitely bilingualism — what a great thing it is. Also, what it feels like to be one gluten-free vegan traveling amongst a group of people pre-occupied with meat-based meals. Not so great!
Despite my 71 years on the planet, I had only barely been to Canada. A week in Vancouver in January 1971. Snow-covered and bleak is what I remember. My second experience in Canada was about 15 years ago when I went on an Alaskan cruise with my parents and sister. I spent one whole night in Vancouver before taking off for Alaska.
In other words, before this trip I’d seen less than the tiniest fraction of Canada.
My last views of Canadian countryside early today — open, beautiful, peaceful.
Personally, I know two Canadians — one from the Vancouver area — Rita Kampen, who I met on a writers’ workshop with Cheryl Strayed in Maui more than three years ago and the other a Buddhist teacher by the name of Pascal AuClair who was my main teacher on a month long silent meditation retreat 9 years ago. Pascal is French Canadian and lives in Montreal.
I have the deepest respect and admiration for both Rita and Pascal. Both embody kindness, respect, warmth, humility, intelligence, and joie de vivre. I was amazed to find these same qualities in so many Canadians I interacted with. In fact, I could see these qualities in the society as a whole.
So, it was a rude how-do-you-do when we (on Amtrak) crossed the border into the United States and had about 15 ICE agents, armed and clad in black board the train to check our passports. The custom form we were given at the start of the trip asked, among other questions, if we were carrying any food, nuts, seeds, vegetables, or fruit. Since it’s a ten hour ride to NYC (where most passengers were headed) most of us had food with us. We were told maybe we didn’t have to check the “yes” box if our food was for lunch, but if we had any citrus, like an orange (I did) or other fruit, they might confiscate it. So of course I was on edge. I was semi-lying per how we were advised; I’m sure I wasn’t the only one. I also had a little packet of chocolate and walnuts. And another small baggie of nuts and raisins. And a pear. I’m telling you! It was all on the do-not-bring list. Contraband up the wazoo!
When the grim faced officer stood over my seat, I handed over my passport and customs form and tried to look innocent. He looked at my passport and entered numbers into his little hand-held computer. He barked questions at me. I wondered if I should confess my lunch ingredients and risk confiscation, or face possible fines. He looked Aryan, perhaps a motorcycle gang member in his free time. I felt Jewish. guilty. vulnerable.
When he asked what I’d been doing in Canada, I heard, what the hell were you doing in Canada?
When I said I’d been on a senior tour group, he asked Where are the other people in your group? Are you with people or alone? it sounded like, What kind of made up story is that? Funny I don’t see any other people with you.
When he asked where I was from, I’m pretty sure I saw him wince when I said San Francisco, quickly followed by, Where are you going now? which I heard as What the hell are you doing on this train? this is not the way to go to San Francisco!
I proffered more info than I needed to at this point, telling him how my daughter lives in NYC and I’m meeting her in Hudson, because you know the ticket over my seat read HUD. I intuited his suspicion, and wanted to quell it before the next question was lobbed. I guess I seemed subservient enough. He grunted, handed my passport back to me, and moved on.
With so many officers in the different cars, the stop shouldn’t have taken long, but we were there for an hour. Finally, an agent came back to our car with a young Latino guy who said to his family — his mom, aunt, and another older family member — in Spanish, they won’t let me pass. He spoke softly, as did his family.
His mother asked the young woman agent (who looked like she could be Latina, and must have spoken Spanish because the mom didn’t speak English) Can I and his aunt talk with him? The agent said she’d ask.
Eventually they all talked. A dozen or so agents escorted the young man off the train and into a van. The family asked if they could go with him. No, they were told. They were taking him back to Canada, and the family would have to stay on the train til the next stop (another 20 minutes) and find their own way back.
Left: The train station where ICE boarded Amtrak. Middle: The van that took the young man back to Canada. Right: The Mom, aunt, and older gentleman (father? uncle?) got off at the next stop and asked the cab driver for a ride back to Canada.
After they took her son away, I told the Mom I am so very sorry. So very very sorry. She nodded and thanked me.
I’m SO angry at my country. Canada is a much better place in so many ways. But America is mine — to try to change, to try to fix, to join hands with the millions of us whose hearts are aching and breaking because our leadership has gone off the rails, because our society and culture has lost its way. This is my work, our work to do. After the agents left, I had a stomach ache, but I ate my lunch anyway, including the contraband pear, which wasn’t even sweet.
8 thoughts on “Au revoir, Canada!”
Oh Gayle so so heartbreaking. I’m weeping for the cruelty and all the separated families….disgusted I’m so disgusted in this country.
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Yes, Cj…. thank you for reading and responding. I am def. still reeling from having witnessed this this morning. And yes. just disgusted, and heartbroken. xo, g
Loved your beautiful description of Canada.
I am so sorry you had to have such a terrible incident on the train leaving Canada. I feel bad fir you and very sad for those people whose son was sent back to Canada.
We sadly are not a welcoming country.
Hope you can enjoy some happy times with Anna and her husband in New York.
Sending good thoughts and hugs your way.
Love Sandy and Jere
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Dear Sandy, I so appreciate your reading my blog and writing to me with your thoughts and good wishes. Though it was a horrible thing to witness, I was glad that I was there to witness what happened and that I could use my voice in this blog, in whatever way I can, to call attention to the injustice, the cruelty of it. You are so right. We are NOT a welcoming country. Canada IS. The juxtaposition is severe. It breaks my heart for all of us. For those being imprisoned and deported instead of welcomed, as well as for those of us who thought we lived in a “good” country, only to wake up and find the terror of it for many, and the unkindness of it toward most. I am grateful though for the really good Americans I know exist — and for great neighbors and friends — like you and Jere in my life. We have to vote like crazy (and get everyone we know and don’t know to vote) in November! xo, g
I’m in tears reading this account and how we’ve degenerated into a fear based country. At least this sad incident is book ended by good travels in Canada and a visit to Anna. Sending love.
Dear Terri, yes! Tears. It was a gut-punching re-realization of the character of our society, especially so juxtaposed to the welcoming and inclusive character of Canadian society. My pain feels tiny next to the suffering of that family wrenched from their lives, made to suffer (with no good reason), made to endure high costs (the cost of the unfulfilled train ride alone for four, not to mention the cost of the cab, whatever fines there might be, an up-ended life. Who knows if they were on their way to a family wedding, or funeral, or what? Maybe to tend to a sick relative? And then, that, multiplied thousands of times over — what our god-forsaken country is doing to innocent people. I feel lucky I got to learn about Canada and her people, and of course, now, lucky to be seeing my Anna. Love you, dear sister. xo, g
Yes! Ours to do.
Oh Gayle! A heart-breaking-open post. Thanks for bearing witness, taking loving action to write to your experience and model what can be done by all of us.