Going back to Canada was a fairly emotional experience for me, if the truth be told. Except for the briefest of trips there in 2000 [I was in New York at the time and just flew up to Kingston for a couple of days] I had not been back for 16 years. Returning now made me realize that, while I have a strong commitment to my roots and consider myself first and foremost an Icelander, there’s a whole lot of Canada in me as well.
I first traveled to Canada at the age of five, when my parents were splitting up. My aunt – my mother’s sister – was pregnant with my cousin Signy and asked my mother to come over to help out. That brief visit extended to around six months, at which time my uncle got a commission to work with the United Nations in Cyprus. They invited my mother and me along, and my mother accepted. So the subsequent year-and-a-half were spent in Cyprus – to which I made an amazing pilgrimage two years ago [more on that later, perhaps].
I was seven when I returned to my beloved Iceland and I can still recall the immense relief I felt to be home. My mother was not quite as content and longed to return to Canada. After three years, she turned that dream into reality, so when I was ten I moved with my mother back to Canada, settling in Kingston, where my aunt and uncle lived.
I had absolutely not wanted to go and was terribly homesick, but slowly I assimilated, as one does. [At what cost is another matter – a subject I have considered at length but which shall not be delved into here]. So while I never really considered myself ‘A Canadian’ I nonetheless spent my formative years there… and gradually became socialized as ‘A Canadian’, even though I went ‘home’ every summer, at least for the first several years.
When I was in my teens, my mother became a Canadian citizen and asked me if I wanted to ‘convert’ along with her. At the time, Iceland did not allow dual citizenship, which left only the option of choosing one over the other. And even though by then I had grown very distant from Icelandic society, there was no choice in my mind. I was fiercely devoted to my Icelandic citizenship and would not dream of renouncing it. Besides, as a landed immigrant in Canada I had virtually all the rights of a native Canadian, with two notable exceptions: I was not allowed to vote, and I was not allowed to stay out of the country for more than six months [extendable for up to two years with good cause] – if I did, I would lose my landed immigrant status and would henceforth only be able to visit Canada as a tourist.
Eventually the time came – in my early twenties – when I felt I had to leave. Instead of going back to Iceland, though, I moved first to the UK and then to Germany, where I stayed for five years. I still remember that day when the door was shut in Canada and I knew I would no longer be able to return to the only society I knew and was capable of navigating. It was a very scary day. Like walking a tightrope, and for the first time having no safety net below if I fell. The ramifications of the choice I had made were very clear to me – and the future was completely uncertain.
A lot of water has gone under the bridge since then and this last trip to Canada was very, very good. I expected Toronto to be my ‘homecoming place’, but in the end it was Kingston that welcomed me with open arms and embraced me. It felt so good to return to Kingston, like meeting up with an old familiar friend that was just as happy to see me. I only wish we could have stayed a little longer – we all felt that way, EPI, AAH and I. We all loved Kingston.
I don’t know how it will be the next time I return. A lot of things are changing and it probably won’t feel the same. Still, I’m grateful for the time I had there now – even if I’m also a little wistful and sad. But that’s ok. I’m allowed.
MEANWHILE, BACK IN THE LAND OF THE MIDNIGHT SUN
The weather has been exceedingly friendly so far. Sunny and bright today, if a little cool [at least by the standards I’m used to of late], with highs of around 12. Went and found a nice sheltered spot at the Laugardalslaug pool and basked in the sun – sunbathing is no problem in Iceland, you see, if you can evade the wind. Particularly if you’ve had a good soak in a hot pot beforehand. Sunrise 03.58 and sunset 23.07.