After eight months of nonstop running the marathon of setting up our new expat life in Budapest Hungary, we return to Capestang for a visit.
Off the plane I can see how spring has arrived, and the migrating birds are back to fill their bellies on millions of insects hatched as the weather warms. The trees are in full bloom, the tourists are here in droves and the sun is brilliant on my face.
What’s weird about this is that after five years away from Vancouver, we have not made the same trip back as a family to visit, however here we are visiting this extraordinary village nestled along the Canal du Midi already missing our little French village life.
What is it about this place that feels so comfortable?
The village is peaceful at its core, so quiet with long days and bright starry nights. Or maybe it boils down to our loving circle of friends, incredibly patient while we slowly learn their language, who helped us with our children as we did not have a support system in place.
I think back to my first dinner at Beatrice’s house with our translator in hand, signing to each other trying to understand one another. And here we are now, able to carry a full conversation for hours and hours even if not grammatically correct.
Returning touched on deep emotions.
I didn’t know how I would feel returning, although I knew I wanted to come back sooner than four years later like I did for Vancouver making the trip alone last March.
I am not one for regrets, and have already decided sink or swim; I love my new expat life in Hungary as much as my last in France.
It felt strange driving up to the roundabout just outside Capestang to turn right to stay with our friends Mallory and Jeffery’s place and not to go straight to our house which we already sold.
Alfonz said it felt like we were going home when he remembered we didn’t have one here.
Nothing has really changed too much. I see Pierre POLARD the mayor has made the roads more efficient, cleaned up the streets and the crosswalks are far more visible with bright orange zebra stripes. It looks like the council continues without me just fine, sad but true; we are all so very easily replaced, but hopefully not forgotten.
For the most part, Angelina and Daniel still relate to being French more than anything else. If you ask them, they are French, not Hungarian and not even Canadian. They hardly even remember our life in B.C. only being five and seven when we left in 2011, and sadly they only started speaking Hungarian last September. They make leaps and bounds with their fourth language, impressive really. However the reasoning still remains, time will tell.
Our new life in Budapest is exciting; building a new home, starting a regular job and establishing our linguistic Sejour, homestay language program LivEnglish. We haven’t stopped moving since September except from sheer exhaustion; especially in the beginning going back and forth from our apartment in Pest to the far side of Buda at least once if not twice a day.
The kids adjust as best they can, thriving on making new friends and easily managing their own resilience as only children can. Like sponges they work through figuring out the new set of laws of the local children, the must and must not dos usually through trial and error. It was far more difficult for Daniel to regain some routine, yet more importantly was for him to set up a circle of friends.
After eight months, they are both knitted tightly into the fabric of Hungarian life.
Coming back to Capestang was like saying goodbye all over again, but this time properly.
When we left it was in a frantic tornado of busy, list ticking, and juggling. A panicked hurry took up our brainspace, distracted from not wanting to deal with the sadness of five years of good friends, disconnecting, untangling the limbs of our lives from theirs.
Deconstruction of a life takes time.
I suggest, instead of ripped from the roots with just enough time to find good soil to replant; perhaps a healthier pace for others is recommended.
Great change is not for the faint of heart. I find myself far less adaptable to reaching outside my comfort zone these days as I age, so perhaps this move is meant to be more long term. One can hope!
I was standing in my friend Anne’s kitchen in Capestang and it felt like not a day had gone by since the last time I stood there drinking champagne and laughing at our friend Marion’s dirty jokes.
I look at our children all cuddled up on the sofa with iPhones in hand, a very typical if not modern scene in most households across the world.
They are the measure of time.
They grow a shoe size every few weeks. Change rests on their little faces. They are all in middle school, junior high life with lockers and Degrassi Junior High School problems with friends, homework and gossip. Good teachers and bad teachers.
Since we left friends have died but also new babies have arrived filling their places. Nothing has stopped. Life continues its brutal pace, aggressive for survival, too fast and furious for this aging gal to contemplate the meaning of it all.
Mine have seen great amounts of change in their lives, and although the journey can be hard at first, it also brings a confidence that is hard to miss. The problems my children hear about are nothing compared to walking out into the unknown, to make their way once again trying to adapt, or learning yet another language.
So why do it at all?
All this we do because we love them; we want them to learn how to survive in a world we have no idea what will look like when they grow up.
We teach them to endure change, to search and find what they need from life and the answers to their questions on their own.
They are asked, ‘What do you like about Hungary? They both answer without hesitation, their private school, Gustave Eiffel, French School of Budapest.
A world with thirty-nine different varieties of expats, where they are not the only ones that are different. They have found a community of people who have travelled the world like them, who understand what it feels like to be new, who have moved around and have a few of their own languages tucked under their belts.
And the diversity and points of view vary with their countries; political, and religious, colour and creed, and customs and traditions; which all make an interesting world. A technicolour tapestry is at their fingertips. Everyday and everyone a wealth of information.
I looked back at when we left Canada to read some of my old journal entries. My main objective by moving away was to show the children the things we read about in books, the things we see on TV that we are not sure are true, and to travel the world.
I think we managed to cover all our bases.
What have we learned?
People are so beautiful.
- We are all so different but also exactly the same.
- We love our kids, and want what’s best for them.
- We want to enjoy our lives with all our heart.
- We want to love deeply and completely, and laugh with complete gusto and liberty.
- We all want dignity and not to die alone.
Life is meant to experience, right until the very last moment. To feel with complete abandonment sampling life on a large scope.
My friends remind me of all these things.
I feel stagnant on vacation with much to do back home. Yet I feel recharged enough to take on the tasks that lie before me once we get back. I needed this visit. To recharge, to reaffirm, to re-live, if not but for a moment.
Back home is a funny term. Am I home now or in Hungary, in Vancouver or where? A little confusing really.
Where back home used to mean my mother’s house in Canada, and the comforts that only mothers can bring. Mom’s familiar cooking, the smell of her linen and her hair, her soothing voice, the familiar advice like a strong dose of medicine and the same long walks along the same memories that comfort us both. Our shared story offers safety even as a grown up.
Then Capestang was my home, the place to rest my head and soul, to love full tilt and open the doors inside myself again. Here I found a deep rooted community; a sanctuary of security that only village life can provide. I gave my kids the childhood of my dreams, a place where they could walk alone, stumble and fall and experience the support of a loving commune to help them stand strong. They say it takes a village to raise a child. I agree.
And now I give them our home in Budapest a place for them to use their confidence to build on these strengths, to utilize the knowledge that they have absorbed through language and travels, to cultivate their views of liberty and freedom, and a place that has always been rightfully theirs through heritage and blood.
It feels our return to Budapest brings us full circle. My ancestor’s departure and my children’s return. The place where my family started, the land of my people runs hot in my veins, but we arrive with a new set of skills and values that only travellers know. The experience of multiculturalism, learning to live among other people and understanding the value of assimilation. It brings a different perspective and opens our hearts to walk in the shoes of another person.
The weather is cool and I am sad to see my friends tonight. I cancelled last night’s dinner with the girls as I could not muster the energy to tell them the truth. I miss them.
I feel like the dream of southern France is over for me. We did it. I loved every second of it, but now it is time to really say goodbye. Our last chance to say it right… our last soiree brings tears to my eyes.
I watch my circle of friends congregate on the terrace in a semi circle. They drink wine and dip baguettes into melted camembert cheese hot from the BBQ embers. One laughs his jubilant laugh with white teeth showing, as he stands behind the others who sit below. I observe the joke to be hilarious, my French bestie is telling another story about being caught at airport security. Everyone is roaring from laughter from the off colour joke, true or not, very drole all the same. Each in turn adds to the joke, a little from their own experiences being caught in awkward situations until everyone participates in thunderous laughter.
The patio lanterns shimmer, lit alive meeting the stars in the cool spring sky. The moon is only a sliver tonight, about the measure I let in of this experience. If I felt any more I would burst into tears from leaving them all behind.
How can anyone leave such good people?
Is something truly wrong with me having the ability to cut and run…
At this moment I love them with all my heart. I am thankful for them letting me into their intimate circle, if not for a brief time. My heart breaks a little as I watch them but I know I can endure it.
I have dreamed of France fitting me perfectly like a secondhand coat. I envision myself slipping into the sleeves of their memories and pretend they are mine.
I imagine growing up on frog filled lakes with croaking choruses in the background, sitting in a boat dangling my feet feeling the water with my toes, watching the dragonflies float near by. Walking through lavender fields and the scent being trapped in my clothes. As a child I imagine catching animals for my plastic bucket on the beach, eating mussels and fries and letting the sun tan my body bronze. Those late evenings as the sun slips over the horizon, I bury myself in the cool sand and see boat sails disappear in the distance heading off on their own journeys.
I imagine the mistral wind breeze through my hair; would life as a fiery teen rebelling against an imaginary set of rules have been easier here for me? I wonder if I would survived my first heartbreak in France better than Canada? I wonder if I would have rooted more firmly in place if this is where I had started… but life is long, and who knows where we are going to end.
One week is ridiculously short, but can be long when the weather doesn’t cooperate.
Throughout the week I have been visiting friends, picking up on all the gossip and laughing until my gut aches. I’ve missed these faces, tanned and fit, who try to feed us at every turn as if Hungary was still in the Great Depression.
I will be grateful for living the last five years in France until the day I die; reliving my memories in my mind when I am old and grey saying things like, ‘When I lived in France Marion used to say…’
I have time to keep knowing and loving my French friends. I will continue to invest in them, to learn their language and visit them frequently.
Capestang has a piece of my heart. It is theirs.