It took me a few years after I discovered Edward Saïd before I read his autobiography, which might be one of my « top 100 books list ».
When I heard him for the first time, it was two to three years before his death. I had no clue who he was, but I had a glimpse of an elegant old scholar, in a TV reportage that had already started.
But his words just caught me, and I still remember one of his sentences, which was written white on black, in English and in French : « when you live a very long time abroad, you don’t have a country any more ».
That was a few months before I left France for … now twelve years. Up to that time, I had been travelling a lot, working abroad for long periods, spent two years in Belgium, nearly a year in the US and another one in the UK, but I was still officially living in France ; except for the American time, for obvious costs reasons, I was coming back « home » nearly every week end ; Paris was my town, where I lived since I was born, and I had a country.
Nevertheless, at that time, I was already « out of place ». I belonged, somehow, to several groups that did not fit well together, and my personal history and heritage was a mix of things that don’t blend easily together.
Moving abroad made some things easier. You somehow start anew, without no one making automatic connexions like ‘oh, she went to such school, she must be blabla » or « oh, she knows these people, she’s certainly so and so. »
In a way, for the first time of my life, I was out of place because I had decided so.
I was still travelling like hell for my job. I remember a month where I made something like 38.000 kilometres in a month. As I moved to Germany with my three cats, I went seldom to France on the week-end, and not so often for my job.
My country changed without me. The past ten years have seen many important changes. I left at the time euro was introduced, at the time the French voted for the first time massively for a far-right candidate. The crisis changed Paris, where it was not any more easy to live with a decent job (Paris has never been inexpensive, but I was not a golden girl, and I could not any more have the same quality of life as I had ten years ago).
At some point of time, I became a stranger. I did not know the latest news, the latest films, the small changes in daily life, and even for the important… I saw them through the prism of the internet, with a particular focus on what interested me.
My permanent travels made me also a stranger in Germany. To be honest, the fact that I arrived without speaking a word of German did not make things very easy, but if I’d stayed in my « nice » little town of NordRhein Westfalen the whole week, instead of leaving 4h30 on Mondays, and driving back home around 22 pm on Thursdays, I can imagine my integration would have been easier.
Of course, being single in a provincial city where the family with two kids was the ideal also played its part, but I had good friends. I was not part of the place, that’s all.
When I met my to-be husband, who was living in Morocco, travel get even more hectic. I stepped out of my job, and started a career as a free-lance. I was spending a month here, a month there. When in Morocco, we travelled through the country (he has a travel agency), and lived in hotels, at least till we were legally married (Muslim countries have strong legal requirements about people spending a night together).
I finally definitively moved in mid-2010. With my four cats (one more than when I moved to Germany). We started in Ouarzazate, which is a very very provincial small city in the traditional South.
If I wanted to interact with Moroccan people, it should be women. Not that men refused to speak to me, it’s just not part of the culture for a man to have a friendship with a woman.
Most of the women I knew just wished me to have twelve children to raise a « football team ». Yeah….
And most of the French people living there are … the bad sides of French people to make it short (just imagine that 80% of the French voting in Marrakesh for the presidential poll voted for the far right and racist candidate).
Also, my mind just cannot master Arabic. Too complex, it takes me a loooooooooooong time to remember anything, and I’m just able to spell.
I’m just « out of place ». I feel less and less French, I’m not – and I will never be, legally speaking – Moroccan.
Being out of place is not awful. Actually, I’m rather lucky, as it comes from decision I made, and not from having to flee my country. Even if I did not know exactly what it meant, I knew it would come.
« My place » is my home, with my husband, my cats and my PC. For more than ten years I have been in countries where I can’t share childhood memories with my neighbours, and I slowly lost contact with a lot of people who have the same childhood memories.
From time to time, I google them, I don’t get in touch, because the ten years we spent apart are too large to cross.
When Edward Saïd died, some of his books were, as usual, put in the book store windows. One day, I recognized the face that impressed me so much two years earlier. The book was – of course – in the German translation, so I carefully noted down the name, and went to Amazon.
And i just felt « at home » reading him.