In my search for happiness and intellectual fulfillment, I arrived in Canada and became a student at McGill University in Montreal, majoring in a mysterious subject called “Hispanic Studies.” In the process of getting there, I separated from my husband and lost everything I had earned in my hard-working years in Ukraine.
After having a very comfortable existence and being a highly appreciated and sought-after translator and language teacher with a stack of publications, invitations to international conferences on machine-translation, and an experience of working for the Parliament of Ukraine, the Russian Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Attorney General’s office, and the Supreme Court, I suddenly became a penniless immigrant in an unknown country. I was so poor that my sister and I had to take turns eating with our only fork, knife and spoon while sitting on the floor. Visiting Tim Horton’s (if you are Canadian, you know what I’m talking about) was a reckless luxury. Going to Nickel’s restaurant (ditto) was a crazy extravagance.
And I was so happy. All day and every day I experienced this overpowering, ecstatic sense of joy. I was reading books, taking fascinating classes, having intellectual discussions with other students. I kept looking at my watch in class, praying that the lecture would never end. Missing class? I would rise from the dead to be at an amazing place where important knowledge was being shared with me. I hated summer vacations because I couldn’t take classes. There was no money to pay for the summer semester, so I haunted the library and the buildings where my classes would take places next semester. I had a calendar where I crossed out the hated days of useless summer holidays.
I still remember the day when in my Hispanic Civilization class (that I now teach and consider my trademark course), we talked about the Franco dictatorship that did all it could to prevent women from working. I was walking out of the classroom when a fellow student stopped me.
“How horrible is that?” she said. “Can you imagine living in a place where women can’t work? I wouldn’t be able to deal with that!”
This was how I met Nancy, my first Canadian friend and a feminist who wasn’t ashamed of saying she was a feminist in public.
To say I was floored to meet a woman who was prepared to say that not being allowed to work might be a less than perfect situation for a woman would be an understatement. I had started learning about feminism back in Ukraine (that’s a story for a different series of posts). I kind of suspected I was a feminist but meeting somebody who was so open about it and was very eager to engage in discussions where the word “feminism” was mentioned was a novel experience to me.
(To be continued. . .)