Saturday, November 09, 2013

Immigration & Loneliness

“Do you feel alone here?” – this is a question I hear some times, from some Americans I meet by chance, once they learn I am a new immigrant in Boston (even though I belong to the "privileged immigrants" this time around). I instinctively sense the “nature” of the question. A new immigrant, usually, suffers loneliness.  
“Not really” - is my answer.
My interlocutors look puzzled and stare at me as though I were some bizarre species. “I guess I have made some wonderful new friends here” I add. Then, they nod: as a sign of encouragement or disbelief.
The truth is that “immigration” and “loneliness” are like communicated vessels. The “literature of immigration” is full of characters who crave to escape from the crushing burden of loneliness in the new and unknown land. The foreign language, the prejudices against the newcomer, the lack of time and lots of anxiety about the unknown don’t allow the immigrant to make new friends easily. Moreover, here in the new land, he has to make friends from scratch. The same way that he starts his life from scratch.
I have to confess that as an immigrant, I have never felt lonely. Even in Greece, where I immigrated without speaking a word of Greek, I made new friends in the very first  months. When I say “friends” I mean people who are still an important part of my life now. The same in Boston: I never felt alone. Maybe because I am in denial; it’s a sort of defense mechanism against it. Or, because as a writer, I can exorcise loneliness through reading and writing.  Maybe I will face loneliness later in my life.
To tell the truth, I have never had problems with people – wherever I lived. I feel lucky to have met wonderful people in my life, at the right time and in the right place. For me the problem was never people but States and rogue groups within the government. I have lived in two countries, Albania and Greece. In both, the State is a tragicomic imitation of the Ottoman bureaucracy and autocracy characterized by provincial megalomania, fear of the Other and corruption; in both countries, the Government coexist with rogue groups, working together against the rights of the individual; turning them usually into outcasts or “collaborators and clients” of a corrupt system. Most of my friends in Albania and Greece belong to "minorities" of some kind; at best they are "tolerated" by the System; usually they feel like outcasts and as the "Other".
In any case, the most precious “lessons” I learned from this “disharmony” between people and countries, is an ability to distinguish the individual from the nation, the person from the country he "belongs" to - against the prevailing narratives that want individuals and nations, persons and countries to be totally (and in the case of Greece racially and religiously) identical. This is how I became, with the passage of time, thoroughly inappropriate and useless for the so called “collective" (the way nationalists, xenophobes and bigots define it); no country can turn me into a nationalist, xenophobe or bigot. I don’t feel alone and scared, in a peaceful crowd; I feel crowded, though, if I am asked to give up my individuality for the crowd, even a peaceful one. I feel alien anywhere and everywhere at home. (That's why, I guess, I was considered as "very dangerous for the security of Greece" in 2003, arrested and threatened with deportation by rogue elements within the Greek police).
To return to “immigrants & loneliness”; I think friends and acquaintances are like luck. They come and knock at your door at any time of the day or night. You can open the door or be curious about who is   standing in the dark corridor. Or you can believe that whoever is out there wants to kidnap and kill you; so, instead of opening the door, you might choose to hide under your nice warm bed or call the police.
If you don’t want to risk opening the door, better not emigrate. Stay where you are and try to make the best for yourself and your country there. Try, though, to not hate those “bizarre” people who were forced or chose to leave their countries and share the same light and darkness as you. You can build a better future, if you see them not as kidnappers and killers but as creating opportunity for both of you…

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