Saturday, January 28, 2017

When you don't have an address - the flip side of paradise

My nose is an icicle. Apart from my icy forehead, it’s the only part of me exposed to the artic air. Beside me the captain lumbers. He is a hibernating bear. If it wasn’t for his body heat, I’d have died during the night.
Outside there is the constant thwap thwap of some boat’s halyard’s and then she howls – the wind, through all the masts in the boatyard. It’s eery. And it lets me know it’s going to be even colder outside. God forbid one of us has to use a toilet. The walk across the yard is unfathomable.
 A week ago we arrived back in Florida, back to our boat. As we drove, we peeled off layers of Canadian winter clothes, migrated from coats, wool hats and leather boots to rubber flip flops. I announced the rising temps on our dashboard as we made it further and further south. And when we arrived, there was a full week of shorts and t-shirts and big silly grins on our faces.
But then winter followed us here, and it does not care about our lack of insulation. It doesn’t give a damn that when boats are on dry dock and you are silly enough to live onboard, you cannot use your own toilets and have to walk half a kilometer across the yard to use the grimy public ones…
We thought we were quite clever back in August, buying a car to take on an epic road trip – all to avoid working on the boat in the excruciating heat. We’d come back in January, we said. We’ll do the work in the cooler weather we said. Well here it is. I was far warmer in Canada on the minus 21C days. At least there was heat.
There’s a boat behind us that sits quietly for days at a time, waiting for it’s sensible owners who come down from wherever their home is, when the weather is good. And they work on her a bit, getting her ready for a season in the Bahamas, and then they go home again.
Home. It turns out that it’s not just a concept. Home is where the heart is, and all that. Nope. Those of us who have no home – except one that floats – come face to face with this all the time. “We live on our boat!”. “But where is ‘home’ really?”
For JW and I, the issue is even more serious. We have never lived together in either of our home countries. If we wanted to, it would involve a lot of immigration red tape. We lived in Ghana, we live on a boat. People thought it was exotic when we lived in Ghana, but this living on a boat?! We’re practically insane.
And to border patrol agents, we’re a couple of potential drug smuggling, tax evading, dirty-hippie, good-for-nothings.
We came through the border from Canada, like all the day trip shoppers in the queue of cars. And then we pulled up to the little window, handed over our passports and said those fateful words. “Where’s home?” “On a boat!”
“Please pull over to the right and enter through door 2.”
Oh no! And so we did. As all the people with homes drove through without incident.
Three hours later, we emerged from that interrogation shaken visibly. I wanted a cigarette and I don’t even smoke! I wanted a whisky too but had to make due with warm Diet Pepsi that I’d left in the car when we went through Door 2.
The moral of that story was ‘NEVER SAY YOU LIVE ON A BOAT.’ Even if it’s true. And if you are part of a couple where neither is legally allowed to live in each other’s home country, just give two separate addresses. Even if it’s not true.
It turns out that our officer-de-jour was hell bent on catching us out, proving we were smuggling something, evading something, living illegally in the states. Because no one lives on a boat, so we MUST be lying! In order to catch us out he interviewed us together, then threw a piece of paper at me and shouted, separated us and interviewed us with the same questions in different forms.
“Where do you work?”
“We don’t”.
“What do you mean you don’t work?!”
“Ok then, where do you pay taxes?”
“We don’t.”
“What?!!!! How can you not pay taxes?”
“Well neither of us work or own any property in either of our countries of origin and since we don’t live in any of those countries…”
“Stop, stop talking.”
“So,” He asked, with a snide demeanor, “you say you live on a boat?! Where is your home port then?”
“Toronto, in Canada, but the boat has never, and will never go there.”
“Why not?!”
“Well it’s too cold, and we’d have to pay duties and taxes…”
“So where are you going in this boat when you get to it?”
“WHERE in the Bahamas?!”
“Well it’s a sailboat, so hopefully lots of places.”
That was obviously taken as insolence. He was sooooo unimpressed.
“Where will you dock the boat? What will be the marina base?”
“None. We anchor everywhere.”
Big big eyeroll. “Go sit down!!!!”
He then called me up alone and asked me “what contraband items am I going to find out there when I search your car?!”
So, shaking in my seat, I admitted to the bag of pitted dates I’d bought at Costco a week before…
“What?! Dates?!” He guffawed, rolled his eyes and dismissed me. And the dogs descended on our car.
So nearly three hours after it had begun, he called us both to his desk and admitted he could find nothing to hold us for or deny us entry. And he confided in us, “If you don’t want this to happen every time you come into the states, don’t say you live on a boat!!!”
So there it is. Our lifestyle is socially and legally unacceptable.
And it sucks when we are in a boatyard too. Way too hot or in this case, bloody cold. I can see my breath as I write and my fingers are seizing up. Also, when we are out there on the ocean there are storms and bad seas. Lots of things suck.
It’s definitely not always paradise. But it is amazing. It’s freedom. And when it’s good it’s nature and beauty and long walks on uninhabited beaches. 
But not today. Not this month. All this work will lead to one of those days, though. And then it will all be worth it.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Happy birthday from another world

My bum is numb. Most of my outer layers of skin have lost feeling, but for the random involuntary shivers. This hockey rink is freezing. Despite my efforts to stay warm – donning a full body sleeping bag/coat, thick stodgy Uggs, and matching teddy bear hat and mittens, complete with bulbous knitted nose and ears. Very chic.
I sip at my flask of pretend coffee, wiping the deep red wine stains from my lips after each little swig. I’m trying to fit in here and hoping my teeth aren’t noticeably purple/grey.

The parents in the stands jump and shout after each play. “Noah! Rebound control buddy!!!” It’s all very aggressive and serious. The players out there are 7 and 8 years old. The smallest one is my nephew.
It is our last day in Canada – unless the winter storm warning in effect delays us by a day. We’ve been here, visiting the house I grew up in, for over two months. At once I am sucked back into the rhythm of suburban winter life, and also repelled and alienated by the contrast to the life I’ve led for the past 21 years away.
My captain – so far out of his ocean realm, sits beside me on the stands, enthralled by the fast paced game on the ice below. His new cozy winter toque, pulled down over his ears, he blows into his bright red, dry and freezing hands in the futile attempt to warm them. I’ve dragged him here, into my family, my past, my people. And despite hockey’s foreign rules and cultural intricacies, he has fit right in.
Hot chocolate, egg nog, minus 21 temps. He’s shoveled snow, used the snow blower, poured warm water on our frozen car doors to get them open. Welcome to Canada baby!

I cannot believe it’s been 4 months since we left Shiloh and our sailing life behind – left her to face hurricane Matthew alone while we visited potato festivals in West Virginia and sampled Moose pie in Newfoundland. We 'oohed' and 'aahed' at the colours of the Cabot trail in Cape Breton, and marvelled at the 40 ft tidal swing at the Bay of Funday. We walked the red sand beaches of Prince Edward Island and sampled the world's best scallops in digby Nova Scotia.... Luckily Shiloh and her boatyard friends all weathered the storm without a scratch.

It’s been months since I had to steer the 15 ton boat up to a fuel dock, weather a storm, navigate a port entry… All my life stresses have been replaced by GPS driving stresses, finding motels, and finally juggling all the family and friend visits over the holidays.
Everything about life is in flux. Within a few days we will evolve from our hats and scarves to capris and flip flops.
Everything has been in flux – we’ve visited over 80 cities, towns, villages, islands in 2016. We are lucky. And yet the worst tragedy to befall a mother is my reality.
There is the matter of my six year old son, who today would be eighteen.
There are things I can reconcile – weather, financial strains, family differences, friends who disappoint.
But my baby boy – the one who coveted his can of red Pringles, who cuddled all the girls and declared that food is not food without rice! My Shiloh – who loved Power Rangers and Bob the Builder and Spiderman. My little guy, with stubby brown fingers and a soft blond peach fuzz on his silky little neck…  that he was born 18 years ago today. I cannot reconcile this in my feeble mommy brain. My mommy heart has missed the years between 6 and 18 where my boy would have grown, but where instead there was a void. A void within my heart, a place where the world stopped spinning and simply sat, dumbfounded by a loss so great.

So today, as I watch my little nephew barreling down the ice, caught up in the spirit of the game, I decide there is no reconciling the things that happen in this life.
We simply find ourselves in places in time and we must soak them in. We must exist in the here and now – all the ‘what ifs’ and the ‘could haves’ held at bay. Life is in this moment. This right here. The smell of warm chocolate contrasted by the bitter cold air and the cry of the overbearing parent.  The sour kick of red wine with the metallic aftertaste of the flask. My boy is gone but this boy is here, and he is life – all new and hopeful. And there is love that transcends. It holds families together, it holds us all together across time and space. But all we have really is what is in front of us right now.
I have memory, and love and family and the frivolous concept of plans. Adventures await.
For now, happy birthday my angel boy and Go Adam! Our boy of the day.