There are some days where I hear about a Moroccan in Antwerp assaulting a bus driver, or I see a Turkish teen get unjustifiably angry when someone tries to step off the bus while he’s stepping on and I find myself shaking my head, sympathizing with the large amount of antipathy towards many immigrants in Flanders.
I see the women with head scarves and misspelled cardboard signs (all of these sign have the exact same handwriting, so it’s like a chain beggar business) begging for money and the piles of discarded sunflower seed shells that litter the backs of the buses where the immigrants tend to sit and it frustrates me because immigrants like that give the hard working, aspiring, successfully integrating immigrants a bad name.
But then there are days like today. Days when the air is sharp, the rain is pouring, the gutters are overflowing and the sky is like slate. Days when an immigrant such as myself go to the city center at 9:00 to get some shopping done, only to realize 75% of the businesses don’t open until 10:00, which is not only inconvenient for people who prefer to get errands done early in the day, but is also somewhat mocking when you’re a person who often has to be at work before dawn in order to make a living.
Days when an accumulation of nearly 3 years of frustrations and culture shocks and language struggles and paperwork and disillusionment sit like a lead weight in the chest, matching the dismal grayness of the first real days of the swiftly approaching autumn.
And so, when I got off the bus, both hands full of bags from my shopping trip to the center, and began walking down the sidewalk towards home, I initially ignored the irritated “hallo” from behind me. And then it came again, louder and even more insistently rude, “hallo“. I turned only to have some impatient harpy with a large stroller nearly mow me down as she flounced past me.
I didn’t say anything, though I wish I had.
I wish I had turned and stood in front of her, blocking her way and forcing her to stand in the rain.
I wish I had spoken up and said, “you can say ‘excuse me’ or ‘pardon’ or ‘may I pass’ or you can walk on the street.”
Part of me wishes I had simply turned and spit in her face.
Because there are always days, regardless of how long you’ve been living in a different and foreign country, where your temper is set to boiling and your patience rests on a hair trigger. It’s not always the result of something happening directly to you, nor is it even a result of anything particularly disappointing or frustrating happening to you that particular day. It’s a build up that reoccurs; a simple memory of injustice, the inability to remember a word in your second (or third or fourth) language, a particularly galling cultural difference.
It sits and it swells and sometimes it peacefully, benignly subsides.
And other times it bulges, buckles and bursts.
Fortunately, I have yet to lose it completely, although I have entertained plenty of wishful thinking when it comes to how I would lose it if I could. And frankly, I doubt that I ever will go off on someone like I occasionally long to do. But I can say that I do understand how some immigrants do end up going off the deep end, it’s just sad that it’s usually just one more thing that reflects badly on us all as a group.