By Émilie Serri
In March 2017, I crossed the country by train. On board The Canadian, I travelled a total distance of 8,932 kilometres on a return trip as a way to get moving on writing my master’s thesis. For eight days and six nights, going from east to west, and then from west to east, I tried to put words to an identity related question that inhabits my work.
Why take this long trip for a thesis that could well have been written from the comfort of my couch? For the simple reason that I wanted my writing to be marked by the same movement, the same displacement, as that of my thesis. Forcing displacement to write about a displaced identity; disorienting myself to echo my parents’ experience of expatriation. Discovering my country of birth through a window in order to reflect on my country of origin.
Looking back, I understand that there was also an underlying desire to put myself on stage, to embed myself in a history and a memory that did not completely belong to me – that of an inaccessible country of origin, Syria.
Syria: A “Familiar Elsewhere.” I was born and grew up in Montreal; my parents are immigrants. My mother is Belgian, and my father is Syrian. My parents are not exiles or refugees. They are expatriates. Both left their country of origin voluntarily. I am neither refugee, nor exile, nor expatriate. And yet, I have the feeling that I’ve been displaced.
In 2010, accompanied by my father and sister, I went to Damascus, Syria, my father’s hometown, for the first time in ten years.
The first day, when I landed in this family of “unknown people,” whose language I didn’t understand, my initial reflex was to pick up my 35 mm camera. I pressed the shutter as if each flexion of my index finger constituted the beginning of an answer to my questions. Through the viewfinder, I immediately found my grandmother…
Translated by Käthe Roth
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