Every day acrobats

If you have ever gone for a walk in Bois de la Cambre in Brussels, you must have seen young people trying to balance on a kind of elastic rope tightly tied around two three trunks. The rope is not tied very high, so even if they fall, no harm will be done. Children try it, teenagers try it, anyone can give it a go. Maybe they’re students of the famous Circus University that exists in town, or maybe they’re people like you and me trying to train for life.

Some of us try this kind of balancing act every day and there is no visible rope. We try to walk steadily and bravely from one end of the rope to the other. One end is called work and the other is called family. Or one end is called children and the other romance. Or one is called friends and the other family. One is called youth and the other is growing up. There is no safety net. And sometimes we get dizzy from concentration. Because, you know, the trick in such acts, whether you are 30 centimetres from the ground or going from one end of a tower to the other, the trick is never to look down. You have to look ahead. Going back is not an option. There is only ahead.

Living between two countries is another of these acts I am trying to perfect. Some weeks I breeze through them and my energy surprises even me. Some other days, I am down, I search for my support, I search for my safety net and I can’t see it. In the back of my head I know it will get better, it always does, but will I’m living these down days, it’s hard, I’m vulnerable, I feel trapped by my own thoughts, looking for the way out with my eyes closed.

Sometimes it happens that during one of these days I hear a song, or I read a verse or I meet somebody, and then it’s like they give me the key for the door. Here is the story of this week:

To go to Charleroi Airport I use a shuttle taxi service. We are usually all Greeks flying to Athens or Thessaloniki but occasionally you meet partners of Greeks from all over, or Italian guys who have fallen in love with Greek cities or translators travelling to perfect their language skills. There is always some kind of love story behind frequent travelling…

When we arrived at Hospital B to pick up the last passenger of the taxi I had already thought that it was an unusual place for a RDV. When the passenger called the taxi driver to tell them they were waiting outside the psychiatric Clinique, I still thought it would be someone working there or visiting. Little did I know… So the passenger comes in. Something happens when 5 strangers are in the small space of a taxi and they have a ticket for the south. They start talking and pretty soon you feel you ‘ve known them for years. Greeks are not particularly discreet either, if you want to know. So pretty soon this last guy tells us his story and how he ended in the psychiatric ward for a week:

“I come from a small village in the North of Greece. My father is a farmer who has more than 300 cows. We have land, we have olive trees, we grow vegetables, we are pretty well off there. But five years ago I was engaged to this girl who wanted to come to work here in Belgium. I followed her. I was a nurse myself and my dream was to work in a big hospital in the surgery department. I didn’t speak a word of French when I came. Very soon I understood that if I wanted to work in a hospital I would have to learn. In the meantime I started working in restaurants. You know how life is? You have to make ends meet, I didn’t come here to ask my dad to send me money. I worked from 10 to 4 and from 6 to 12, six days a week. I did the dishes, I helped in the kitchen, I started being an assistant waiter, later on a full-time waiter. I was making money but I had no time. On Sundays, I just managed to take my clothes to the Laundromat, have a nice lunch and then see my girl.  She left me. For someone else. I continued to work. I had no friends. I had no one. I didn’t want to go back to Greece defeated. I forgot about my dream. I learned French in the streets. And last week I broke down. I couldn’t see straight, I started breaking everything in the restaurant, I started shouting, three men couldn’t hold me down. They called the parameds. They put me in the Clinique for a week. Now, I have a ticket to the village. I don’t care anymore if they think I’m defeated. I want to rest a bit. I want to have a few cows too and take care of them.”

There was silence in the taxi. I was sitting on the front and I turned to look at him. He had a calm face, he was young, he was well kept and spoke softly. If he had told us that he had had a kindey operation or a pancreas rupture we would have been less shocked. But mental disease still does this to people. “You are a brave soul”, I told him. “I don’t know if I’m brave. I’ve learned two things these last five years: how to speak French and how not to be a racist. When I came, I hated Muslims. But one time when one of my bosses, fired me he threw me also out of the house I was living. I was desperate. And then an Algerian guy came and told me, Come there is a room where I live. In that place, there was a black guy from Mauritania, two Maroccans, the Algerian and me. I found out that what they tell us about Islam on the news and how real people live is worlds apart. These guys were all like me, doing stupid things, eating drinking, trying to survive in a hard city.”

At that point I felt really humble. There was me, a teacher who has been trying all her life to teach children and teenagers and later on adults how to love and believe in people. And here was this guy who had learned it one night in Brussels, the hard way.

Our taxi driver had hardly spoken until then. I’m sure he was also shaken by the story. But he bounced back pretty soon. He looked at the guy in the mirror and told him. “You will be alright, my brother. I only have one piece of advice for you: Love is healed only with another love. Take my word”.

If this wasn’t a message for me, I don’t know what is.

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