Sunday, 6 December 2015

Rats! or The Best Love Story Ever Told?

The receiver of our beige rotary dial phone seemed unusually heavy in my hand. The porcelain felt cold on my ear. My heart was beating hard with fear and excitement. What if I don't understand him?

As if she heard my thoughts, my sister said from across the ocean - "Listen, you don't have this in Serbia. It's three-way calling.” She went on describing this ‘advanced’ technology. “So worry not, if you don't understand something I will translate it for you. OK?"

Once prestigious red passport
What ensued was a clear and concise conversation that changed the course of our lives. The third person calling in was a famed immigration lawyer whose fees I would only be able to afford to pay many years later. But my payment was never necessary. The bill for the consult was paid in full by my sister's employer. 

The information learned on that call led to a day that resembled a spy movie. At the wee morning hours I was to line up in front of the Canadian Embassy in Belgrade which was rumoured to have already started packing for evacuation. It was imperative that I was amongst the first in line - they accepted only a select few ‘consults'. The trouble was, the embassy was located directly across from the home where I had lived with my in-laws and first husband  - the one who had left me for his mistress 10 days before our baby was born. The one who refused to sign the document allowing my son to immigrate without going through... Well, you can read that in the memoir when it comes out! 

When the doors opened, my task was to recite my immigration file number and change the profession registered on my file from  'retail pharmacist' to 'industrial pharmacist'. Both of these were listed on the degree I had earned with honours 5 years previously, however the allocated space on the visa application form only allowed for a single entry. Bureaucracy the Beautiful!

This is Inflation
This power-house lawyer in Ontario's Immigration Law office taught me on this most important three-way call of my life that the vocation of retail pharmacist that I had listed two years earlier at the time I started the process now carried zero (0) points in contrast to the previous ten (10). The designation of industrial pharmacist however now carried ten points as opposed to zero previously. The math was simple: 0 points for previously-listed vocation x 10 points for fluent in English x 10 points for fluent in French x 10 points for having a close relative in Canada x10 points for having a child under the age of 3 still equals = ZERO. In that way my visa application had been suspended indefinitely due to insufficient points. After two years of waiting, I no longer qualified to be granted landed immigrant status. 

And just as in a good spy movie, the time was ticking. I was cold, a bit hungry, dead tired, and very apprehensive that the ex's parents - he himself having been long gone to the Lone Star state - would perhaps be standing on the balcony smoking and drinking the world's worst coffee and would see me line up for immigration thereby jeopardizing my whole chance of getting out. Damp with adrenaline, I was still able to remember my file number and the vocation code when a woman named Jacynthe asked me for it in French. Soon after I emerged back onto the street, my step swift, gaze focused on the ground, clutching a little yellow slip as proof my file was again deemed active.  

A chapter of my memoir-in-the-making "Marina Has Son" has the precise account of our heart-stopping exit from a war-torn Serbia whose borders were becoming tighter in the months and weeks that led to the 78 days of NATO bombing. My son and I and my parents narrowly managed to escape, courtesy of a North American corporate employer that had met me only twice before during interviews.

Passport photo - Attempt #9 
The day my visa arrived was a Friday and I worked the afternoon shift at the pharmacy. I hugged my colleagues Daca and Sneža tightly at the end of the work day, feeling I would never see them again. My three closest friends Tanja, Vladimir and another Vladimir were the only people other than my family who knew of my plan to leave. "Defectors" were not viewed with sympathy even if the reason was survival. On Saturday while Tanja played with Filip, the two boys helped me pack, duct taping shut all of my worldly possessions. Our flight left the following day and not counting the brief stop-over in Paris, the journey was 17 hours.
We arrived in Canada on a crisp and cold grey Monday morning. My not-yet three-year-old son was cranky, disoriented and confused - where were we? Where was grandma and grandpa? Why was it so cold? Where were his toys? Who was this woman? 
My visibly-shaken sister, who was in disbelief that we were really standing in front of her having actually made it out of the war zone, was a total stranger to him. After all, she had only seen him once at 6 months old when she had visited. He cried inconsolably as I left him with his aunt and went - jaw tensed and white-knuckled - to my first day of work. With 6h jet-lag and a new pair of glasses that somehow made the ground look farther away.

1st day of work: Fresh off the boat 
This was the day I signed my first contract with the employer that had invested in me through care and that hefty celebrity immigration lawyer's fee before I had even earned enough to buy a bottle of water. The date was December 7. It was a Monday. Alongside my children's birthdays, it has been the most significant date of my existence. Because it meant existence. 

North American corporations are often viewed as greedy, ruthless and impersonal. The career ladder is expected to be treacherous, infested with master-liars, manipulators and backstabbers. Commonly it's referred to as a rat race

Well, not for me and mine. Because this particular rat is genetically predisposed to outlast. It is fully infused with inspiration. Roaring with resilience. Leaping into learnings. Wired for wonder. And bound to blog about it.

Today is Monday, December 7 and we are celebrating a crystal anniversary together. I wonder why is it called crystal?  Perhaps because by now one's vision is crystal clear? Or because it is so fragile it can break into smithereens with the slightest blow?

Looking back, it's been just like a real relationship - fulfilling and rewarding for the most part, yet sometimes turbulent. One brief break-up followed by a sweet make-up! Nothing that a few sessions of couple's counselling can't fix - which actually comes as part of the offering under the heading of  'resilience training'. I'm in, so sign me up! 

Malcolm X said: "The future belongs to those who prepare for it today" - and I couldn't have been more prepared. 

But for today, it is still the best (career)love-story ever told.


  1. I can't wait to read your memoir!

    1. Thank you Lin! Writing has been a very profound and rewarding experience thus far. I will have a copy for you signed with love <3