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Monday, 09 July 2012

A Journey of the Soul

A few years ago I stumbled upon a book from Shirley Maclaine. While I don’t always agree with her spiritual preferences, I am always intrigued by what she believes. I decided to read her book and was amazed I had never heard of such a walk before; the Camino, a spiritual and physical journey in Spain. In a past life I have studied different religions trying to find the answers to life and the after-life. This walk intrigued me. 


People from all over the world come here for the journey of inner discovery. The Camino is a pilgrimage to St. James, one of the twelve apostles in the bible. He is supposedly buried under the Cathedral at Santiago de Compostela. The pilgrimage started in the 9th century with only a few thousand people a year taking the trip but has grown to over 200,000 a year. 


       The pilgrimage can be as long or as short as you like. The starting point is your choice but the most popular trek is 500 miles and can be completed by foot or bike. By bike it will take approximately three weeks but if you’re like me and want to travel by foot it could take up to six weeks. The task of walking 500 miles seems daunting but at the end the reward will be overwhelming. There is a saying “stop and smell the roses” and I believe it applies here.

       

       There are options of where to stay. I plan on staying as the pilgrims before me did, in hostels. I’ve never been the type to use a sleeping bag, I’ll always opt for the hotel but here I want to get the real sense of beauty and discovery. I don’t want to miss out because I lack the discipline of not being without a pillow made of down. 

       

       I’m not sure what has drawn me to take on this journey. I’m curious of the people I’ll meet along the way; all coming for different reasons and different walks of life. I know I’ll be packing light. The idea of carrying a backpack with everything I’ll need over 500 miles is one of the few things I won’t be looking forward to but I know I’ll have a journal and a camera to record every feeling, every moment. I don’t plan to bring food as the hostels will have some sort of cooking facility or I’ll stop at one of the restaurants along the way, all being very affordable.

       

       There will be some pride and self-respect when I receive my “pilgrim passport.” A cardboard pamphlet I’ll carry throughout my walk. Every day I’ll get it stamped and at the very end hand it in - getting my certificate stating I have completed the Camino. I wonder if I’ll be a changed person, having found something I didn’t know was missing inside me. Will I have the same experience as Shirley Maclaine, having out of body experiences and interacting with Adam and Eve? Probably not. Will I have an experience I couldn’t have anywhere else. Absolutely. There are many places I want to travel but the Camino isn’t just another place on the map for me. For whatever reason, this is something I have to do, something I’ve been drawn to do ever sense I read about it. As every spring passes I am reminded of what I should be doing and what I’m not doing. Walking the Camino. 


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Leaving Home

I had just earned my BA in tourism in Brazil and had begun looking for work when I had a depressing realization: my employment options were limited unless I could acquire one or more languages to complement my native Portuguese. So it was that in 2008 I packed my bags and left Brazil, en route to the United Kingdom, where I planned to improve my English.

SantiagoAfter 10 months in London, I needed a break. Worn out by so much study and the challenges of expat life, I decided to walk the Camino Frances, one of the world's most famous spiritual pilgrimage routes: Santiago de Compostela.

Though my intent was to relieve my stress and deepen my faith, I encountered a major distraction just 10 days into my walk. I met a French man who began walking alongside me.

We haven't separated since.

Our respective journeys aborted, we changed our itineraries. He invited me to accompany him to Millau, his hometown. Located in southern France's Midi-Pyrenees region, surrounded by the Larzac Mountains and by the rivers Tarn and Dourbie, the town is famous for its huge Viaduct, an impressive architectural work, and for adventure sports like kayaking, canoeing, and paragliding.

I loved him, I loved Millau, and he loved me. Did I want to stay?
   
Immigration Bureaucracy

Finding a French love might have been easy, but that didn’t mean living with him in France was simple. Without the right papers and without speaking the language, it can be a challenge to get paid work legally.
   
Mariage Rodolf Thais 009Getting married would facilitate the process of establishing residency. On a sunny day at the beginning of autumn, we celebrated our wedding with his family and friends. I was meeting some of them for the first time. 

But for the French government, marriage was not enough. Three days after the wedding I had to return to Brazil; from there, I would have to apply for a “conjuge” visa. The honeymoon would have to wait. 


   
The one year conjuge visa was easy enough to get, but upon my return to France, I encountered more bureaucracy: sending copies of my passport and visa to Immigration, scheduling an interview and medical visit, and paying lots of money to jump through these hoops.

Finally, six months later I found myself in the immigration office. Along with 20 other immigrants, I watched a welcome video explaining what would happen during the interview and medical exam, and highlighting all the wonderful aspects of French culture... very few of which I'd been able to enjoy while busily fulfilling the country's requirements.

The interview was intended for immigration to assess foreigners' French level, to sign a welcome contract, and to ask about immigrants' motives for being in the country, as well as their work situation, and even their values.  It was also to tell me about more requirements to fulfil, including an obligatory civics class, which involved listening to an instructor talk all day about my new fatherland.

Most people think that marrying a European is like winning the lottery; it gives you the right to live and work in Europe. This seems special for people who, like me, are from the “Third World.” But I always wondered if the process of immigration is fair. In the past, these countries came to nations like mine to exploit our resources without any mercy. How am I supposed to understand these dynamics? 

Homesick and Depression

I had thought that securing a visa would be the most important step to becoming a naturalized French resident, but no one prepared me for the emotional work I'd have to do to become French.

Two months later after I returned to France from Brazil, I found myself homesick and falling into a deep depression. The holidays were coming and the weather was getting colder and colder. I had no job, no money, and I was living in a tiny studio, arguing with my husband every day.

I wondered what I was doing, if I had made the wrong choice. I felt tired and emotionally weak. I'd go out to look for work and hear “Non” every day. I was so frustrated with the situation.

I didn’t have any French friends of my own, just some acquaintances from my husband’s mates. I thought finding work would change everything; it would help me feel like a local and finally get me involved in the French culture.

Millau 1

The Call

Things began to change when I was offered a course in restaurant service by the agency Pole Emploi. During two months I made friends and met incredible professionals. I learned about service manners and technical vocabulary and how to carry three or four plates at the same time. The final goal of this course was to find work in a restaurant. The students were encouraged to find a two week internship to apply the theories they had learned in the course.



As soon as the course finished, I went to the most famous restaurant in town and presented my resume. My husband thought I was crazy and warned against it. The owner was an important person and all his workers were family or close friends. Why would he give a job to a poor Brazilian without any experience in service? To everyone's surprise, he did.
      
Bernard was kind and listened to me. I said I was desperately looking for an opportunity and was prepared to do anything. His wife listened to our conversation and offered her encouragement too. Bernard asked me to go to an interview at the food market in town because he knew someone who needed help. When I arrived, I met his daughter-in-law, Virginie, who was responsible for the business. She was the most beautiful women I had ever seen. She asked me to come back in two days for a trial.
      
It was a Saturday afternoon when I returned for the trial. I will never forget what she told me, “You need practice in the techniques, but you have the most important asset: a smile and a “can do” attitude.”
      
Finally, I felt at home in this new country.


   
(c)Thais Chalencon



For more information:

Camino de Santiago de Compostela (The Way of St James)
www.caminosantiago.org
www.santiago-compostela.net
These sites provide a lot of information about the most famous pilgrimage in the world.

OFII - Office Français de l'Immigration et de l'Intégration (Immigration Agency)
www.ofii.fr
All the information about visas, living and working in France.

Pole Emploi (National Jobs Agency)
www.pole-emploi.fr
Lists jobs opportunities around France and French islands.

Gumtree
www.gumtree.com
A UK website where you can find jobs in France for English speakers. Have a look in jobs and after in the section travel and overseas.

Learning French (Personal Blog)
http://thaischalencon.matadoru.com/2011/02/04/how-to-learn-french-for-free/


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