Mondays On the Move: Open the Borders

It’s time for another “Mondays On the Move!” This Monday, Sarah and I had planned to meet along the Belgium-France border but if this year (and life) have taught me anything it is not to get too attached to plans. Sarah was feeling under the weather so we decided to postpone to next Monday.

Since I am a being who is pretty much constantly on the move—I rarely sit still for more than a few seconds at a time—I moved a fair amount this today. This morning, I look at Google Maps and picked a park to explore with my big white husky, Atticus. Our day had already begun in the wee hours of the very dark morning. I had gotten up to pee at 5am, and he was pacing a bit frenetically around the downstairs. I decided to let him out in case he also needed a bio break. He did, and I was thrilled until he decided to prolong his “break” with a farm field adventure.

I mentioned that I am often in motion, but I am also not much of a morning person nor do I enjoy walking around in the dark trying to quietly hiss my dog’s name in a vain attempt to convince him that it would be more exciting to come back inside than to roam around freshly cut corn fields in the dark.

He did eventually reappear but only after I had walked the entire periphery of the property.

The property, by the way, is comprised of an old farmhouse (un gîte en français). Gîte is pronounced not as my initial attempt of “g” like “gouda” but as the “j” in “j’aime”. It’s a soft “j” for English speakers. For fun, the French have swapped places for “g” and “j”. Gee is pronounced jay and vice versa. Who ever said the French aren’t fun?

Anyway, there is also a large dome house on the property, which our proprietor built in only a year’s time and which he rents predominantly to groups of cyclists. This area of France seems to have lots of road trails for bicycles because I see a lot of spandex and a lot of expensive bicycles. Mostly men, but periodically I see a woman here and there. Then, I cheer!

Even having this 5am foray with the dog, I thought it prudent to once again let him out on the other side of the yard only a few hours later. I will claim exhaustion and overwhelm from the events of 2020 and recent move from Belgium to France. The husky did take his second bio break and then promptly ran off down the farm field in the other direction, across the street, and into another freshly cut (overnight) field that had boasted a full crop of corn just the day before.

Apparently, a move to a new place turns a well-behaved dog into a mischievous beast.

I took said beast with me a bit later in the morning to Parc Marguerite Yourcenar. Marguerite Yourcenar was born in Brussels in 1903 and was the first female novelist to be elected to the French academy (Académie française) in 1908. She eventually emigrated to the United States but spent part of her childhood on Mont Noir near Bailleul, where my husband and I have taken up temporary residence.

My husband has been studying up on Bailleul and tells me that most of the information he has read sums up the town as having been burned to the ground many, many times over the ages.

Bailleul is pronounced (buy-ull as in “full”). I will not even try to sound out the very incorrect ways my husband and I pronounced the name in our initial attempts. It is country village in the region called Nord-Pas-de-Calais, which essentially means North (but) not Calais, the community further north known for its connection to the chunnel that runs from France to the UK.

Back to Marguerite Yourcenar Park. The park was only a 12 minute drive from our gîte, and after wondering if I needed a parking pass and hoping there was no entrance fee as I had forgotten to bring any money, I parked where everyone else was parked, turned my side view mirror in toward the passenger side door (this is what everyone does to avoid losing said mirror), and headed in to explore with Atticus.

We first walked by interpretive signs, depicting the history of this famed novelist. There were people setting up a poetry and book fare of some sort, but I was set on finding trees to walk beside and beneath. So we wended our way past the beautifully medieval buildings along a trail through a forest and then descended down into farmland. Apart from the tiny signs with trail numbers or a white stripe above a red stripe, there were no other signs posted for wayfinding, and we wound up completely leaving the park and winding our way back to the car along several paved and unpaved, narrow (or what my husband and I refer to as “metric”) roads.

The forest was cool with streams of light illuminating green leaves, floating around charismatic trees. The scene we met as we walked out of the forest and downhill was breathtaking. Looking back toward the churches of Bailleul and neighboring Saint-Jans-Cappel (where we also had looked at a place to rent, but there was a deranged Jack Russell so it was probably for the best that they chose someone else), there was a haze resting lightly above the ground. Grey heron and wood pigeons flew over the fields, and a tiny brook ran along the dusty road we followed.

Looking on the map on my phone as I reconnoitered our way back to the car (merci, Monsieur Google), I could see how very close we were to the Belgian border. Deux pattes (two steps) as they say in Brussels. So though I could only wave to Sarah from French ground, I wanted to share a video we made on our most recent foray together in Brussels, when we sang a song about opening borders and living in peace.

The song is called “Hakuna matata” (you may well recognize the Swahili and its meaning). We wrote this song with an asylum seeker from Burundi named Buddy. While we generally keep people anonymous for their protection, I share Buddy’s name as he passed away shortly after we met him. Another resident at the center who came from Senegal and who had joined us and shared some phrases in Wolof, wrote to me a few months later to let me know Buddy had returned to Burundi and died. We share this song to honor his memory and to honor all those bright spirits lost on the often dangerous journey to a better life.

Buddy was a musician and one of the few refugees who brought an instrument with him. I had been so very grateful to play ukulele alongside his guitar. His chorus was particularly poignant and a message we so dearly need in these times where fear seems to be taking such a strong, tenacious hold.

The chorus is in Swahili, and it goes like this:

Hakuna matata

Tushikane mikono

Tutafika salama

Nabila silah

My English translation:

Don’t worry

Place your hand in mine

We will arrive safely

Without violence, we will arrive

I took a bit of artistic license with my interpretation so the words would flow more freely and feel more fluid on the tongue.

In addition to Swahili and English, there are phrases in Dari, Wolof, and French as well.

Sarah and I sang this song from a spot across the canal from the Fedasil Arrival Centre. People smiled as they bicycled and walked past. We then enjoyed a chai latte with oat milk at Le Phare du Kanaal, at our favorite café across from the center, which had been closed during the lockdown and for most of the summer.

Borders are all around us all the time, but they are not real. The human heart and its ability to empathize and embrace the “other” can transcend any walls, tangible or psychological.

[About & Singing] Hakuna matata

(To jump to the singing, go to 0:56)

To read more about the writing of the song, visit: Guiding Song: Hakuna matata

To read more about the “Mondays On the Move” project and to listen to our other Monday songs, visit: Guiding Song: Mondays On the Move

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