I wrote this a few weeks ago, but it wasn’t quite appropriate to post during the pre-wedding rush.
An Anglican church was a strange place for Statistics Canada training session, but after landing my first hope of a post-university job as a ‘spare enumerator’ for the 2016 census, I wasn’t complaining.
The job was a long shot anyway because I applied I from Malawi without a contact number. I remember staring at my resume, wondering which one of a half dozen addresses was most relevant. My fiancé’s cell phone ended up being the link that connected me with the trainer on Sunday afternoon. I showed up for training at the church the next morning.
There’s seventeen of us sitting in the room. Folded cards determine our spot around the table. On the front was our names, and on the back, the census tract each of us was assigned. 2709-01, 2709-02, 2709-03, etc, around the table. Each person was assigned a tract near where they lived and was given a map showing their section of the city.
My card held only 2709- .
I was a spare, so I didn’t get a number or a map.
I knew this going in, but didn’t realize how much of an outsider that made me. I avoid making friends with the fellow enumerators because I can’t think of any good directions for small talk. Where do you live? What do you do? Tell me about your family? I dare not ask because answering any of these questions back would require lengthy and awkward self-disclosure.
I shrink in a little more as we talk about people who don’t fit the system; who count in multiple places. According to the census methodology, people should be counted in their ‘main dwelling’— “where a person lives most of their time, that is, where they spend the major part of the year – a place one would call home.”
By official rules, my home is in Hamilton with my grandmother. That’s been my address since I was nine, but I’ve never actually lived there. In the last six weeks, I’ve had five different addresses.
We break for lunch, but I’m still too shy to talk so I pull out my book.
At Home in the World is by Michael Jackson— the aging Australian anthropologist not the Thriller star. The book traces Jackson’s journey to central Australia to learn how the aboriginal Walpiri people understand home. Driven from a nomadic lifestyle by European invaders, the Walpiri now struggle to reconcile their traditional lifestyle with welfare cheques and land-claim bureaucracy.
Their struggles are familiar to anyone knowledgeable about indigenous reserves in Canada. For the Walpiri, home does not require walls and windows.
The book reads like a story, with Jackson and his wife traipsing around in their Toyota, sleeping under the stars and driving long desert roads to visit grizzled elders and sacred sites.
Jackson tells the story of meeting Zack, an elder who takes Jackson to an old mine called ‘The Granites’ where he used to work. The place was notorious for the harsh conditions and maltreatment of aboriginal laborers. Yet this is where Zack brings Jackson to help him understand who he is. Jackson concludes: “The Granites was where [Zack] had met his hardship head on, had been tested, and had endured. This then, was also home.”
Home is not a place apart from the all the storms of life, it is a place found in the thick of it.
Jackson adds: “One might say that home is not always somewhere cut off from the world. Sometimes it is a place in the world where one triumphs over adversity…”
Today, Tess and I got to walk into our first apartment. It wasn’t as clean as we wanted, so we drove to Walmart and bought a big blue bucket and some bleach. We spent the afternoon on our hands and knees, scrubbing the bathroom and cupboards and listening to loud music. The stress/demands of submitting resumes, making seating charts, and catching up on readings were still there, but something about the rhythmic scrubbing helped them fade.
“Home is not always somewhere cut off from the world. Sometimes it is a place in the world where one triumphs over adversity…”
This then, was also home.