Since we moved to our new house in Orléans in December, we had hardly met any neighbours. They seemed to be hibernating. This was not a problem for Ingo, who went to work during the week, but I felt quite lonely and homesick.
Adopting a dog, the Golden Retriever puppy Jessie, was the first step to getting me out of the house. However, at first I was too scared to walk her by myself, so I waited for Ingo to come home. I was not afraid that I could not control Jessie, but rather that we would meet other dogs that would harm her. Unfortunately, my fear was confirmed when my in-laws dachshunds came for their first visit and bit not only Jessie but also myself when I tried to protect her by taking her into my arms. This incident meant a step back in my recovery from my animal phobia. I realized that I could not keep Jessie and possibly myself from harm, and so I relied on Ingo to take the lead.
On the other hand, Jessie served as a good guinea pig to practice my English without judging me. She did not care whether I made mistakes or did express myself stumbling and in simple terms.
However, a dog is not a replacement for contact with other people. Ingo and I decided that we should join a fitness centre. I had been a member of a couple of fitness centres in Germany and was eager to get back to exercise classes and weight training at the gym, even though I had started doing exercise with the help of TV fitness programmes almost as soon as we had settled in Ottawa.
While we were still looking for the right gym, we headed out for the first time to the Rideau Canal. If you know the Ottawa winters, you will agree that you can only survive the long winters if you like winter sports. Skating on the canal was my first time on skates in more than ten years. I had only ever skated on an indoor rink. This was a very different experience, and while we were a little wobbly, we had a lot of fun. We also went cross country skiing which I had never done before. It was just wonderful to be able to glide through the winter wonderland.
In mid January 1996, I also started my first painting class at the Ottawa School of Art. I had taken oil painting classes in Germany with artist Inge Besgen in my early twenties but stopped when I started my studies in business economics. I was excited to pick up the brush again, but also nervous that I would not understand what the teacher would be talking about. The first obstacle was that I had no idea what an easel was when the teacher asked us to pick up an easel and find a good spot to paint the still life that was set up. While my general vocabulary was quite good, I was definitely missing all the subject specific vocabulary.
Over the years, this problem has become a two way problem. To date, there are whole areas where I do not know the English translations and others where I know the English vocabulary but not the German equivalent because I was never confronted with the situations in Germany. Sometimes, it is also due to the fact that there is not an easy translation, but you have to paraphrase what a certain expression means. I definitely make good use of the help the Internet offers to translate certain words or idioms.
While I was excited about going to the painting classes, it was also quite frustrating. I had hardly painted for a couple of years and it showed. I felt just like an athlete who had stopped training for a long time. The skills come back faster, but if you do not practice continuously, you get rusty.
To meet more people, we also joined the Orleans Newcomers Club, where we participated in a couple of clubs, from Games Night to Potluck Dinner Night. Most of the time, we went as a couple but I also joined the Lunch Group. It was quite difficult to follow, let alone participate in the conversations, and most of the time I came home with a big headache from having to concentrate so hard. I felt out of place because I was not able to articulate myself in the way I could in my native language. I felt that this was a big obstacle in making deeper connections.
We also invited our neighbours for coffee and cake. Well, half a cake to be precise because Jessie got to the lemon cheesecake first and took a good bite out of it while we did not pay attention. Luckily, all our neighbours had animals and a good sense of humour.
At the same time, the contact to my German friends was very infrequent which left me quite depressed. Every day, I waited for the mailman. Generally, in vain. Sometimes, I wished I could just stay in bed but there was Jessie to look after. Usually I pulled myself together and cleaned the house, painted, played piano, and practiced Spanish and Turkish. Luckily, I also had our church wedding to plan. Another endeavour that was not without complications.
I hope you will continue to follow me on my journey to the past. Please forward my blog to your family and friends who might enjoy my story.