Lydia, Jo, Lore and Baziel are officially my Belgian family. They care about me, want me to thoroughly enjoy their country, and laugh with me. Having lived alone for four years, I feel blessed that they want to spend time with me.
Lore’s name is so difficult for me to pronounce. I won’t even try to explain it to you. But I’m determined. It’s been three days and I’m getting a little better. I know at home I feel the same way – people, such as “Johanna” (Yo-haw’-na), deserve to have their name pronounced correctly. It’s a huge part of who they are.
Lore invited me to go walking with her and her horse Jackson this morning. She’s 16 and a most kind human being. We set off on the main road and then narrow country lanes and then muddy paths through fields. All three of us were having a grand time. Lore absolutely loves horses and Jackson is the prime example. She can see herself owning a riding stable someday, and both massaging and shoeing her four-legged friends. I just know she’ll do it.
We came upon a fellow named Didier on a country road and stopped to chat. What a great smiling guy, and he knew English so I could fully participate. He and Lore talked some in Flemish and I was happy to stand back and listen to the cadence of the language.
Further on, we stopped at the home of one of Lore’s friends. The girl was still sleeping but no worries – her mom came bouncing out of the house to say hello. She only spoke Flemish but I thanked her with my English for the yummy cookies she had made for me and the rest of the crew. What she understood was my eyes.
Our third stop was at Lore’s old elementary school. Young kids were out for recess and crowded the fence to get close to Jackson. All those bright eyes. The Canadian couldn’t compete with the horse, and that was fine.
Lore, Jackson and I talked so easily together. It didn’t matter at all that our ages were 16, 3 and 69. We were simpatico.
This afternoon, Lydia, Lore and I took the train to Ghent, to be joined later by Jo and Baziel for dinner. The trip was a flow of green fields and red slate grooves, but then there was our arrival! Ancient murals adorned the walls of the train station, and as we exited the building a panorama of classic European architecture sank into me. I stopped and stared, again and again. Canals and bridges welcomed us here and there … and everywhere.
Happy people rode by on their bikes (with nary a helmet to be seen!) Couples strolled arm in arm. Little kids zoomed between the tall folks. Trams flowed along. Sirens occasionally wailed, and had me realize that I’d never heard this authentic European sound except in movies.
There’s an energy in Ghent that’s palpable, fueled in part, I believe, by the large university population … it seems to be simple happiness. And I fell into it almost immediately.
I sang O Canada twice today – once to the two hostesses in a jewelry shop and once to Baziel as our family (!) meandered through the curvy streets after dark. The lights of Christmas animated the old buildings, casting shadows over the brick. “C’est magique!”
I am loved in Belmont. I do believe I am loved in Belgium. And I give it right back in both places. Salut, mes amis!