Day Seven: Des Gens Extraordinaires

The family Nachtergaele has a cat. We leave for Senegal in two days. Last night, Poopi curled up on top of a piece of luggage lying in the living room. Lydia knows that Poopi knows we’re leaving and she doesn’t want us to go.

We need to be in each other’s presence. We need to love even more than we need to be loved. Both are blessings.

This morning, the family’s housekeeper Karin was cleaning up. She only speaks French, exactly the situation I’ll face in Senegal. I said “Bonjour, Karin.” She returned the favour. I saw her stare at the piece of luggage. Perhaps Poopi left a little poopy – I didn’t look closely. What I did do was furrow my brow in potential translation. I so much wanted to communicate with Karin.

“Le chat dormit au bagage.” That was my best attempt at “The cat slept on the piece of luggage,” although I couldn’t remember how to do the past tense, or the word “on”.

Quite proud of myself, I wasn’t ready for the barrage of words that came back. And memories returned from Jody’s and my vacation in old Quebec City in 2008. The Francophone no doubt thinks I understand a fair bit of French and blasts out a sentence or two at supersonic speed, leaving me in the linguistic dust. But really, who cares? I will love my new Senegalese friends, with or without our mutual understanding of words. Our eyes will make meaning.

Now it’s later in the morning and Pil and I have been talking at the dining room table. I still have happy memories of the 12% (!) beer we shared in Bruges yesterday. We look out over the back field and watch flocks of pigeons fly. Pil is so happy to teach me about local things. These pigeons will hang around some more, as long as the weather stays warm (5 degrees Celsius) but when winter sets in, they’re off to Spain.

Down by the pond, the orange leaves of a weeping willow are waving in the breeze. The two Shetland ponies are searching for the best grass. Mom is about thirty and son around ten. They have each other. An orange-headed woodpecker has just stopped for a visit near the window. Peace is here.

Away up on the horizon, vehicles move left and right. Who are those people? Where are they going? Do they have the same joys and sorrows that I do? Of course.

***

This evening two families enjoyed food at a Chinese restaurant. Liesbet is Lydia’s best friend and the two of them sat side by side, joking in Flemish most of the evening. The love between was as clear as a moonlit night.

Both Lydia and Liesbet had gifts for all of us. Liesbet and Lode gave me two jars of mustard created in Oudenaard. Lydia presented me with a quill pen – a fine white feather inscribed with “Dream On.” It’s so sweet to be included.

The meal and the wine were delicious but eating was just a convenient excuse to be together. The four kids gabbed away, and so did we five adults. My goodness, I’m part of a family after being alone for four years.

I said silly things to the servers and at one point started eating a decorative onion. Anything to get a laugh out of people. I threatened to approach the table next door to see if they were as nice as us but Lydia held me back. I enjoyed myself so much.

I’m in Belgium. Sure the streets wind so exquisitely and are often cobblestoned. Sure the buildings are ancient and the old brick shines in the sun. Sure the beer is strong and the wine sublime. But give me people any day.

We were together
I don’t remember the rest

Walt Whitman

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