International acts of kindness

An homage to pretty much everyone I know

For those who know me, you will be aware that this week was an emotional roller coaster. 15 years ago, I left home with a hockey sack full of stuff (including a heavy-as-a-brick French dictionary, which most definitely does not feature on the list of top 10 travel essentials) to start a new adventure in England. After 13 years of learning the Queen’s English and arguing about whether to pour the tea or the milk first, that same hockey sack filled with slightly more practical and travel-friendly items followed me as I started a new adventure, yet again, in Dubai. And a year ago, to the day, that now-slightly-battered hockey sack landed back in Montreal. I saw it at the time as the end of the adventure, but today I realise it was the beginning of something equally scary, difficult, emotional, rewarding and joyful. So I guess that even though I was coming home, you could also call it a new adventure.

Today I am exhibiting all the symptoms of having Dissociative Identity Disorder. I am going through my week with tears of joy, pangs of pain, and everything in between, trying process the past year. Joy at the thought that despite my 15-year absence, my friends and family have welcomed me with open arms and carried on as if I’d never left. And sadness at all the equally wonderful people I have left behind. Because arriving somewhere also means leaving somewhere else. When I think back on this journey, the only common thread I can pick out from these many years of being a solo expat is the amazing potential for human kindness I have witnessed, very often from near-strangers. Being alone is sometimes the best way to realise you are not alone. So please excuse me whilst I indulge in an homage to those who, probably without knowing, made me feel like the world was quite simply filled with warmth and kind-heartedness. Not only have I not forgotten it, but it has shaped me in ways you may never fully grasp.

So here is to you.

The numerous friends who invited me to crash their family Christmas gatherings when they knew I was alone for the holidays. And to those families who, without ever having met me, wrapped presents for me to ensure I had something to open on Christmas day.

To the work colleague who knew that travelling home on Boxing Day meant spending Christmas alone in an airport Travelodge hotel and gave me a stocking filled to the brim to open, so I would have a moment of happiness despite the depressing brown furniture and crappy tv reruns.

To the colorful coffee lady who learnt to make almond-milk hot chocolate, even though I was the only one in the building to ever drink it. And to the restaurant workers downstairs who knew my order by heart and welcomed me every day with such a joyful ‘Hello Miss Annie!’ that I felt I was actually in their family kitchen having a coffee.

To my clients in Dubai who took charge of helping me find an apartment and made sure I was settled with my agoraphobic cat. And to that particular one who grabbed my hand and told me quite firmly that I was not alone in this new weird, foreign country. Even though I felt like a tiny drop of water in the middle of a storm surge. That moment is one of the most vivid memories I have.

To that other Dubai client who, on my birthday, silently dropped off a bunch of magnificent red lipsticks (or as I call it, war paint) wrapped in a bag from the Montreal McGill University. I still can’t figure out where he got it from.

To the colleague who, again on my birthday, had her mom fly in a suitcase full of Super Noodles all the way from England to make me feel at home. Without judgement on my eating habits.

To the CTO of my company who sheepishly called to ask what kind of hair conditioner I wanted from the airport duty-free, so that I could avoid losing my hair in a country where shower water is so harsh it slowly burns your scalp off.

To the boss who, upon hearing my relationship had broken down, secretly emailed all my female colleagues and told them to just bring me chocolate, no questions asked.

To the crazy Irish lady who kick started my healing process but simply stating that if I was managing to get up and have a shower every day, I was probably doing better than most of the population and should give myself a ‘wee break’. You were right.

To the whole rowing community, and that summer where paddling on the river was just a gooey bowl of goodness. Simply because the eight people in that boat were the best people you could ever hope to spend time with whilst wearing a bright yellow Lycra onesie.

To the Swiss lady who still sends me care packages. Which recently included a custom-printed Ryan Gosling mug. I really don’t know why, but I respect the choice of imagery,

To all those who made a point of coming to visit me even though I lived half a world away. You made me feel so special. And to those who just went ‘Yeah alright’ each time I asked if I could crash their holiday.

To all those who helped me move. Thousands of times. Oh God so many house moves.

To the guy who lent me his top-of-the-range pickup truck so I could move my stuff into my new apartment. And didn’t get mad when I managed to get it towed within 24 hours of having it in my possession.

I often hear people ask what I would you do if I was rich. I have always known the answer to that question. I would figure out the most central point in the world and fly everybody I love for a one-off celebration of human kindness, friendship and gratitude. So start buying me lottery tickets and shopping for your banana hammock Speedos, because if you’re reading this, you’re probably one of those people.

Happy ‘Hey I’m back’ anniversary to me!



How I am trying to focus on the Minimum Viable Product version of myself

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Annie Gelinas

Globetrotting freelance writer. Founder of I value kindness in all its forms. (She/Her)