Hello from the other side...
That catchy Adele tune was the unexpected theme tune of my family summer holiday in 2017. The reason? My two nieces are Romanian, still awaiting British citizenship after 10 years with us in the UK, and they were refused entry to Canada at the border with US. The crazy thing is, if we'd flown from our first holiday base in Florida, rather than driven, there would have been no issue. After a frustrating few hours at immigration, I had no choice other than to continue into Canada with my parents and two sons. My husband Florin, and nieces had to remain on American soil.
I can clearly recall feeling angry and outraged by the unfairness of the situation, but my Romanian husband told me to calm down as getting angry would get us nowhere, and probably make things worse with the less than friendly border staff. With our family split in two for the few days we'd booked, we tried to make the most of a difficult situation. Myself, parents and sons were decked out in bright red plastic ponchos to visit Niagara falls, whilst my husband and nieces sent a photo of their blue ponchos on the American side of Niagara...now you understand the theme song? It wasn't funny at all at the time, but I do like to imagine someone making a parody music video with blue and red ponchos blowing about in the Niagara mist as two sides of the same family sing that anthemic song to each other.
This is not the first time my family has suffered from having the "wrong" passport. At my wedding in the UK 20 years ago, my sister-in-law was refused a visa to attend. Even my mother-in-law faced quite an ordeal at her interview, something I found hard to comprehend. Surely attending a child's wedding should be an automatic right? I remember Romania, after jumping through many political hoops, was finally allowed to join the EU in 2007. There was much celebration, although, truth be told, for many Romanians, the cost of everyday living became tougher after joining. However, the Eastern European country was now a part of Europe, with the safety net and advantages of being part of something bigger.
Having followed how hard Romania worked to become part of Europe, something the UK took for granted for so long, it's hard to accept that so many people were desperate to leave, to go it alone. Everyone has the right to their political beliefs, but it won't surprise you to learn that I was most definitely not a Brexiteer. Now when I travel I will know how it feels to have a passport treated differently, to join a separate queue at the airport. As a UK citizen I won't have the same rights as my Romanian husband, and other Europeans, to travel and work within Europe.
Shelves in supermarkets are becoming empty, the combined result of a global pandemic mixed with the new problems of bringing produce to a country outwith the EU, and of course, the growing labour shortages as many of the immigrant workers have now returned home....either through necessity of new Brexit rules, or from feeling forced out and unwanted by a worrying anti-immigrant rhetoric. I joke with Florin that soon I will have to learn how to make zacusca, a preserved vegetable stew made in Romania which originated as a way of enjoying vegetables throughout winter when no longer possible to grow them (and no imports). I enjoy zacusca spread on fresh bread, and it comes in a variety of flavours. I imagined Florin's dad making the stew in the traditional way over a hot cauldron for my novel "Behind the Curtain".
Sadly I feel Great Britain has lost much of its' greatness in recent months, and I can only hope that things improve. On a lighter note to finish, there has been some much needed Scottish sun and my freckles are out in full force. If you'd like to learn more about Romania and why I feel so strongly that immigrants need to be better understood, take a look at my book which you will find in the shop on this website. Also on Amazon if you're outside the UK.