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Life, Death, Quakes and All That Jazz (or, Living Abroad in the Digital Age)

My grandfather went to Argentina in the 1940s, he was 17 years old and he lived there for 8 years. When he left, he didn’t know if he would ever come back, if he would see his family again, if he would be able to reach them in case something happened. The trip from his small village in Italy to Buenos Aires took about 2 months. Emigrating at that time was like going on another planet.

When my husband, my son and I arrived to Canada, on a cold November night of 2014, we took 2 flights and a few hours later we were in Toronto. Going through custom bureaucracy took us almost the same time than crossing the Atlantic Ocean. The first thing we did when we woke up on that very first morning was calling via FaceTime our families and letting them know – and see – we were safe and happy. Since then, we established a calling routine (especially during the weekends) to keep up with family and friends all over the world. The grandparents babysit their grandchildren with long-distance tales and games, our friends keep us updated with the latest gossips and the little ones scream funny things one another through the screen. My three years old son in Canada and my four years old niece in Switzerland have very interesting conversations about time zones, asking one another if it is day or night where they are. Here it is, family routine of an expat. Social media, in a sense, allow us to participate in a life that we left behind when we decided to emigrate. I’m not talking about reading Italian online newspapers, I’m talking about social life, small and big events of the community we used to be part of. Of course it is not the same as being physically there, but it helps a lot not feeling so far away from it all.

Last August 24th 2016 at 10pm we received a call from my father. I already knew something was wrong because in Italy it was 4am. It turned out a big earthquake had just hit the centre of Italy, just a few kilometres from my hometown. The news websites were not updated immediately, so we turned to Twitter to have as much information as possible about the gravity of the situation. Again on a dreadful October 30th we woke up to know an even bigger earthquake had just hit the same area. That morning my whole family was

Damaged House
Our family house in Tolentino, Italy

forced to flee our house never to come back because of heavy structural damages. Following it all from afar was a torture but thanks to digital communication at least we were able to keep informed about what was happening there. We even assisted live to some minor tremors. It was a weird situation because, not being there, I felt at the same time relieved and guilty. Relieved because an earthquake is one of the most terrible experiences you can ever have in your life, and as egoistical as it sounds, you’re just happy not to be there. Guilty because I was not with them, to help and comfort.

The earthquake was just one of the events that happened since we left. Not being able to participate to some friend’s wedding, not being there for someone who lost a parent, not going to my nephews’ birthday parties, simply not being there when life happens. We’re

untitled
Mom and me

happy here, we have opportunities, friends, a great quality of life. Though, we will always be half-here and half-there and we will always suffer when something significant happens there. Digital communications, social media and technology in some way help us to fill the gap a little bit. For example, I know I’m now 7.068 Km away from my mom: I can see her in Find Friends App. Sometimes we send each other Whatsapp messages asking “What are you doing there? I can see you!” I know it sounds super-weird but consider we’re both Italian moms and it’s a fun game to play.

I always wonder why my grandfather came back after 8 years, and I’m sure he will never tell us exactly. I just ask myself if at a certain point he felt too nostalgic. If he had the communication tools of the 21st century, would he ever come back?

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