As many of you know, I had the opportunity to film a wedding in the Quebec province of Canada. The eastern townships to be precise. It was only for a couple of days, but it was worth every moment. I may have gone to film a friend’s wedding, but to me it was much more than that. This trip was exactly what i needed.
I think most who know me just associate me with traveling. I did at one point spend 10 months outside of the US. As a result, it feels like “oh, Stephan is going to yet another country…again”. I think that most probably don’t realize how even a short trip has an impact on me. I have been considered a cultural chameleon by some. I adapt to reflect my cultural surroundings. For example, my french my be limited, but i can mimic the accent to make myself sound native. This confuse and flatters locals. I move and act like they do, sometimes without even realizing it.
However, unlike so many others that travel, I cannot simply discard and move on with life as normal. What i experience becomes a part of me. As a result, I begin to look less and less American (though I will never truly even shed my americaness). Even a short 2 day trip to the eastern townships of Quebec will have a permanent effect of my life. Not because of where i was necessarily. Don’t get me wrong, this area was beautiful. But it is because of the people I was around. I was around some amazing and wonderful people who welcomed, cared about and encouraged me. I needed this right now.
Things have been difficult this year. This trip is the thing that encourage me the most in this time of uncertainty. I think some people have a hard time understanding this. They just see it as me visiting another place that isn’t home. They don’t realize that something like this can change the course of my life. Its hard to relate to and that makes it a bit of a challenge to decompress after a trip. Most don’t really ask about it, and those that do don’t really care to hear what i really have to say other than “it was good”. To be fair, fellow travelers who experience life the same way I do also run into the same issue. Its not just me.
There are some things I cannot put to words. Some of them I don’t recall at this moment, such as conversations. Others I simply cannot describe, like feelings, thoughts, or the spirituality of it all.
This is just the introduction. Its a long post. I don’t care if you read this or not. You can just scroll through to the bottom to look at the pictures for all I care. But pictures only tell part of the story, as do words. And part of the story you will never know, because it comes from the physical act of telling. Words only tell so much. This is not even the complete story.
Ready or not, here it goes:
The Journey Across Quebec – Thursday August 13, 2015/ Friday August 14, 2015
I got in late to Montreal. My journey started with a drive from Columbia SC, the Charlotte Airport. I had gotten to the airport a bit early due to the fact that I just couldn’t wait around the house anymore. My flight was delayed by at least 15 minutes. In fact, both of my flights were a bit delayed. The layover in DC was so short I almost feared my checked bag wouldn’t make it to my next flight. I was afaid I wouldn’t make my next flight. The gate was changed to a different terminal entirely and I barely had 15 minutes to get on the shuttle and get to my next flight. In the end I had at least an hour to wait before boarding.
It was past midnight by the time I got through customs. I needed to pick up my rental car and find my driving companion. I was a bit lost but eventually found my way. Thankfully my companion was waiting for me at the rental car place, which by the grace of God was still open. Filled out the paperwork, added a GPS to the rental, and headed on our way. It is a good thing too, because the main Autoroute (interstate) was under construction and took us a while to find an on ramp. I ran parallel with the motorway I was trying to get on until we found an on ramp that wasn’t blocked off. I want to make it clear that this is the very first time I have ever driven in another country. Not all that different since it is only Canada, but the road signs are in French. It was after 1 am.
My companion, Amanda, asked if we could stop and get something to eat. Keep in mind that our final destination is 2 hours from the airport and we left after 1 am Friday morning. We stopped at a gas station to use the ATM and drove down the street to McDonalds. First interaction with a non-english speaker. I am a bit tired at this point and really don’t care to try my had at french for the first time in almost 2 years at 2 in the morning. I simply asked if they spoke english (I did ask in french, mind you). They got someone who did. Amanda was a bit surprised that people in Quebec don’t necessarily speak english. In the big cities, maybe, but further out it isn’t that surprising (to me).
And away we went. It was nearly 4 in the morning by the time we got to our final destination. It was this farm house in what looked like the middle of nowhere. Its dark out. Everything looks like the middle of nowhere when it is dark out. We pulled up to the house. The front door opened and a massive dog came to greet us, followed by her owner. We felt bad for keeping him up so late, but he didn’t seem to mind. He showed us to our rooms. I closed the door and crawled into bed. It was starting to get a bit lighter outside…
The Eastern Townships and the Rehearsal – Friday August 14, 2015
And 2 hours later I am awake. The pitter patter of little feet on an old wooden floor had awoken me from a rather refreshing sleep. Unable to go back to that refreshing sleep, i got up and headed downstairs. What greeted me were two adults, Matt and Grace, their two little girls, and one massive english mastiff named Carter. They were surprised I was up, then again so was I. But this was good, as I got to talk with them before they left. They were just getting ready to head out to see an uncle who was in town for only the morning. I was glad I got to see them and connect with them before they left. Grace showed me the kitchen and told me to help myself. They left and I went back to bed for about a half hour.
I got up and the house was empty. Well, almost empty. When I went down stairs after getting freshened up (aka, shower and shaved), Carter was there to greet me. Remember, she is an English Mastiff. She’s roughly the size of a small horse. Big dogs can be rather intimidating. But her response to me was more like this “Oh, you are a person and you came from up stairs. Pet me”. She followed me around as I went to the kitchen fixed coffee. I am still tired at this point, but better than I was. I looked around their house. It was rustic and charming. It was the sort of house I wish i could have. It also had WiFi. Unencrypted WiFi. Lets face it, no one else lives around there. So why password protect it? Anyway, I was able to call home via Google Voice and let a few people know I was safe.
Eventually, the rest of the house began to wake starting with the dutch gal, Petra. She is a friend of Rebekah’s (the bride, whom I know from Belgium). They were at L’Abri together, which up to this point I was unfamiliar with. Turns out a lot of the wedding guests are from L’Abri. Those that are not family that is. Eventually Amanda got up and our hosts had returned. After sitting around and interacting with our generous hosts, we got around to explore a bit before we had to go to the wedding rehearsal at 2. Grace told us about a couple of places to eat in Compton, the small town close by.
The first place we had to go was a pharmacy. One of the two ladies with me need to pick up some things. The problem? They two women working in the store don’t speak much english. So Amanda and Petra are looking at me to help, and my french is very limited. With a bit of broken french and english we were able to get what we needed. The women in the store were helpful and friendly. I used google translate to help communicate. I had previous experience with this sort of thing after all. My companions were both a bit surprised that people in small towns in Quebec don’t speak english. I on the other hand was enjoying it.
Lunch was a bit easier. It was this charming little place just down the road on Route Louis-S.-Saint-Laurent. It was a sandwich shop type of place called Que du Bonheur! It was another case of “Stephan, what does that say” when concerning the food. This I can do. It also turns out that the proprietor of this establishment is Belgian, and therefor spoke a bit of english. I was able to use a bit of broken French to communicate. Nice guy. Good food to. I had a ham and cheese croissant and Canada Dry ginger aie. Even if it is just French Canada, the French do make good sandwiches.
And back to the Canadian Baldmobile, which was this fun little compact car called a Nissan Micra. Time to find our way to the church…and get lost. It turns out that Norbert sent out the wrong address. After a quick call, we get righted. We just went too far. At least we got to see some pretty scenery along the way.
We were not terribly late thankfully. They were still setting up. And because of this, i was able to bump into a friend from St Andrew’s Church of Scotland Brussels. It was Rebekah’s aunt, Nancy. She was always good to me in Brussels. Seeing her again was a great joy. There were also a couple whom I had the opportunity to meet at a church picnic in Brussels, Kaj and Rianne. We had only met the one time, but we remembered one another. Kej was running audio and Rianne was reading a passage from the Bible.
I just kind of floated around the tiny church, observing. I was also trying to figure out the best camera positions. As it was a small church, I wanted to stay out of the way during the actual ceremony. If i went unnoticed I was doing my job. Little did I realize that being asked for input was also part of my job. They asked my advice on a few things. Such as what side would it be best for everyone to stand, what side they should exit on, etc. I was a bit surprised by this, but my opinions were valued and helped out a lot. There was just something wonderful about being able to help someone coordinate one of the most important moments of their lives.
There was no rehearsal dinner, or if there was we were not invited. This didn’t bother my companions or myself. I just wanted to head back to Matt and Graces to rest up. Remember, I am running on 2 hours of sleep. I am going to start to feel it at 4 in the afternoon.
Their car was gone when we had pulled in. Carter was outside looking at us apprehensively as we pulled ourselves out of the car. Perta felt the same towards Carter. I on the other hand was trying to get her to come over to me.
Me: “Carter! Carter! Come here sweetie!”
Me: “What? Big puppy!”
I guess I was the least intimidated by the big dog. Anyway. Grace and the girls were inside. Matt had gone to pick up his younger brother and bring him over for dinner. The three of us foreigners went upstairs to our respective rooms to relax. I expected to stay upstairs and unwind until dinner, letting my introverted nature take over. Instead I ended up doing the exact opposite. I went downstairs.
Grace and the girls were working on a puzzle of the solar system. I took the time to connect and get to know my host. I guess some habits die hard. This is the sort of thing I would do when I was traveling in Europe. I would always make an attempt to bond with the missionaries I was staying with. It almost always pays off. Avy, their oldest (4 years old), asked her mom if she could show me the chickens. I grabbed my camera, put on my shoes, and followed her out the door.
The house sits on about an acre and a half of land. Everything around us is farm land. And it will stay that way. Thats good, because the surrounding land is beautiful.
So 4 year old holding a chicken and talking about chickens. She is braver than I am. She has to show me the rabbit, find milkweed to look for caterpillars, etc. Grace starts the grill to cook some sausages. Matt and his brother return. I head back to my room to relax before dinner, prep the rest of my equipment, and dump my cards onto an external hard drive. Soon dinner is ready.
It is a simple meal. Various sausages and corn. All local. All delicious. Once again, any opportunity to connect with my host is a good thing. Good food and good company. Matt heads out to get some ice cream. Maple ice cream. Delicious ice cream. With a full belly, it is time to head to bed. It is going to be a long day. I hear loud voices and noises downstairs, but that is because the voices cary and you have to slam the doors to close them. But eventually, I drift off to sleep…
The Wedding – Saturday August 15, 2015
And my alarm goes off at 6. Or at least it would have if I hadn’t woken up a few minutes before, turned it off, and started my day. Two cups of coffee, a cup of earl grey tea, and a big dog wanting me to pet her were a good way to start the morning. My stuff was all ready to go the night before. Only needed to iron my clothes and I’m good to go.
No so much for my companions. The got up an hour before i had to be out the door and were barely ready by the time we left. Petra was all in a panic and stressed in the morning.I had to leave around 8 am and I was their ride. The wedding wasn’t till 10, but I had been requested to do some photos of Norbert getting ready for the wedding. I got there a few minutes early and soon got started.
My companions had to wait outside for a little while, but eventually came into the house to finish getting ready. The only other person there at the time was Norbert’s father, and he only understands a handful of english. Eventually the pastor and his wife showed up. It was about time to leave. After a bit of shuffling of luggage and passengers, we were on our way. Norbert’s father rode with us. The girls tried to talk to him, but as they didn’t speak french and he barely understood english conversation didn’t progress far. I had remembered a bit more of my french at this point and was able to say a few things. I think he appreciated this. After a 20 minute drive in the beautiful countryside, we arrived at our destination…
All set up and good to go. Just had to make sure that no one stood in front of either my GH4 or BMPCC. The wedding started a bit late, but someone said that no wedding in Quebec ever starts on time. When it started I started rolling. The only problem I ran into was the photographer. She sat in front of my GoPro, just recording her butt instead of Rebekah processing down the far aisle. You might be a cute petite photographer gal, but you are seriously getting on my nerves. She was kind of distracting running all over the place and i didn’t necessarily agree with here angles. Its one of those moments I wish the photographer would show up the the rehearsal and actually coordinate with everyone else there.
Back on topic. It was a beautiful ceremony, if not a bit long. Then again I don’t go to many weddings. It was good though and it ended with Rebekah and Norbert dancing there way down the aisle to the doors of the building. This is where someone stands right in front of my camera to film with their phone. I had to tap him on the shoulder and point back at my camera. He got the hint.
It sounds like I am complaining at this point, but really I am not. Filming the wedding is the most stressful part, but it was rather simple once it got going. The stressful part ended and the fun part began. It was time for photos. Everyone stood around getting their pictures taken with the bride and groom and i just filmed the people being people, taking a few photos with my rented GH4. I packed up as it all ended, getting ready to go to the lunch. On last shot of the happy couple driving off, find my companions, and head to the place lunch is at.
It was a place on the lake in North Hartley. Sparkling wine and hors d’oeuvres were served. It was one of those moments were I realized I am more than likely one of the youngest adults at this wedding. Most are mid 30’s or older. I also realized that no one realizes I am 27 unless it comes up in conversation. I will act older/more mature when I am the youngest I guess. Anyway, in this back patio lawn area I am feeling a bit out of place. Once again, being one of the younger people over the age of 18 and currently unemployed, I have a bit of a hard time mingling with some of the people I don’t recognize. I do come across a friend from brussels and here boyfriend. Thankfully we were sitting at the same table at lunch.
Lunch was fancy. Slices of duck, a nice pork filet, a glass of red wine, some fruity custard thing, and a cup of tea afterwards. Some of the servers didn’t speak english. Ordering food was one of things I was better at when it came to using french (and really isn’t that one of the more important things to know in any language?). This food felt a bit too fancy for me. I’ll live, but not my first choice of food. Tasty though.
There were speeches from several people, there was singing, there was awkward dancing. And those last two were just to get the couple to kiss. I just sat in my seat and observed. I was in a good spot for that and more than happy to have a couple of cameras on me. I only filmed here and there. I was too busy talking to a few people sitting by me. Nice people, a lot of dutch nationals at this wedding. It was kind of refreshing actually!
And the lunch was drawing to a close, but the festivities were far from over. It was just time for a bit of relaxation before the dance party reception later that evening. Amanda and I went back to Matt and Grace’s while Petra stayed to help get things ready for that evening. I got the majority of my things packed with the exception of my carry on, as I was still using it to transport my camera. I went downstairs and sat down. Avy had to come over and sit in my lap. She played with my beard and was curious about my bald head. 4 year olds. She then went on to tell me about this dance party her friend was going to be at and that I should go as well, even though i wasn’t invited. Sadly, I had to tell her I had another dance party to go to…even though we were talking about the same thing. Am I a horrible person?
So, party time. A lot more causal and a lot more fun. You see, well before this point the photographer had left. Actually, she left before the lunch. Its been the Stephan Show ever since. Am I getting paid any extra? I’m not being paid at all. I was thanked by Rebekah’s father for this, for making such a sacrifice. Truth be told, I need this with everything that has been going on as of late. I did it just to see Norbert and Rebekah…and to finally visit Quebec.
I finally had the opportunity to talk to both Norbert and Nancy, as Norbert asked me to sit with him while eating. Being the man of the hour, he eventually had to attend to the other guests. But it was great to catch up. It was also great to talk to Nancy and catch up. She was always good to me in Brussels, and talking to here was just encouraging. She had moved back to Montreal not to long after I returned to the US and says it has been a rough year. For those of us who have lived elsewhere in the world, we no longer see things the same. But she encouraged me to wait on the Lord.
Back to happier stuff. There was much dancing (not from me), much socializing, and much drinking. I don’t normally talk about that, but Quebec has some really good beer. If i were not driving later, I would of had more. But drinking good beer and taking some decent photos of great people is not something I can complain about. But all good things must come to an end. It was late, it was ending, and it was time to say goodbye. They were long tear filled goodbyes. I don’t know when I will be able to see some of these people again. I pray that I will.
It was time to go. And for me that means to make the long journey back home…
The Way Home – Sunday August 16, 2015
We got back to Matt and Grace’s. They were all in bed by the time we had arrived. I had wanted to say good bye. I felt I owed them something for their generous hospitality. It was something that has had a deep effect on me, the way they welcomed me into their lives, even for such a short amount of time. I left them a little something, it was all i could spare.
Amanda and I left around 1 am. We both had flights around 6 am that morning and I still had to drop off the rental car. It was foggy in back country of Quebec. Horror movie fog even. I have never driven in such thick fog. It wasn’t even consistently foggy. It varied quite a bit. Things got much better once we got back on Autoroute 10. Eventually having to stop for gas. For one, finding an open gas station at that time of night is not the easiest thing. When we did, apparently, you pre-pay a certain amount at the pump before even filling. Weird.
We got some snacks and energy drinks. I confused the teller with my french, whom thankfully spoke english, and we were on out way again. We pulled into the airport a while later. I don’t remember the time. Had to be sometime after 3. Exhaustion was starting to hit me. We dropped off the rental car, which meant parking it behind the other cars being returned and putting the key in the drop box. Amanda and I said our goodbyes and we went our separate ways. I was flying back directly to the US and she was flying back to Atlanta through Toronto. There is a separate terminal for US flights. I got checked in but had issues with my credit card at this point. I eventually got my check bag paid for and dropped off my bag. The lady handling that got mad at me because i responded to here french greeting in french, sounding quebecois. By mad, i mean slightly amused and giving me a hard time.
Security and customs wasn’t open just yet, but the line was betting longer. Not that hard to get through and soon I was in the terminal waiting on my flight trying to not fall asleep.
By the time the plane took off, I had not slept for 24 hours. Had a bit of a layover in new york. I had to walk around to stay awake. I napped a bit on the flight to Charlotte. Any little bit helped. I had another hour and a half drive to get home. I was luck i stayed awake for that. But once I was on 77 it was pretty smooth sailing from there.
Shower. Bed. Up at 8 pm to eat. Back to bed all night at 1 am. What did I just do?
Yes, It is long. Yes, I realize some of you don’t care. Yes I realize that the quality of my writing fluctuates. Yes I realize you don’t see what had such an affect on me. I don’t expect you too. If you skipped reading that Wall of Text and just looked at my pictures, its understandable.
But I came home changed. My good friend Terrence keeps asking me “Who are you and what have you done with Stephan?” Thats a question I keep asking myself. I feel it is time for me to stay put in one place for a while. I want more travel in my life. As much as I hate airports, it is worth it for the destination and people i may meet on the other side. I was asked to do this back at the end of March, and I did it all for free. That is how much this couple means to me.
But something deep inside me has changed. I can only describe it as the spark or desire to be something so much more. I don’t know if anyone else around me can feel or see that. But despite settling in for a while and trying to get some solid ground to stand on, I want something more out of life than the ordinary. This trop was no ordinary. My travels never are. I don’t want them to be THE highlight of my life. They are defining moment in my life, but I want there to be so much more and one day Lord willing someone to share that with.
This trip has changed me. It gave me hope when i nearly had none. As it is the beginning of the rest of the lives of two friends of mine, it is the start of a new chapter for me as well. Or at least I hope so. We will see, as I take up the part time position as Facilities Manager at Midtown Fellowship here in Columbia.
We will see.
And because I can, more pictures. For video, go here