Né quelque part

I was born in Toronto, at St. Michael’s Hospital, somewhere in the wee hours of the first day of August in the middle of the last century. I did not ask to be born but I’m glad I was. I am grateful to have been born at a time and in a place that has allowed me to live, to be safe and have enough to eat, to grow up and get an education and be able to go out and see the world freely.

We are all born somewhere, as Maxime Le Forestier evokes so beautifully in the song that provides the inspiration for this post. I was happy to find this cinematic gem of a music video from 1988.

I remember the song well. It was on the charts shortly after we’d married and before our son was born. We were travelling back and forth between Canada and France a lot back then, with families on both sides. Ultimately we chose to live in France but we can still go back to the country I still think of as home and live there if we choose. How lucky we are, and our children too, to be able to choose between two countries, through accidents of birth.

I was struck by this when the story of the ‘Open Arms’ broke last week. The hundreds migrants packed on board the NGO rescue ship just a couple of hundred metres from Italy’s nearest shores on the island of Lampedusa. Waiting for nearly three weeks while a political battle waged over their right to disembark. Growing increasingly sick, impatient, angry. In desperation, some jumped ship and tried to swim ashore. The saintly people who kept them safe until finally, after the Italian government collapsed, the order came to allow them ashore. Their joy at finding themselves alive and on terra firma.

They are there and I am here because of being born somewhere. Né quelque part. An accident of birth, of time and of place.

Yes, I am white, privileged, rich by some standards. Yes, it is easy for me, a bi-national, with enough food on my table, to be liberal in my thinking. I have not had to fight for a place, or my beliefs, or my rights as a human being. Yet all of those things only make me more convinced that we are all the same. None of us deserves more than any other to be here. Or there.

I recently watched a drama on the BBC called ‘Years and Years’. It brilliantly explored this theme along with that of the future we are living in, today and tomorrow, within a xenophobic political post-Brexit context that was frighteningly real. Emma Thompson was entirely credible as  the populist Prime Minister. It made me think: what is this world we have created in which we scroll through our newsfeeds and skim over the real-life horror stories of human suffering to giggle over cute animal memes and admire each other’s holiday photos?

I am glad to have been born, to have lived through so many changes and hopefully continue to do so for many years more. Yet I wonder: would I feel this way, would I even be here at all, if my parents had lived somewhere else?

So tell me: where were you born? How has it affected your life?

Bonus: Here are the lyrics (with a rough English translation)
from ‘Né quelque part’ by Maxime Le Forestier:

We do not choose our parents, we do not choose our family
On choisit pas ses parents, on choisit pas sa famille

We do not choose the sidewalks of Manila
On choisit pas non plus les trottoirs de Manille

Or Paris or Algiers to learn how to walk
De Paris ou d’Alger pour apprendre à marcher

To be born somewhere
Être né quelque part

To be born somewhere, for one who is born
Être né quelque part, pour celui qui est né

It’s always a coincidence
C’est toujours un hasard

(Name’inqwando yes qxag iqwahasa)
(Nom’inqwando yes qxag iqwahasa)

(Name’inqwando yes qxag iqwahasa)
(Nom’inqwando yes qxag iqwahasa)

There are farmyard birds and birds of passage
Y a des oiseaux de basse cour et des oiseaux de passage

They know where their nests are
Ils savent où sont leur nids

Whether they return from their trip or stay at home
Qu’ils rentrent de voyage ou qu’ils restent chez eux

They know where their eggs are
Ils savent où sont leurs oeufs

To be born somewhere
Être né quelque part

To be born somewhere is to leave when you want
Être né quelque part, c’est partir quand on veut

Come back when you leave
Revenir quand on part

(Name’inqwando yes qxag iqwahasa)
(Nom’inqwando yes qxag iqwahasa)

(Name’inqwando yes qxag iqwahasa)
(Nom’inqwando yes qxag iqwahasa)

Are people born equal in rights
Est-ce que les gens naissent égaux en droits

Where they are born
À l’endroit où ils naissent

(Name’inqwando yes qxag iqwahasa)
(Nom’inqwando yes qxag iqwahasa)

Are people born equal in rights
Est-ce que les gens naissent égaux en droits

Where they are born
À l’endroit où ils naissent

Whether people are born that way or not
Que les gens naissent pareils ou pas

We do not choose our parents, we do not choose our family
On choisit pas ses parents, on choisit pas sa famille

We do not choose the sidewalks of Manila
On choisit pas non plus les trottoirs de Manille

Or Paris or Algiers to learn how to walk
De Paris ou d’Alger pour apprendre à marcher

I was born somewhere
Je suis né quelque part

I was born somewhere, leave me this landmark
Je suis né quelque part, laissez-moi ce repère

Or I lose my memory
Ou je perds la mémoire

(Name’inqwando yes qxag iqwahasa)
(Nom’inqwando yes qxag iqwahasa)

(Name’inqwando yes qxag iqwahasa)
(Nom’inqwando yes qxag iqwahasa)

(Name’inqwando yes qxag iqwahasa)
(Nom’inqwando yes qxag iqwahasa)

Are people born equal in rights
Est-ce que les gens naissent égaux en droits

Where they are born
À l’endroit où ils naissent

Whether people are born that way or not
Que les gens naissent pareils ou pas

Are people born equal in rights
Est-ce que les gens naissent égaux en droits

Where they are born
À l’endroit où ils naissent

Whether people are born that way or not
Que les gens naissent pareils ou pas

Source: LyricFind

Songwriters: Bruno Jean Bernard Le Forestier / Jean Pierre GuignonNé quelque part lyrics © Salut Ô Éditions, SO2 Édition, Quatryo Éditions

24 thoughts on “Né quelque part

  1. Yes I like you, especially when able to think this “what is this world we have created …”
    There is so much to tell, individually about our personal destiny triggered by the fortune or misfortune of our birth, collectively about the animal inside waking up as soon as life becomes harder, I just drop a song in line with your subject that maybe you don’t know, as an unfortunate foreigner : “La ballade des gens qui sont nés quelque part” from our good and great Georges Brassens .

    1. Ah, Phil but Brassens is a different level for us poor non-natives! Do I understand right that the meaning of ‘né quelque part’ is quite the opposite here — that he is poking fun at those (chauvins) who are proud of their own origins? Do you think that Le Forestier’s lyrics are a ‘clin d’oeil’ to Brassens?

      1. Le Forestier wrote his song when French law gave up the “jus soli” that granted French nationality to any child of foreign parents who was born in France until then (1986) . Maxime’s song is from 1988, in the time when le Front National was starting its raise .
        Yes the title is a clear reference to Brassens’ song, which is not the opposite of Maxime’s but just something different .
        You’re right about its general meaning, I tried to post a link to a version showing the lyrics, thinking it could help you, but my old XP is less and less able to play some videos so I cannot check if my link is what I hoped .
        Just know that all along Brassens’ song the perennial refrain is not the title but “Les imbéciles heureux qui sont nés quelque part” . For all of us this is the real title of the song, until now I thought it was . Un “imbecile heureux” is a specific expression in French, asking an educated native about its connotations is needed . It is perfectly suitable for all these people who think they have something to be proud of thanks to their birth .

      2. Thanks Phil! I was able to access the lyrics but reading them the meaning was not obvious to my anglo brain. This is the frustration of learning a language: sometimes you understand the words but the meaning eludes you. Glad to know I got the essence of it anyway. I will try not to be a happy idiot and be proud of what I’ve learned, not what I was born with.

  2. You make the case eloquently. I was a volunteer in the mid-80s in Africa, and it opened my eyes to the extent that what I had was an accident of birth–yes, I worked hard to get through university, but I met so many people who worked harder and who still didn’t have enough to eat, let alone a chance at education or electricity.
    I said this to some friends of my husband’s (not my friends!), and the wife said that Africans were animals and that anything they had was thanks to the whites who had colonized them. We haven’t seen them since. BTW, they live off an inheritance from her father–not as if they worked hard ever. I didn’t think people actually thought that way and was shocked to hear it.
    Regardless of which side of the Atlantic, many of the problems in poor countries were made by the rich ones, whether out of greed or out of a desire to keep them under their thumb. Democracy was suppressed in favor of governments that would be puppets, sending out anybody too independent in coups; multinational companies grabbed natural resources and agricultural bounty at rock-bottom prices.

    1. I admire you for going to Africa to volunteer! I know shamefully little of Africa but am currently reading a novel, Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, that retraces the Nigerian civil war leading up to the tragedy of Biafra. Fascinating and great writing.

      What horrible people those friends were to think so poorly of their fellow man. I don’t know why it is but I put it down to my upbringing, oh-so Catholic, of ‘do unto others’. Even if I rejected the religion, the belief that we are all somehow god’s children runs deep. I pity those whose minds are so closed they cannot see the collective human spirit. Work is one thing — but you have to be able to work, to understand the value of it, to have a bit of luck and not fear for your every breath.

      1. My kid did a stage last summer with a bunch of refugees from Mali and Guinea. They were sent alone to Europe–things have to be desperate for parents to do that. They didn’t want their boys to be kidnapped by Boko Haram or taken into the army. One boy curled into a ball and cried during every lunch hour. Heartbreaking.

  3. You summed it up beautifully in the passage “I have not had to fight for a place, or my beliefs, or my rights as a human being. Yet all of those things only make me more convinced that we are all the same. None of us deserves more than any other to be here. Or there”.

    The comment from Francetaste broke my heart. We cannot know the hardship of those who flee their homes looking for a better life … or worse, who send their children away. I cannot imagine! 😢

    1. Thanks Joanne, glad it spoke to you! It certainly is heartbreaking to think of all the lives torn up by the horrors that force people to try and seek a better life for themselves or their children. The separation of families is indeed difficult to imagine and sad to contemplate.

  4. Accidents of birth, that’s all that separates us, yet it seems that half of humanity believes that the poor are poor because they deserve to be poor. Insane.
    I was born in Hungary and we arrived in Australia as refugees after the 1956 revolution. We had nothing but the clothes we stood up. And my teddy bear. I grew up highly educated and, I believe, a value to society. Yet these days I see refugees treated like criminals, and I wonder what would have happened to me if the ‘free’ world had rejected us as these modern day refugees are being rejected?
    There, but for the grace of god, go I.

    1. There but, indeed… You have lived through the life-changing experience of being a refugee first hand and are, I imagine, all the more grateful to have had the opportunity. Yet you remain humble and open to offering the same opportunity to others, which is not always the case among those who were ‘last in’. It’s funny, somehow refugees fleeing oppressive regimes like communism always seem more worthy in the West’s eyes while those displaced by poverty alone are judged differently.

      I can’t help but wonder: do you still have that teddy bear?

  5. Such a thoughtful piece. It is an argument at my home often as Canada continues to “welcome” illegal refugees crossing from the US. I cannot imagine the heartbreak and worry of trying to find a home for my family. My liberal, privileged, catholic mind only sees that these are people who deserve a place to live as much as we do. Not because we have done anything special. We just happened to be born here. Not everyone agrees…even in my home. It’s a very difficult problem.

    1. I think it’s a topic that divides people everywhere, Karen. Certainly it continues to spark debate in my Canadian family! Often people’s ideas are based on beliefs and attitudes that we cannot argue against. Alas.

  6. My neighbor’s son has applied for a visa to Canada. His last step is to have a conversation in English with someone on the Canadian side to prove he can speak the language (he’s from the US so this is perfunctory). I know this may not be the common sentiment here based on other comments you’ve received but I believe immigrants should be asked to assimilate into the country they are asking to join, like Canada is asking of my neighbor. We can still be a diverse nation (any nation), and be patriotic of our love of nation (which is really just saying we want to preserve our culture) and that doesn’t make us xenophobic. It just means that those who fear the immigration influx are sometimes fearing that the country they love may be changing and they don’t want so many changes so quickly. It bothers me that those who want open borders refuse to see that those who don’t are not all monsters. Many opponents of open borders simply want order and to preserve the culture of the country they love. This is my believe anyway. I welcome the diversity that immigrants afford any nation but the last thing anyone wants is to see cardboard cities like they have in north Paris where the people don’t speak French and are forced to live in these grim conditions with no means to make a proper living. A system overhaul worldwide is needed but the key word for me is system. It’s the chaos that has most people panicked.

    1. I hope your friend’s son gains entry to Canada — it’s a great place to live. Speaking one of the official languages or being willing to learn should be a prerequisite for anyone who wants to live there. That said, we tend to favour multiculturalism over assimilation — although that may be changing — the so-called cultural mosaic over the melting pot. I know my views on open borders are utopian at best, but I don’t think that everyone who wants to control who comes to live in their country are monsters. Only the ones who’d rather see other humans suffer and die rather than extend a helping hand. It is human to fear change and want to protect what we have. And we do need systems, no argument there. The Paris ghettos of the 9-3 are no example of how immigration should be done. But there’s a lot of history there that has led to the current mess. I don’t have the answers but I do know I’d rather live in a world where people are seen as humans first and nationalities second.

      1. You and are in total accord. My husband and I sponsored a Malaysian girl whose student visa for the US had expired. She was gay and didn’t want to return home to an arranged marriage. We had to sign a US government document that said we would be responsible for any debts she incurred and that if she got into legal trouble we would agree to cover her legal fees. We signed the document and I won’t say it didn’t make us nervous. That was 10 years ago and she today she lives in Chicago, has a great job and calls us mom and dad. Sometimes I wonder why other people don’t do this. When the man is in the news being deported, why can’t citizens step up and sign that same document so that he can stay? I want people to take action to fix this and stop throwing verbal stones back and forth. Thanks for the discourse. It is nice to have a conversation and not a shouting match.

      2. Thanks Alison! It is always a pleasure to find common ground and compare diverging views rather than trade insults. What a wonderful thing you and your husband did — such acts of generosity should inspire more of us to do the same!

  7. Beautifully put. You’re so right, how seldom we are grateful for the accident of birth when we are so easily diverted by the ordinary luxuries of our lives. The accident of birth is nowhere more apparent (in its most perjoative sense) than in families like the Trumps. Interesting that traditionally the Chinese viewed the luck of your life as being 70% predestined (no accident of birth there), with the remaining 30% being taken up by the luck of where you live (feng shui) and what you do with your life (the effort you put in). Not sure who came up with those percentages!

  8. Love that song. Thanks for writing about this—the humanitarian immigrant crisis on the southern US border has been hard also. How there are people who can feel superior to others based on where they were born baffles me.

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