My name is Philip Kirkbride. I’m a college graduate from Ontario studying at AU. I’ve always wanted to do an exchange program or study abroad but never found the right time to do so. This is part nine in the story of how Athabasca University has allowed me to create my own study abroad program. In part eight we took a ferry across Saguenay River, road on the hilly roads of Route 138, and ended with me grasping my seat as Matt took a steep turn at one hundred kilometers per hour.
“Slow down!” I yelled. Matt accelerated with an evil grin. I leaned to the left as we took a left turn hoping my body weight would help us to stay on the road (stupid, I know). As we turned I swore profanities, for what seemed like a lifetime. Then it was over, no crash. We both laughed and Matt called me a wimp.
We were approaching our final destination Longue-Rive. I texted Matt’s contact Simon saying we would arrive in less than an hour. As we approached the city we got a text “The Auberge Motel I will be back from work soon.” I tried googling the motel but as far as Google was concerned it didn’t exist. I was worried, as asking for directions in this part of Quebec would be difficult.
But, soon my worries were put to rest as we saw a big sign with the name Auberge Motel. We pulled into the parking lot of the motel. The sun had just gone down, so it was fairly dark outside. There were three African-Canadian men who also seemed to have just arrived. They were removing some equipment from the trunk of a car.
As we got out they looked over and one man with a huge smile said loudly “Mathew, you made it! It is so good to see you,” he had a thick African accent. After some small talk he invited us to come with him to have some food and meet the boss. There was a small house beside the motel which was converted into a kitchen. Simon, as it turned out he was named, introduced us to the boss who was standing on the porch. He was a tall African man who spoke English well with a stern voice. After the introduction we entered the kitchen where between ten and twenty other African men were eating. I would later find out that everyone else at the camp was from Africa, specifically the country of Burundi.
Burundi is a small African country located south of Rwanda. Colonized by Belgium, French is widely spoken there alongside the languages of Burundi, Kirundi, and Swahili. Being one of the world’s five poorest countries, many Burundians seek refuge in Quebec where their knowledge of French is an asset.
Burundian cuisine was being made in bulk and we were invited to help ourselves. Simon was afraid we wouldn’t like the food and warned us that it would be served nightly. Fortunately, both Matt and I love trying new and exotic foods. There was a giant pot of an African style beef stew, plenty of spiced rice, and grits.
The food was excellent and I was thankful that they were so open to letting us part take in their culture. They in turn were happy that we were interested in them, their food, and their work. They had come to this country as immigrants looking to build something, and the fact that two English speaking Canadians wanted to work for them must have been confirmation that their hard work was paying off.
After stuffing ourselves with food, Simon took us to our room in the Motel. The whole of the motel had been converted into a work camp. We would pay a daily fee of ten dollars that included motel cost, transportation to work, and food. Really, an amazing value, as it let me eat on my student budget and have a place to rest. Our room contained two single sized beds, a dresser, and two end tables. We unloaded our stuff and went outside with Matt to prepare our equipment for the morning. We each had a giant brush-cutting saw which Matt had provided, a bag of tools, and a container to carry gas in.
We drank beers as we assembled our saws and double-checked to make sure we had everything we needed. I tried to hide the fact that I had no idea what I was doing as I put together my saw, though I imagine it was probably quite obvious to everyone else. Everyone was paid based on how much land they cleared each day, meaning the harder and longer you worked the more you’d get paid.
The effect of this pay arrangement meant everyone prepared to make sure they could be as efficient as possible, clearing vast spaces each day. I felt like I was at an army camp the day before we were to go into battle. The enemy, the thick bush. And we would have to cut our way through to secure glory and victory.
Simon came out again and informed us that breakfast would be served at 4:30am. Knowing I would need all the strength I could gather I went to bed a few minutes later just after 9:00pm. I fell asleep quickly, exhausted, and dreading the pain I knew I would face the next morning.