For those of you who do not know – or may have forgotten – I would like to describe a place called “Albion”. There is no country of that name in the modern world; it cannot be found on modern maps. Rather, Albion is an ancient name for Britain, that island comprised of the modern nations of England, Scotland and Wales.
Albion means “White Land”, probably a reference to the spectacular White Cliffs of Dover, which visitors (or invaders) would have seen on arrival by boat. Some people, however, believe it refers to the foggy weather for which Britain is famous.
The name is thought to be Celtic in origin, derived from “albus”, the Latin word for “white”. It was first mentioned in ancient Greek sources during the fifth or sixth century BC. The Romans, who invaded England in AD 43, used the name Albion, although their own name for the place – “Britain” – later prevailed.
Albion to this day is used as a poetic name for England. It was widely prevalent in nineteenth century fiction and I must admit to liking it. It has an appealing, mysterious sound, suggestive of old castles, mist-shrouded valleys and allegedly supernatural phenomena. It was to this “Foggy Albion” that I was determined to go.
When I had first signed up with the agency in Lithuania, I fully expected that my work would be in London or one of its suburbs. However, as my day of departure came closer, I learned that the job was somewhere quite different – in the northern city of Leeds. Before boarding the plane to London, I spoke with a woman from the agency who gave me the address in Leeds. She said that the people there would organize my documents and direct me to my workplace.
I travelled to “my Albion” for the first time on 23 August, 2005, arriving alone at London’s Stansted Airport. As I mingled with the people in the crowded airport and listened to them speaking, I felt like I’d been hit over the head.
“This is England?” I thought. “What language are they speaking? This is not the language that I learned!”
Such was my first impression of the various dialects around me; I seemed to be swamped in a sea of foreign-speaking people. Luckily, at the airport information office, I was able to communicate in English and understand what I was told.
Everything was new to me and there was a lot of excitement, but I realized that I had to concentrate and think about what to do, where to go and what I needed. The journey to my first place of work was going to be long and intricate, and I had to focus.
I bought a bus ticket and started on my journey to Leeds, which was not at all close. I travelled all night, and on arrival I took a taxi to the agency’s office. At the agency, people were arriving from everywhere and their objective was the same as mine: to get a job. I didn’t meet anyone from Lithuania.
At the office, I learned that I would work as a nurse’s assistant – also called a “care assistant”. I would be paid the minimum wage, which was £4.85 in England at that time. I was disappointed that I was not being offered work as a qualified nurse. In Lithuania I had worked as medical sister, and I was convinced that I would immediately get similar work in England. I did not understand yet that the English health system was very different from the Lithuanian, that I must overcome various obstacles to reach my goal.
I was told that I would be working in Southport, a city on the west coast of England, 17 miles north of Liverpool. I was very surprised that I was being sent to Southport because the agency had not mentioned the place at all.
I called the woman from the Lithuanian agency to find out what was happening. Why was I being offered poorly-paid care-assistant work? She explained that I would have to go back to London, where another agent would meet me and explain everything. Before heading back down to London, however, I had to complete the employment documents at the office in Leeds. This took all day, so I was obliged to stay overnight at a hotel.
The next morning, I journeyed back down to London. While I was on the bus, I received a call from a man who spoke in English. I wasn’t quite sure who he was, but he was unhappy that I was not taking the job in Southport. He offered to meet me at Euston railway station in London, where we would discuss my options. I did not understand anything that was going on – but I had to trust him.
We met at Euston as arranged, and it became clear that he was the manager of the agency in Lithuania. He said that I should take the job I was offered in Southport, and using my money, he bought me a train ticket for the next day. He said I could spend the night in an empty cottage on the outskirts of London, an area mostly inhabited by newcomers from Asia.
Just to make my situation more complicated, as I was preparing to return to Southport, I received a phone call from someone offering me a job in London. The man on the phone said the job was mine if I wanted it; all I had to do was get on a bus to the workplace. He was even willing to pay for my ticket across London. It was very tempting, but I declined the offer. After all, who was to know whether it would be better or worse than Southport?
My thoughts were racing by now. I knew the agent’s communications to be poor, so I wasn’t so surprised to find some confusion over where I would be working. But I faced another problem: Where was London? Apparently, I was in London already, but I felt like I hadn’t really seen it. My impressions of the city were based solely on Euston Station and the area in which I stayed overnight.
Of course, I didn’t have time to think too deeply about London and how it looked. I was thinking only about my own safety, and about tomorrow’s trip to Southport, where my new job was waiting for me. Despite the confusion and various difficulties, I was accompanied everywhere by a silent feeling of joy; after all, I had not yet been cheated or left alone on the street.
Yes, there had been some confusion, but everything was working out just right. Looking back, I don’t regret a single moment of those first few days. After all, I’m an optimist, and I believe in Fate. Wherever Fate leads you is where you’re meant to be.