“I think you travel to search and you come back home to find yourself there.”
― Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
When someone asks me where I am from, I hesitate. My answer varies depending on what I think they really want to know about me. Sometimes I say I’m from London. Sometimes I add that I grew up in India. When I meet someone who is familiar with India, the next question they ask is where am I from in India. I pause. I hum and haw. With an embarrassed smile, I tell them it’s difficult for me to answer as I’ve lived all over the country and I couldn’t really call one place or city home. Now I’ve moved to Oslo and it’s not getting any easier to answer. And just yesterday my husband asked me if I’d ever want to live in New York!
Though I grew up in India, I’ve moved so much there, I’ve never felt a sense of belonging anywhere. I’ve studied in over five different schools and lived the longest in a city I got used to but never really loved. I’ve nursed a secret envy for people who have childhood friends, the ones they’ve known since kindergarten. As a child, it was easier to think of our move as a game. I got to see a new place, meet new people, learn new languages and experience new cultures. What’s not to like? I got to learn so much everywhere I lived and I’m eternally grateful for that. And somehow, never once did I question where I belonged. “Nowhere” seemed like a perfectly good answer.
When I moved to London, for the first time in my life, I felt at home. I missed my parents but I was surprised at how quickly I adapted to my new life. It’s not meant to be that easy, is it? Perhaps because I was in love and I got to enjoy life as a real adult (you know, living in your own house, cooking, working, paying bills) and I got to share my life with someone great, everything felt right. I guess I had fine-tuned myself to jump from place to place. I was right to question the ease I felt. It didn’t last long. The crash came soon enough when I struggled with my career and was drowning without a sense of belonging. The flood gates I had held tight shut were thrown open when I least expected it. The waves kept hitting me and I shattered under it’s force. I could not avoid the question anymore. I had to brave finding an answer or face the risk of losing myself completely. Slowly and painfully, I sifted through my life and I realised that the sense of belonging I was looking for does not come from a place or from certain people. It had to come from within. Rather than belonging to a place, I found that when I was happy with myself, I belonged – with my life, with the people I love and who love me, with everything around me. That feeling of love and contentment within made me feel secure. That is home after all, a place where you can be yourself and feel safe.
So when we thought about moving to Oslo from London, the decision to move was a leap of faith that my husband and I decided to take. We wanted to experience living in another city and Norway is great for work-life balance. We knew Oslo would be a big change from London. But, Oslo surprised me.
There is a notion that Norwegians are not friendly and they are reserved and not open to new people. I don’t know how true that is but since I’ve moved to Oslo, I’ve met some amazing people. I’ve lived in London for years and hardly seen my neighbours. The day we moved into our flat in Oslo, every single person who passed by were friendly and welcoming. I joined the Oslo Writers’ League – a writers’ group predominantly made up of expat writers from all over the world. Some of them have lived in Norway for many years. I met fellow writers who are warm, encouraging and generous. As luck would have it, they were in the process of publishing their second anthology. And the themes for the anthology: Crossroads and Identity! So I submitted my poem, “Vulnerable”, and it was included in the anthology. On May 20th, we had the book launch for the anthology, All the Ways Home ( available on Amazon US, Amazon UK and The Book Depository). I heard some of the writers speak about their writing process and their story or poem in the anthology. I was surprised how much all us have in common. Each straddling different cultures and homes, all bound together by our passion for writing. Some called two different cities home, while some, like me, realised that living in different places has changed them in so much that they don’t feel like they really belong in any one of those worlds perfectly. Fitting into a single world is not meant for us. As our editor very wisely put it, we are figuratively homeless and we search for identities and homes that extend beyond a place. For some, home is where the heart is. But if your heart lies spread across countries, a firm sense of “This is where I belong” becomes a journey of exploration.
I read the book and every tale took me on such a journey. A woman who had a miscarriage and felt relief that she could finally have a career, a poet who paid tribute to a friend who had committed suicide, a writer who saw her life as chapters split between Lebanon and Norway, a writer who never felt at home anywhere – the stories kept coming and I was drenched in their emotions. And when I finished reading it, I knew I wasn’t alone in my search and that I had others to share it with. In life, it doesn’t matter where we start or where our destination lies. The journey is what matters. Our identities are not bound to a single place. It’s decided by our experiences and how we see ourselves through them. It helps us learn more about ourselves and who we really are. And with every lesson, we find our sense of belonging within ourselves.
All the proceeds from the sale of this book is going to Utdanningshjelpen, a charity in Norway that sponsors education for children in countries such as Kenya, Ghana, Mozambique and Ethiopia. Everyone who was involved in the making of this book, volunteered their time and talents to make it happen.
So go ahead and buy it, because the stories and poems in this book will change the way you look at where you belong.