That was the single word I intended to post on my Facebook page, as we waited for our luggage to appear on the carousel. We’d just landed after a fabulous trip to Italy, a mix of holiday and family reunion. I’d loved the time away, but it was also good to be home.
Then I saw this post, which appeared at the top of my news feed:
That same word.
The post linked to a poem by poet Warsan Shire, which begins:
no one leaves home
unless home is the mouth of a shark.
you only run for the border
when you see the whole city running as well.
Not exactly the idea I was contemplating when our plane touched down, but it caused me to pause and reflect how much I take my notion of home for granted.
To me the idea of home is not just the house, city or country I live in, but a sense of belonging, connection and safety. I take for granted the ability to obtain a passport and visa to travel. I have the freedom to leave and return at will, without hindrance or fear of reprisal.
I recently wrote a set of writing prompts inviting you to imagine the circumstances under which you, or an invented protagonist, might be forced to flee home. It was a creative exercise about a dystopian future we hope – perhaps assume – will never happen to us.
But for many, leaving home is not in the realm of speculative fiction; it has already become their lived experience.
For them, it’s not a choice the way I chose to leave my home town on my 17th birthday, ready to start afresh in a new city, to experience university and the wider world. No. For them, the repercussions for staying is a catastrophic threat to their lives.
Further on in Warsan Shire’s poem are these words:
I want to go home, but home is the mouth of a shark
home is the barrel of a gun
and no one would leave home
unless home chased you to the shore.
I think of my friend, Cecilia, who fled the Pinochet regime in Chile during the 1980s. She had three weeks to organise a wedding, pack her life into a suitcase and travel to a country she knew nothing about. To remain meant risking her husband becoming one of the Disappeared.
And it reminds me of something my friend, and poet, S. Nagaveeran (interview coming soon), said just a few days ago:
“I didn’t want to leave my country, my mother or my friends. Why would I come here if I could live a peaceful life back home? I didn’t come here to take anyone’s job or house, I came here for a good and peaceful life. I lost all back home and made the risky journey to save my life and give rest to my broken soul.”
Of course, leaving home does not always mean crossing borders. Some make the heartbreaking decision to walk away because of domestic violence, abuse or neglect. Others find themselves homeless, and often invisible, for all kinds of reasons. Aboriginal people were forced from Country and into missions.
Sometimes, it’s a case of being robbed of where you belong, and sometimes leaving home will be the bravest thing you’ll ever do.
What does ‘home’ mean to you?