Out at a friend’s birthday party in Warsaw, I was chitchatting with a nice couple I just met. As soon as they heard about my little odyssey abroad, they were curious to know if I’d considered coming back home. Everybody asks that, and I both enjoy and dread the question. I told them I started to feel like a tourist in my own city and immediately felt really dumb and pretentious for saying it.
Then out at dinner with someone whose work I admire (and whose human rights-y job I’d like to have), the conversation dipped towards expatriation once more. My interlocutor had recently returned to her native Iraqi Kurdistan after 20 years abroad and she understood perfectly the tragedy of feeling like a tourist at home.
So this time I didn’t feel like a pretentious freak, I felt like I just said the most obvious thing ever.
We exchanged anecdotes of uprootedness and like the wiser, more experienced Internet, she confirmed it was pretty standard to wonder what the hell you might have in common with the vast majority of your compatriots. Especially during elections.
Other common tunes you may play as you travel through the world (this now includes the place you’re originally from): I can throw shade at my country/people, but don’t you dare criticise it; and I don’t understand what the fuck they’re doing over there, but I’m 100% proud of my origins, historically; and it all lives within me.
It’s hardly surprising to discover your feelings aren’t nearly as unique as you imagined them to be while you were eating your weight in cookies to numb the loneliness.
The beauty of human experiences lies in the fact that they’re finite and it’s all been done (and written about) before. And yet, I was surprised.
Because it is surprising and also strangely reassuring when an internally displaced Kurd tells you she’s gone through the exact same thing, cookie-wise (it somehow elevates your white privileged troubles, too). And when a Palestinian friend who hasn’t seen her mother in 8 years totally gets the angst related to getting lost in your own city.
I’d like my own mother and friends back home to get it, too. In the meantime, I find affinity with people whose experiences of emotional displacement I share only nominally, because at the end of the day, I can go home to eat my weight in ogórki kiszone anytime I fucking wish. But most of all, I find affinity and support right here, on this blog.
We’ve known each other for the better part of our lives and as we were preparing the launch of Jajnik Ciemności, we’ve gotten to talking, and I mean REAL kinda talking, all together, probably for the first time ever.
Turns out we’re all going through the same — big and small — tragedies of displacement.
Out for lunch with one of the ladies who runs this blog, I talked about expatriation again. I didn’t even have to get to the core of what troubles me, when she gave me a thoughtful look, walked over to her bookcase and then handed me a book with the words this will make you feel better. It was Jhumpa Lahiri’s “Namesake”, and you know what? It did. It so did.