Musings, Volunteering

On Being Home and Homeless

My father had always teased me for helping displaced refugees while being homeless myself.

And it’s true – technically I’ve not had my own place since the end of August. Thus, I’d practically been homeless for more than two months, moving through ho(s)tels, friends’ places, and countries. At one point I was even staying in a Buddhist meditation centre due to my volunteering project.

While constantly having to think about where I should go next, I was also bothered with the issue of visa – the British government is quite keen on kicking international students who have completed their studies out of the country, while my Schengen visa is only valid for 3 months and is due to expire in early November. Not to mention funding. My scholarship ended in September so I was basically living off from my savings and the little money I earnt from my part-time job as a kitchen porter. So the unpleasant feeling of being homeless and unwelcomed was always lurking.

One thing I have to say about my current state: it’s incredibly tiring.

Being home is not just about having a roof on top of your head. It’s about the little things that make you know you’re home: opening the front door to a familiar scent, being able to lie on your own bed at night, and knowing exactly the feel of your pillow, just the way you like it.

I also discovered, much to my surprise, that I’ve come to identify home with my jars of spices. There’s something comforting about opening your kitchen cupboard, knowing that all your spices are there within reach, anytime you need to cook yourself a dish that tastes like home. Being constantly on the travel made me crazy. I missed the feel of turmeric, garlic and shallots between my fingers. I missed my jars of salt, white and black pepper, and chilli powder. I missed my bottles of coriander, soy sauce, and sesame oil. I grew so fed up of both fancy fine-dining food and cheap fast food, and realised there’s nothing like a self-cooked dish to make me feel at home.

While my friends and beau did their very best to make me feel at home, something which I wholly appreciate, it always felt like a sojourn. Every time I began to settle down, an underlying notion haunted me, reminding me that I would have to move again and find another place to stay.

All this sentimentality got the better of me; and I finally decided to give up and just go home. Home to my home country, Indonesia.

It’s relieving – the realisation that I have a home to go home to, although the home is thousands of miles away.

Maybe that’s why I sympathise greatly with my refugee friends. Poverty is a huge issue in Indonesia, and it’s something I care about too. But coming from a typical middle class family, I must confess that I would never be able to truly identify myself with them.

Refugees living rough on the streets.

But having a home –not necessarily a house– is, and should be, everyone’s basic rights. And my refugee friends, fleeing from their war-torn and conflict-ridden home countries, are deprived of that luxury. Unable to go home and unwelcomed in their destination, they are trapped in an impasse. It’s especially difficult being a refugee in Europe; with winter coming, the lives of the most vulnerable are at stake because it’s absolutely no joke how freezing it is in refugee camps.

Most importantly, it is incredibly depressing to know that you are not welcomed anywhere.

That you are persecuted in the homeland you hold dear to your heart and unable to go back.
That you are rejected by the land that you hoped would provide you with a life of safety and dignity.
That you are torn from your family and loved ones, not knowing when you will see them next.
That the whole life you spent building shattered right before your eyes and you are left with next to nothing.
That you don’t know where to go and that you have to tryandtryandtry to get into your “dreamland” of refuge only to fail and wish that you’d have better luck tomorrow.

I was homeless for two months, and it was enough to take every ounce of strength and willpower from me. But my homelessness was temporary and by choice, and that made all the difference.

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