There are as many different experiences of being a foreigner in a far away place as there are people who move. We each have a different story, a different reason for leaving, a different experience of arriving.
Volunteering with asylum seekers in Brussels gave me a glimpse into a very different world from mine. Here were people with many of the same experiences as me – struggling to learn the language, figure out where to shop, trying to get through the beaurocratic red tape of living here.
Only I was moving out of free will. They were fleeing, crossing borders by night to the sound of gunfire. I was welcomed with generally positive attitudes, processes, possibilities. They were met with suspicion, distrust and roadblocks. Let me never forget that I live a life of relative privilege and ease.
And still we are both foreign. We have these layers of language, upon layers of culture, upon layers of identity. And we sift through them daily to figure out who we are. Imagine that.
By Carol Ann Duffy
Imagine living in a strange, dark city for twenty years.
There are some dismal dwellings on the east side
and one of them is yours. On the landing, you hear
your foreign accent echo down the stairs. You think
in a language of your own and talk in theirs.
Then you are writing home. The voice in your head
recites the letter in a local dialect; behind that
is the sound of your mother singing to you,
all that time ago, and now you do not know
why your eyes are watering and what’s the word for this.
You use the public transport. Work. Sleep. Imagine one night
you saw a name for yourself sprayed in red
against a brick wall. A hate name. Red like blood.
It is snowing on the streets, under the neon lights,
as if this place were coming to bits before your eyes.
And in the delicatessen, from time to time, the coins
in your palm will not translate. Inarticulate,
because this is not home, you point at fruit. Imagine
that one of you says Me not know what these people mean.
It like they only go to bed and dream. Imagine that.
Yesterday’s post – Going Home.