An Incomplete Multi-Cultural Package: the Notion of Belonging

IMG_5239I’ve heard people debate the notion of ‘home’ countless times. Some say it’s the place where everything is familiar, others say it’s not a place, but merely a feeling of belonging. I myself wasn’t quite sure of the answer up until a few nights ago.

Growing up between Lebanon and Spain has left me in an identity crisis. What would I tell people if they were to ask me which of those countries do I call home? Contemplating hard on who I was, I came to the conclusion that I didn’t belong to one place.

I spoke English fluently, but didn’t have a perfect accent. I attended a German school yet I wished I possessed the knowledge of the Deutsche Glossar that Mrs. Waldermann used to flaunt around in class. My Spanish rusts from time to time, my French stops at the basics, and to top it off, here where I’ve lived the longest, I’ve had people tell me I have a weird Arabic accent. I am what I’d like to call, an incomplete multi-cultural package.

This got me thinking: People who can’t tell where they belong to, where their homes are, could have one of two ways of looking at it. They can belong to many things, many places, ideas, and even people. They don’t have one home; their home is scattered around neighborhoods, alleyways and airports. They can’t decide where they belong because it’s not one place that they belong to. They live in a longing state, longing to return to another part of the earth and never quite feeling that they’re finally home.

The other way of looking at belonging is when people belong to nothing. They never consider themselves truly belonging in one place. They travel a lot, live each place as if they were to settle there. Then they pack their bags, take a final picture and embark on a new journey to a new destination. While living out of a suitcase may seem messy for some, these people truly love having their life in their hands, literally!

I understand this may not appear to be a problem everyone can relate to. The appeal that travel and global experiences have at face value is in fact a privilege, but reading Charles Malik’s introduction allowed me to view this as a personal struggle. Struggle varies from person to person but no matter the details of one’s life, one cannot escape struggle.

The reason behind all this blog is that I believe I may have come to my own conclusion regarding my concept of home and belonging. Life is divided into stages, and in those stages we have our own individual phases. Whether it was the childhood memories or the start of university life, these milestones weren’t stepped on by the same individual. Home to me changes. For someone who has dreams of visiting many places, I worry that my mark won’t be left anywhere, and that the wonderful people I meet on my way won’t remember the experiences we share.  This definition of home puts a smile on my face. I can finally leave a place knowing I’ve made a home out of it.

Lebanon will always be home, but so will the tree house in the mountains of Alley, the shade under the umbrella in the beautiful Valencian beach and the Heidelberg Bridge in Germany. I believe if you could make a home out of everywhere you go, then maybe, one day, the earth would mean as much to you as your childhood house does.

Natalie Rafeh is a regional intern at the World Youth Alliance Middle East.