The True Meaning of “Belonging”

When I got asked to write about identities, territory and the right way to react in case of catastrophes taking place all over the world, including places where I have some history, I thought “easy breezy”. Reality, as always, tends to differ from the perception and projection we first make. Far from being easy, coming to consciousness about the path one has made can be painful.

I have always had to deal with multiple identity issues. When I was still a baby, my family and I fled from the Algerian civil war and settled down in Belgium. A couple of years later, we were on our way to move again, this time to Canada. The polar climate, however, made us think twice about it, and we went back to Brussels. Throughout these years of indecision, we traveled a lot. My father took us wherever his job responsibilities needed him to go. Hence, I very quickly faced belonging-issues. Speaking French and Kabyle at home, my father also taught my sister and I some Arabic, and we had to learn English quite early in order to make the best of our travels, may it be to the Middle East, to Asia or all over Europe.

Constantly being in the midst of cultural crossroads could have only been the best of experiences, you might think. It sure represents the core of my identity today, but the journey was not always easy. Cultural clashes with my schoolmates did happen. Going out late when I was a teen was very complicated and often required me to lie. However, my parents’ discourse was always about openness. “Be tolerant towards everyone’s background, beliefs and fears” they told us. Judging people has never been part of our mentalities; truly conscious that no one’s reality is above another. I couldn’t thank them more for letting me be whoever I wanted to be whilst giving me the opportunity to confront my own perception with that of others (and even theirs).

I have been living in Paris for a year now. When the attacks took place last November, I was visiting my friends and family in Brussels. The distress I was going through at this time, was so immense that the first week of holidays I had planned in more than a year, with my sister, in Dubai, almost happened without me noticing it (poor me, right?). Brussels was on high alert as well, so I didn’t know whether there was something to worry about at home. A few months later, when Brussels got hit, I was in Paris. I was the one who gave the news about the attacks in Zaventem to my parents, who were quietly getting ready to go to work in the morning. The shock was huge again. At the same time, I heard about the US-airstrike that hit a university in Mosul, killing dozens of people. Saying that this day was one of the worst I went through is an understatement.

I can’t really pinpoint where on the map I can best relate. I keep thinking that there must be a place on earth where I’ll finally feel like home, without really knowing what a “home” is. I can’t count Paris as a place where I feel great to live in, because my way of life tends to clash with Parisians’ manners and common traits. Brussels made me feel claustrophobic although it definitely fits my mood better on a daily basis. Spain, where I spent a semester in 2012 brought me the best of human interactions, but still, not a place where I could see myself settling.

Where the hell is “home” ? Where do I “belong” ? I was already asking myself the question when I was 16 years old and came to some kind of conclusion that home, more than “where the heart is”, knows no boundaries. It does not have to be defined as a location. Still, I wish I could spend more than six months without getting bored with one place, so I keep hoping I will find a reason to settle down somewhere. However, I’m not in a hurry. So far, I know that what drives me in life is the excitement behind the fact that I do not only feel like the world is one single entity, I also know that as messy and volatile as I believe my life can be, I have never been so sure of the values I live by, and I know that the ground upon which these values were forged in no way lessens their universal applicability to me.

If I could relate to one artistic piece, it would definitely be Magritte’s “Le Mal du Pays” (Homesickness) (1940) which I linked to this sentence that I wrote back in 2010 : “Even though these values are a fixed point around which I can build my life, being a melancholic person, I have always felt that the real pulse of life is always beating someplace else, but that this someplace can never be reached.”

Le Mal du Pays