‘Home’ means so many different things to different people. Whether it’s a specific geographic location or a state of mind, home brings peace of mind, comfort and a feeling of security.
Where would we be without our own personal version of home to go back to? What is it like when you literally lose your home, and you are unwelcome wherever you go?
I cannot even imagine what it must be like for millions of refugees around the world, who have been forced to flee their home, and are searching this earth for somewhere to start over again. Upon losing their home and status, they have also lost the many rights that we often take for granted. What happens to a whole generation that is suddenly rendered stateless, living in limbo, when they don’t have access to education, to jobs so they can earn a living, to adequate health care that keeps their family members healthy, to a safe environment where they can be free of violence?
Today is May 15. To Palestinians around the world, it is a day of mourning and remembrance, marking 67 years of exile.
For more than six decades the United Nations Relief and Works Agency has provided what was originally meant to be emergency relief to families, many of whom remain in UN refugee camps in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Gaza and the West Bank.
67 years of living as refugees, and counting.
It is also a day of longing for one’s homeland, one’s family, sense of being, and all the million and one things that make life worth living.
Like just being at home.
As this day approaches, I remember my brief visit to witness the lives of families in refugee camps in Beirut and near Baalbek. I remember the generosity, the laughter, the warm welcome, the kindness, and I will never forget the pain of exile and statelessness that took hold of their lives.
Undoubtedly, my own roots are front and centre in my mind when I work on my paintings. When I was working on this particular one, I was listening to an old song recorded by Lebanese singer, Siham Shammas, and written by the brilliant musical giants, the Rahbani Brothers. [https://youtu.be/Q2LXD1LrE4k]
It is a song that hauntingly captures that agonising state of longing for something one can’t have. It is sung by a woman who is caught in a vacuum, looking out into nothingness. She marks the passage of time by the number of days since her exile began, and the number of days till she returns home. The sting of her yearning is heightened as a bird flies by, letting her know that it is on its way home… flying over human-made borders, unchecked. Something she could never do.
A beautiful song. Bitter sweet, and profound. And it trails off without a satisfying ending.
In much the same way, the future of millions of Palestinian refugees is yet unwritten and has certainly met no satisfying closure.
On this day, and every day, we honour our heritage. We remember our grandparents and parents, and we pause to mourn the collective catastrophe – the ‘nakbeh’- that our people has experienced.
But we must not allow our future to remain unwritten, or even worse, to be written by others. We are responsible for our own destiny, and we must ensure that whatever attempts to wipe out our names, villages, towns, identities… our very being … are all in vain.
Because we are here, we do exist, and the homeland we belong to still awaits us… not as a battleground for violent egos to wage their wars, but as a haven for families to return to their grandparents’ olive groves, to greet their neighbours, and dip their toes once more in the glittery Mediterranean waves off the shores of Acre and Jaffa.
My heart goes out to anyone who exists in the painful vacuum of statelessness. May all those who have lost it, find their way back home.
[ to listen to the song: https://youtu.be/Q2LXD1LrE4k]
Yet Another Day has Passed [translation of the song]
Yet another day has passed… yet another day has passed
Our exile from home has become one day longer, and our return home is one day closer
Yet another day has passed… another day…
I stand in the shade of the poplar tree in the autumn
as the pavement gazes intently into the void and the dust
A bird bade me farewell, saying “I am off towards my homeland”
He brought back memories of my land.