Apricots and Cycle Lanes: Reflections from a Palestinian Living Abroad
A short reflection in honour of this month’s important days for Palestine: Palestinian Independence day on November 15 and the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People on November 29.
I moved to Europe five years ago, and I’ve noticed a pattern in the way I experience living here. It starts with excitement, then moves into cynicism and longing and finally an acceptance. This cycle repeats itself in a different way every time.
It begins with excitement, everything is beautiful and new and there's a lot to see. Museums, beautiful buildings, walks along the river, the changing colours of the leaves, exciting new topics in theatre and comedy and curiosity about all the interesting foods in the supermarket. I have a lot of good will to learn and soak up the ways of being in this new country. I enjoy the new found freedom in being in a city where you are more or less anonymous; where when you meet someone for the first time they aren’t trying to assess your last name, are you related to so and so, what does your father do, or whether are you Muslim, Christian, or Jewish. Oh how freeing it feels to be able to have and own your own identity without anyone forming opinions about it before you indicate them yourself.
Then winter comes, and winter is long - six months of it. And I’m introduced to new ways of living, such as waking up and going to work while it’s still dark. One day, on a crisp cold winter afternoon, it’s sunny and the sky is blue, I make a point of standing in the cold and looking into the sun and I begin to think about the things I took for granted like sunlight and blue skies. I smell something that reminds me of food from home, and I am reminded of what we eat on cold winter days - lentil soup, artichokes - and I yearn for this taste. I hear the call to prayer from a mosque at a far distance and all of a sudden I feel warm and I stand still in the hope of hearing it again.
I miss home. I miss my family and friends, I miss the climate and the food. I begin to compare my home culture and the one I live in now, and suddenly everything seems better at home (the first symptom of homesickness). Then I start to romanticise these elements that I miss, and as soon as that happens, they cease to be real life objects and become an ideal that I cannot explain to others.
I begin to experience that initial freedom that I found in anonymity as isolating and hostile. In an effort to narrow the sea between my own culture and the one I live in now, I seek out Arabic/Palestinian related events to connect to what I know. I look for art to put on my walls that reminds me of home, and I begin to cook foods I am familiar with and enjoy.
When spring and summer gloriously shower the city with roses and blossoms, and I see beauty in this new country, I can look back and reflect on how difficult I found it. I look at the art on my wall and my often failed attempts to reconnect with my culture and recognise that I was grieving a loss. I cannot be in two places at the same time but I really want to.
I am brought back to this moment right now, and I consider, can my home exist alongside the reality of where I live now? For myself and my own life, can I create a culture that brings in the things I love about both worlds? The answer: I can only but try.
This cycle has repeated itself again and again, and at times different stages linger longer than others. When there is political unrest I linger in the yearning and missing, as if it could solve the conflict, and when things are relatively quiet I feel more free to enjoy the reality I live in. Every year I come across something else that I miss from home, and every visit back I’m reminded of something else that makes me appreciate Europe.
Right now, I’m missing flavorful apricots and being able to pop over to a friends house for a cup of coffee, but I am also appreciating the availability of cycle lanes.
Nardine - A Palestinian Brit who likes bread and labaneh with a cucumber, and a good cup of English tea (with milk of course).