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When are you calling a place home?

“Driving home for Christmas” or the danger of a single story

Blog first published at Check this site for details on our conference "Re-Authoring Futures" on June, 8th and 9th 2018 in Hamburg. Hopefully see you there.

Trees dancing in the snow on both sides of the motorway from Germany to Poland throw long shadows on the wide lines. The colorful traffic jam resolves within minutes. The soft sound of the song “I am driving home for Christmas” fills my car with music while I am driving home for Christmas. It is an early morning, and all my beloved passengers are asleep while I am driving. The cars next to us accelerate and I end up watching a guy behind the steering wheel, driving next to me. I assume he listens to the same song, as he “dances to the same tune”. Is he driving home for Christmas as well?

The chorus of the song reminds me of an awkward situation that happened to me two years ago. After I had spent Christmas at my Mom’s place, at our family house in Silesia (South of Poland) I visited my high school friends in another town. After a fun evening with yummy food and lots of laughter I entered my car at midnight and set on my way to my Mom’s. The distance is not far, approx. one hour drive, when there is snow on the streets. Without thinking too long I pressed the symbol HOME on the gps and switched on the radio. “I am driving home for Christmas” echoed in the car. I drove, and drove and at some point I realized I was not driving home, but HOME. I was so fixed on returning to my family house, which I consider my Polish home that I pressed the gps HOME symbol. That symbol, however, stands for my German address – my HOME in Hannover, where I live with my two kids and my husband. I realized I was driving in the wrong direction when I landed at the toll collect on the motorway to the Polish-German border. All in all, I came to my Mom’s place with one-hour delay. Everybody laughed at me “driving home” and I realized how happy I actually was, being able to call two distant places homes.

We often do not realize how enriching it is to feel home in different cultural settings. Many of us are used to talking in different languages, cooking and eating food from different corners of the world, laughing about comedies from different countries and working in multicultural teams. And still, we are not immune against the danger of a single story that has got a huge impact on our lives as we are taught to think in patterns, accordingly to the scheme “either – or”. “Either you are home or away”, “Either you are a local or a foreigner”, “Either you fall asleep with the feeling of belonging or with nostalgia.” Why not accepting and embracing both?

As global nomads, people often feel home and not home at the same time, as well as they might feel local and foreigners in their places of births. As soon as we realize that we are forced to define places accordingly to some expectations by our surroundings, we label buildings home, house, habitation, etc. We often feel obliged to distinguish between words expressing greater or smaller extent of belonging. Do we, however, realize what emotional world is bound to these words?

HOME is much more than a place we spend time in the private sphere. HOME is the synonym for coziness, acceptance and wellbeing. You can buy a house, but not a home. That is why, lucky those of us who have at least one place in the world, we can call home. Enriched, those of us who have discovered that home is where the heart is and that can be in several places, in various cultures.

As for the danger of a single story, we need to keep in mind that our narrative is just one possible trial of sense making. Our single story might be the one of the multi-perspective approach towards belonging, towards feeling home in different cultures and towards cultural and linguistic diversity. That story, however, is not universal. There are many people whose single story is the one of one home, one language and “one set of traditions”. The greatest challenge of our times is therefor the possibility to create space for a vivid exchange of different stories and accepting that “the driver next to [us] is driving home for Christmas [or simply for a family, friends gathering] with a thousand memories”.

For a powerfull TED talk on the Danger of a single story by Chimamanda Adichie, check the video, please For a powerful conversation on home and belonging as well as experiencing the healing communication on the stage, check my interview with an actress Lisa Liang, the author of the "Earth Odyssey" in January 2018 More about Lisa can be found on her official website"
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