Sense of belonging
A need life should allow us all to fulfill
By Sally Amir
August 2, 1999
You are either born into a world where you belong and remain there or
you are uprooted from that home and then it is nigh on impossible to find
a sense of belonging again. What I mean by a home is not just a country
or a town or a region. What makes a home is the people who surround you
from the day you are born, the sounds you hear, the scent of the air you
breathe, the language that is spoken around you.
You see, for me it is not a matter of politics, of what you believe
in, of being patriotic -- these are all just words and sentiments so often
used and abused. What I am talking about is a very neutral -- and I believe
universal -- feeling; a need to belong to somewhere and someone, a need
which life should allow us all to fulfill.
Although I have lived in England since 1974, when I was just seven,
my earliest memories of a world where I belonged take me back to the Middle
East and within that vast and jumbled realm, to Iran where I was born to
an Iranian father and an Armenian-Iranian mother and where in my memory
people were always kind and warm hearted and all was well.
Even now I recall the safety of my grandmother's home and the joy of
just being with my aunt. I have pictures in my mind of the summer sunshine,
heat and dust and sweet ice cold drinks in homes cooled by powerful roaring
air conditioning, colored by wonderful reds and blues on silken carpets
and scented with the overpowering smell of jasmine or hyacinths in the
I recall swimming pools twinkling like jewels beckoning me in the heavy
heat of noon. I see myself sitting with my great aunt who was Iranian Armenian
and a seamstress, listening to her speak in a language unknown to me and
yet familiar, watching her go about her work, the big black Singer sewing
machine coming to life as she powered it with her foot and whirring away
while I dozed under a cool sheet in the afternoon.
I recall sleeping outside in the summer under a net with my grandmother
gazing up at a sky which was truly black and jam packed with bright bright
stars, eagerly anticipating the next day's shopping trip, first drinking
sweet black tea with fresh lavash and cheese early in the morning, mimicking
my grandmother as she bent and rose in her namaz and then wandering around
Tehran in wonderful communal taxies all of which seemed to have the same
one hundred or so postcards of Googoosh plastered all over the interior.
Then there are the memories of my maternal grandfather, sitting up on
a mattress on the floor, reading my coffee cup, foretelling great joy and
fortune and lots and lots of toys and going to the cinema with my aunt,
watching English comedies beautifully dubbed into Farsi and stepping on
a carpet of discarded tokhmeh.
There was also the hustle and bustle every Friday at one of my many
uncles' homes, the hubbub of numerous cousins excitedly chattering away
with each other., always expressing surprise at just how much I had grown
since last they saw me, making me feel so pleased with myself. I have not
forgotten the beggar who lived at the top of our street, who always prayed
for me as I gave him my pennies, often feeling concerned about him long
after we had passed him by.
Above all I remember the sheer joy of my flight from London landing
in Tehran airport every school holiday, spotting my father in the crowd
always in the front, rushing to him , taking in his familiar smell after
months of distance. Funny that those were the only times I remember seeing
my parents living a normal life and being happy, not stooping under the
burden of loss of a life and country to which they belonged.
Then through no fault of my own, at the age of 12 it was all taken away
from me in 1979. One day I said goodbye to it all, to all the people I
knew and loved and flew back to England. And now so many of the people
I loved have passed away -- I will never see them again, those people to
whom I belonged.
But I have lived a great life here in England, first as an Iranian,
then as a refugee, next as a British citizen and finally now as a person
who has both a British and Iranian passport. I became a solicitor, married
and now have a boy and a girl of my own, Darius and Donya and I belong
Yet I have reached a point when I no longer want to feel that a huge
chunk of my life, of my origins, is forbidden to me. I need to go back
and see the home I lost so long ago. I am tired of reminiscing and suddenly
the germ of an idea is flourishing in my mind -- what if I go back now,
can it really be possible that after all these years of negativity and
fear at last I can go back and recall at least a hint of that feeling of
I know it will not be the same but ..
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