Posted in Art, Culture


10310657_650801698303093_5095080523172767115_n(Sculpture by Bruno Catalano)


(Welsh, noun) A homesickness for a home to which you cannot return, a home which maybe never was; the nostalgia, the yearning, the grief for the lost places of your past.

Sculptures don’t often “speak” to me.  I’m more of a words kind of girl…  Yet when I saw these pictures, they didn’t just speak, they struck a very deep chord. Suitcase in hand, off to new horizons.  Somehow I don’t think he is off on his summer holidays.  This looks more serious.  Maybe he is emigrating, all his possesions in one suitcase.  Unlike me, shipping boxes and boxes full of stuff from my old home to the new one.

Either way, the travelling, the good-byes have left their mark.  He leaves part of himself behind.  The people, the places, that made that season of his life special. He can take his memories with him but there will always be the aching, the longing, the hiraeth.

“A homesickness for a home to which you cannot return”.  These days, travel is easy. Many of us are able to return to the places we have left behind.  Those are special times. And yet…  It is never truly returning home. Places change, people leave or pass away, we ourselves change.  Relationships will never be the same again.

In the leaving, there is great excitement and hope. There is also the first inkling of hiraeth, of leaving behind a part of yourself that can never be retrieved. So often the joy and the richness of discovering a new place, new relationships, and the painful longing for the old, “for the lost places of your past”, go hand in hand.

Refugees, emigrants of old, people who know, who knew, that a physical return will be nigh on impossible – how much more deeply must they feel, have felt that “hiraeth”.

Hiraeth bears considerable similarities with the Portuguese concept of saudade (a key theme in Fado music), Galician morriña and Romanian dor (

For a beautiful piece on “saudade” look here:

Another post inpired by these scupltures (and a bit more information about the artist):

This is where I first came across the sculptures and the quote:


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A View That Says Home

1780244_10152082258992928_1213650001_o(Foto: Olaf Schieche)

I don’t know how many times I’ve come across this bridge on the train.  Many many times during my years at university!  More times than my parents care to remember, I’m sure, as they spent way too much times at Hamburg-Dammtor, waiting for my train to arrive.  It’s a cold, draughty station (aren’t they all?) and despite their reputation abroad, German trains are not always on time. So all too often my parents would venture into McDonald’s (something they would ordinarily NEVER do) for an apple pie and to warm up.

Meanwhile, I would have been on the train for many hours already, making my way north.  Slowly the hills would disappear and the land would become flat (and I mean really flat)!  A sure sign that I didn’t have far to go.  That I was nearly home.  Then the warehouses started appearing, the cranes that move containers, side arms of the River Elbe.  The excitement grew!

Hauptbahnhof always felt like a bit of an annoying delay.  Most passengers got off there, the train became very quiet.  Then we set off again.  I wanted to stay seated for as long as I could, to be able to really enjoy this view.  The view that says “home” like few others do.  Instead I collected my stuff and headed into the corridor, awkwardly crouching down because I really didn’t want to miss THE VIEW.  And then I was home.

On the return journey, the view was the same, yet the feelings were very different.  There was a quiet sadness at leaving, yet also an excitement that started to build as I got ready to return to my “other life”.

I haven’t come across this bridge in a long time.  For many years, I was living abroad and arriving at the airport became the new normal.  Now I’m back in the country and do often travel by train again.  These days, though, I get off at Hauptbahnhof and therefore miss the view.  Life changes.

Yet when this picture appeared on my Facebook feed, I was instantly back in that place and time.  All those feelings were real again.  The view that carries so many emotions.

The View That Says Home.

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What’s in a home


(photo: Huang Qingjun)

The content of a home.  What stories does it tell?  About the people.  About their lives.  About the country and society they live in.

Some of it seems so incongruous.  A mud house and a satellite dish.  Only the very basics and yet a television.

Part of me really wants to climb into the picture, to meet the people, to hear the real stories.  Understand the constraints (financial and therwise) on their lives.  Ask them what it is that makes their house a real home for them.

So much I would love to know.  Why are there no books?  Is that telephone maybe the only link to family far away?  What are the precious things, the things that hold special memories, the things that make them smile?  How does the rapid economic development in China affect them – and bypass them?

So many stories I would love to hear!

(I recently re-discovered this article which talks about a project by Chinese artist Huang Qingjun, described in the article like this: “Huang Qingjun has spent nearly a decade travelling to remote parts of China to persuade people who have sometimes never been photographed to carry outside all their household possessions and pose for him.”)

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Oh How I Want This!

My dream home would definitely have one of these!

A place to hide in, to take a break from the world, to dive into a book.

A closet transformed into a book nook.

I would happily give up a closet for that.  If only I had a closet to give up…

Click here for the original link.

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Like a Leaf in the Air

Living the life of a refugee is living just like a leaf in the air, you just hang in the air and you do not have a sense of belonging.  You have been uprooted and you are not allowed to go back to where you belong.  (Neda Soltani*)

Recently I have been reflecting a lot on places and their importance in giving us a sense of identity, belonging and rootedness.  In the midst of this, I happened to hear an interview with Neda Soltani, a refugee from Iran living in Germany.

Like a leaf in the air

Her words haunt me, the words she uses to describe her sense of having lost her home, her roots, her place in life.

What is it like to lose all that, without a way back?  To be cut off from people and places you love?  I have made many of these transitions and they have been difficult.  But I have always made them voluntarily.  I could have always gone back.

Like a leaf in the air

Twirling around, detached from the tree you were a part of.

I have friends who have lived this, and are living it.  They have found a new home, have put down some roots.  Yet a part of them is missing in this new place.

12 million. The number of refugees in the world today (according to the IRC).  There are many difficult issues related to this – challenges for host communities, people who abuse the system.  And yet those are 12 million human beings having to live

Like a leaf in the air.

*”Neda Soltani’s life was turned upside down when the international media used her photo instead of that of a student shot dead during a demonstration in Iran.”  You can hear her story on the 1 October 2012 edition of Outlook on BBC World.

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Home, sweet – what?

I can’t quite remember how many years into my cross-cultural life I realised I no longer knew where I belonged.  The first 19 years of my life were spent in one city (Hamburg, Germany) but since then, I have moved around quite a bit: UK, France, back to Germany, Russia and then 15 years in the UK.  Somewhere in there I realised the word home had lost its meaning.  Or maybe it had gained additional meaning.  There was “home” in the sense of a place that had shaped me and that held childhood memories.  But “home” as a place where my deepest relationships were, where I understood the cultural cues, and knew how to relate – that was a different place.  There was definitely pain involved in realising I had lost something many people take for granted.  At the same time, there was SO MUCH I had gained by living cross-culturally, that there was no way I would want to change anything.  The price was real, but it was definitely worth paying!

If nothing else (and there are lots of other things!), it has helped me gain a much deeper understanding of some of my favourite verses in the Bible (from Hebrews 11):

“They admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth.  If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return.  Instead, they were longing for a better country.”

A year ago, I moved to Berlin and am discovering that re-entry adds a whole other angle to the idea of “home”!  But that is a story for another day…

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Home Squared

I have just finished reading Barack Obama’s “Dreams From My Father”.  There is so much to think about and I’ll probably come back to it a few times.  But here is one thing that’s kind of stuck with me and that I have been mulling over. 

When he goes to Kenya to explore his roots there, some of the family take him back to the village the Obamas came from.  This is what they explain along the way:

“By the way,” Roy said to me, lighting a cigarette, “it’s not Home Square.  It’s Home Squared.”  “What does that mean?” “It’s something the kids in Nairobi used to say,” Auma explained “there’s your ordinary house in Nairobi.  And then there’s your house in the country, where your people come from.  Your ancestral home.  Even the biggest minister of businessman thinks this way.  He may have mansion in Nairobi and build only a small hut in the country.  He may go there only once or twice a year.  But if you ask him where he is from, he will tell you that that hut is his true home.  So, when we were at school and wanted to tell somebody we were going to Alego, it was home twice over, you see.  Home Squared.”  Roy took a sip of his beer.  “For you, Barack, we can call it Home Cubed.”

I felt a sense of longing and slight envy when I read that.  I feel more like I have just added new homes to old ones. They’re all different and special but there is none that is a solid foundation.  I go back to Hamburg, where I grew up, and I love it.  There are a lot of memories.  But I now have very few firneds there.  When my parents don’t live there anymore, will it still feel like home at all?

I go back to where I went to uni and again, almost every road holds memories.  What a significant time it was! 

But in both places I am only a visitor.

Birmingham is now home.  I know where things are, I know lots of people, I (sort of) know where I “fit” in many situations.  But roots?  Not really.

Where is my Home Squared?  Or Cubed? 

I’m beginning to think that is how it should be!  After all, all the amazing people in Hebrews 11 “were looking for a better place, a heavenly homeland.”  (Hebrews 11:16)  And my “citizenship is in heaven.” (Philippians 3:20) 

That’s where I really belong, Home with a capital “H”!  And what an amazing blessing it is to have lots of other homes as well!

Maybe things only get confusing when I try and find my Home in a place that can only ever be a home.