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Tue. Jul 16th, 2024

Refugees find a new sense of home

By meerna Jul11,2024
Refugees find a new sense of home

“But such a tide that moves seems to be asleep,

Too full to produce sound and foam,

When that which came forth from the boundless depths

Returns home.

Alfred Lord Tennyson describes death as a ship sailing home in “Crossing the Bar.” Many faith traditions describe the end of life as a reunion with the divine, a kind of homecoming.

Home is where the heart is. Home is what provides warmth and security. But often people have to face the horror of home becoming a death trap. I have been working with refugees for over 20 years and for those refugees who had to flee their countries, home was lost when it was no longer safe. They come to the United States in search of safety, security and a future – no one really says they are looking for home.

Refugee poet Warsan Shire, who had to flee Somalia to save her life, describes it this way in her poem “Home”:

“I want to go home, but home is the mouth of a shark, home is the barrel of a gun, and no one would leave home unless home chased you to shore…”

Home for me was a 150-year-old stone house on a hill in the small town of Beyssour in Mount Lebanon. The original three-room house was purchased by my great-grandfather in 1871. The top floor was added by my paternal grandfather, and other parts were renovated and added to over the years.

When I inherited it in 1976, I told everyone I would never sell it—it had been home to our entire extended family. I expected to raise my children there and leave it to them and their children. Then the civil war broke out in Lebanon and I left the country. I returned in the 90s with my husband and two sons and we lived in my old house for 9 years.

It was supposed to be our last move, but Lebanon never stabilized and we realized we couldn’t continue living in such uncertainty. We returned to the U.S. permanently in 2001. It wasn’t until 2011 that I was emotionally ready to sell my old house. By then, it wasn’t home anymore.

I only recently started thinking about the concept of “home,” inspired by an evening spent at Red Bench: Interfaith Conversations that Matter, a month-long event sponsored by Interfaith Action of Central Texas.

Sitting around a table with five other people discussing home, it quickly became apparent that each of us had a slightly different definition of home.

Home is a place where you feel safe, valued, and appreciated. It’s usually where you grew up. We realized that we identified our first home as the place where “mommy” was. But of course there are thousands of people who have lived at home with family members, including their mother, but have never felt at home.

Someone at our table said that her home was the town where she grew up—not a specific home. The pastor of the group noted that his first home was his church. Another person at our table felt that he had lost his home because he had become estranged from his family and had a divorce. He looked forward to finding home again in a new relationship.

So is home a place? Is it a place at a certain point in our history? A place with specific people in it? Is it a feeling we have about the place we grew up in? Does everyone find it again as an adult?

I was surprised when my adult son, who has a partner and his own home, got up after Sunday dinner and said, “I’m so tired, I think I’ll go home and rest.” And then it hit me. “Oh, this house isn’t a home for him any more—it’s not a place where he rests.”

As his mother, it hurt me a little, but as someone who had witnessed so many people lose their homes to violence and tragedy, I was happy to see his natural transformation.

Lubna Zeidan has been a refugee educator and advocate since birth. After directing the refugee program at Interfaith Action of Central Texas (iACT) for over 20 years, she is now the Director of Employee Success and Engagement. Doing Good Together is collected by iACT, interfaithtexas.org.

By meerna

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