Manal is from Iraq. She lives in Norway. This is a translation of the transcript of her recorded story:
"I am Manal from Iraq and I have been living in Norway for almost 11 years since 2009. I came here through a program for journalists. My journey was relatively easy compared to that of other refugees because everything was arranged before I came. I used to work in journalism and culture in Iraq, in local and Arab newspapers. Here in Norway, I continued to work in journalism in the free press after my arrival and now I work as an editorial secretary in a Norwegian quarterly magazine in Oslo.
At the beginning, the most challenging thing when I arrived here was understanding the laws and the system. This was even more difficult than language because I knew English very well which helped me a lot. Refugees who are English-speaking do not find it very difficult to communicate with others in the Scandinavian countries. But with time and residence, the individual must - especially if he becomes a citizen after that - prove his ability to speak the local language to communicate at a level suitable for work and other kinds of participation. But as I said, English has greatly helped me in communicating with others. I noticed that when refugees come to these Scandenavian countries, they suffered from the communication gap because they mostly do not know any international languages. Having English as my second language is a very useful tool in communicating and if it was not for that, I would have faced many difficulties.
I attended a cultural seminar due to my work in the field. There was an intense presence from the audience, both refugees and immigrants. Almost all of them were from the young generation who have recently arrived, so there were discussions and questions. Some routine questions that are always asked of refugees are: how the country of asylum has affected them; how well have they integrated; do they miss their country; are they going back to their country. We always face these questions, and there were two views at the seminar. My colleague who is an artist talked about her continuous homesickness for her country and how she was unable to adapt despite having been in Norway for some time. I had another opinion, and the audience was motivated to discuss it. It is not an opinion, actually, but a conclusion I reached after years of experience.
My opinion is that it is best not to get attached to a place or people. Someone like me, born in Iraq, has faced years of continuous war and personal and public loss. It is very difficult to live in a state of permanent loss. When I came here I decided to live in the moment, because this is my belonging. My belonging has become more for time, for the moment, for my presence and what I do and what is happening at that moment. The constant feeling that I have lost something and I should return to it has died. Sometimes it drove me to depression and more isolation. That does not mean that I started living my life with absolutely no negativity.
I was no longer able to deal with the permanent loss, whether an emotional loss or a materialistic loss. I decided that at the moment of "enough", I should belong to the moment where I am present. This makes me feel at peace all the time, whether it's here or elsewhere. Honestly, personally, even in my own country, I felt somehow alienated as if I didn’t belong.
If you have your own life but cannot live it as you like and as you must, you inevitably feel non-belonging, and that there is something wrong, and you start questioning what it is. Is it imbalance in the place, the time, or what exactly?
Even if we find the answers to these very easy questions, we may not be able to get rid of the notion of belonging but at least we can be humble about this idea. Homesickness always drives you to psychological torture. Now, I don't believe that this feeling of homesickness will ever be over. Maybe I won't go back to my country again, so what is the point of thinking about forever. I belong there but I am here.
I am really here, my life is here, my children are here. I don't know if there is tomorrow or not but the idea is to be connected to existence, not to the place. Belonging is to be connected to the feeling itself, and being in the moment. I always tried not to get attached to places or people.
People leave usho. Those who leave us and those we leave were part of the idea of belonging we have created. By the way, we weren’t born with the idea of belonging or of the sense of belonging, we created that idea.
The people who were in our lives were part of the idea of belonging. Now we are not together, but why do we always feel that we are obliged to belong to them or to the place? I understand very well those who miss their country, family and memories. This is understandable because it is difficult to leave everything at once. But what I am aware of is that people are being made to feel less lonely and that sense of belonging is reduced over time. Sometimes I notice that they create another little parallel world similar to where they were but they are still not happy.
Otherwise, you will find a world parallel to yours but live in the world that is available for you in the place, time and moment.
I am Manal from Norway and this is my story about a sense of belonging."