My Story As A Third Culture Kid
To feel hiraeth is to have a sense of incompleteness and a pining for a place, a person, or even a history that you may never have had. It is one of those beautiful Welsh words that cannot be directly translated into English, which makes you want to wrap yourself in a cozy blanket until you have found the thing you were searching for.
“So…where are you from?”
This is the dreaded question. My story is not an easy one to follow, but after three years at university (where you are asked at least a hundred times in your first week) I have managed to summarise it down to only the essentials:
Born and raised in Africa, spent a few years in Mongolia and currently living in Bahrain.
This often leaves people in momentary shock until I am bombarded with questions about my life for the next hour – Did you live in a mud hut? No, I lived in a city. Were there tigers outside your house? No, there are no tigers in Ghana. Did you ride a camel to school? Yes, it was the coolest thin… no, of course not. Believe me, some of the questions I’ve been asked are worse than that!
I should probably start with my parents, who are like a combination of Indiana Jones, Bear Grylls and Doctor Who (if the TARDIS was real). Seriously. They travelled across the some of the most remote areas by themselves, met in a refugee camp in Sudan, bumped into each other in Kenya a few years later before getting married and flying off into the sunset (or in this case, yet another country). I was born in a little hospital in Gaborone, Botswana, but we soon moved to Cameroon and then onto Mongolia. I have no memories of these years, apart from the photographs in my old albums. With captivating landscapes, intriguing cultures and fascinating people, I sometimes get jealous of all the memories I could have made if I was just a bit older. Occasionally, I will get snippets of memories when I eat or smell something familiar which sends me back in time… but only in a snapshot, and then it’s gone, floating away with the wind.
After Mongolia, we moved all the way to Ghana with its rich wildlife and bight culture all thrumming with energy unlike anywhere I have ever been. All my memories of Ghana are full of vibrant colours, beaming faces and never-ending happiness. I have always felt unbelievably grateful to have lived in Ghana, especially before it started to really develop. There were only a couple of ‘Western’ shops, no malls or cinemas to speak of, but miles and miles of gorgeous beaches, moist rainforests and vivid villages. Over the years, we would travel all over Ghana from the golden beaches in the south, through villages of red mud and expanses of rich jungle, to the edge of the Sahara desert.
When I was told that we were going to be moving to Bahrain, I was devastated. Not only was I saying goodbye to my best friends and my dog, Coco, but I was also leaving behind a home – one that I had such a deep-rooted connection to that it felt like I was being ripped in two. For months and months, I mourned for the sweet, humid air that would be cooled off by fat raindrops pounding into the red earth like when women made Fufu for their goat soup.
Bahrain was such a contrast. Brilliant blue skies reflected off tall buildings and lots of pale sand. Even the scent of the air as you stepped out of the plane was full of new and exciting possibilities. Everything was different, from the flat landscapes to the rich culture found at every turn. It was easy to adjust at school because being an ‘expat’ was normal. No one found my life strange because the majority of the students were in the same boat. I made lots of friends, fell in love and grew up (well… that’s debatable). Bahrain became that comfortable place in my heart – a place I know so well but still learning more each day.
Once I finished my A-Levels, it was time to start university… and this was the time where I started to question where I belonged. Due to the fact that I had lived abroad my whole life (and some other reasons), I had to attend university as an International Student despite having a British passport. I have traveled all over the UK with my family throughout the years and in a way, I know it better than others. Unfortunately, I never felt fully British in my ‘home country’, however during University, I got to experience a different environment, culture, and way of life (I had never really used public transport before).
The reason why I’m bringing this all up is because of an event I attended last week – Hireath by Third Culture. By intertwining sequins and traditional fabrics all strung together with golden thread by Indian artisans, Third Culture has translated those conflicting feelings of searching for home through the art of fashion. I was able to meet and talk with others who have different stories but the same sense of 'hiraeth'.
Who am I really? I am a UK citizen without residency; feel more African than British and have a better understanding of Arab culture… My life is like a quilt with lots of different materials stitched together to create a swirl of colours and patterns. It’s true that sometimes, I don’t feel like I fit in anywhere, however, instead of feeling homeless and lost, I have a sense of freedom and sense of being at home anywhere. I have many homes and roots that extend all around. A citizen of the world.
So now when they ask:
“Where are you from?”
“I am floating and I am OK with that”.