If we’re measuring, the longest journey I’ve ever made comes up to over 15,700 miles, starting in Colombo, Sri Lanka and ending in London.
That sounds ridiculous right? Right, because the actual distance between the two cities is about a third of that. But we were part of a group of refugees, my mother and I, being transited from Colombo to Singapore and then from there to Khartoum and Durban before finally touching down at London Heathrow. Each departure saw a smaller group, as at least one of us would succumb to border police at every stop.
Truthfully, I hadn’t even turned four until the day after our arrival in London, so I can’t profess to remember the entire thing in vivid detail. I remember crying in our lodge in Colombo when my mum put on a pair of jeans for the first time in her life (or in my life at least). I begged her to change back in to a skirt or a saree, not understanding that she had to dress like she came from England. Thinking about that outfit, and the idea that a pair of jeans makes you dressed ‘English’ makes me laugh. Thankfully, my mother has never replicated that outfit, but eighteen years later her clothes would still never make it onto any ‘English’ street style blog.
I remember crying on the transit bus to the plane in Colombo, because I was convinced we’d left my grandma waiting at the barriers. In a sense, we had. No-one expects that when their children flee, they will be gone from them forever. About eight years later, my family were able to return to my hometown Vavuniya, on holiday (during the ceasefire) and as naturalised British citizens. Although we stayed with my grandparents in my mother’s ancestral home, there was no denying that we would ever be anything more than visitors.
I wanted to write this post because the prompt got me thinking not about travel but about home. The irony in that the longest journeys I have made are between homes. I imagine myself in my hometown now, an adult in a war-ravaged land with no grandparents for protection; or more realistically a sheltered twenty-something with a privileged education and a British sense of entitlement. In previous visits, I was young. My poor Tamil accent, and unsuitable clothes and stubborn disregard for cultural norms were indulged, because I was young. I never feared the army because of the British passport I held, but now Sri Lanka has shown itself to be unconcerned by such trivialities. How would I behave now and how would I be treated?
Anyway, considering my involvement in activism and campaigning against Sri Lanka’s genocide of Tamils, I don’t think I have that option of visiting anymore.
The furthest I have ever travelled from home was to escape it, to create a new home. But when you have left so much of yourself behind in one, but have become so much in the other, are you ever wholly at home?