“You only leave home when home won’t let you stay”

Syrian Refugees Drowned

Amongst other things right now, I’ve been thinking about ‘home’ and displacement….


I don’t need to be a psychoanalyst to know that the combination of the following four factors is the cause:


  • When I started writing this earlier I was in the restaurant/café of our local Sainsbury’s. (There’s glamour in the world of being a book editor/working mum, I tell you *she said, as she typed away to the aromatic smell of haddock fishcake…*)
    We’ve had to move out of our house due to an unexpected complication in our building work, and pack up all our bits and bobs (for what feels like the hundredth time) to move into a temporary apartment until the New Year. We’re still tied to the twins’ nursery (where they have to attend so I can work/meet my deadlines). I could only find 3-hour local parking beside the workspace I’d booked for today… at which point it was off to Sainsbury’s, so there I was… another day of moving from pillar to post.
  • Also, yesterday was the three-year anniversary of a car crashing through the front of our house (when the twins were 18-weeks-old, one recovering from an operation they’d had just over a week prior), thrusting us into unimaginable chaos – which I don’t say lightly as the previous 18 weeks we’d somehow survived through were pretty up there in terms of stress levels.
    (The house fire in our rented house 2 months later is perhaps for another day…. only so much trauma-recounting I can manage in one post…!)
  • I recently read an article/watched a clip that’s really stayed with me, about an old Irish woman’s opinion of the ‘refugee crisis’, and how it shocks her, with the history that Irish people have had of having to leave, that Irish people could now turn their backs on those who’ve had to leave everything behind/many risking their lives to cross the water to a better life, like countless Irish before them.
  • Finally, being around water a lot recently.


Much to the surprise of so many friends and family who’ve said they can’t imagine doing such a big house project with young twins, and everything else going on, point 1 isn’t actually that bad, perhaps because of the point 2.


Planned building work isn’t that dramatic, when you can prep for it, and you have in the background the experience of a huge rebuild unexpectedly landing on your lap when you’re at the most physically/emotionally broken you have ever been in your life. Even having to move out unexpectedly at the weekend hasn’t felt like a big deal, to be honest.


A big reason why is that three years ago yesterday, we were 18 weeks into our new insane life of twins/kidney-failure management when the car drove into our house. 18 weeks on top of the 17 horrendous, draining weeks of stress and anxiety prior to this, following our 20-week anomaly scan, worrying/fretting, on a daily (to be honest, hourly) basis as to whether Twin 1 would make it at all, the joy and excitement of pregnancy robbed from us in that sonographer’s pause.


Then bang, reality, and the one of the worst-case scenarios predicted at the time – kidney failure, with him barely pulling through – becomes the reality.


I’ll fast forward there to 18 weeks of hardly no sleep later, when the car, literally, crashed into our lives. And I don’t mean the ‘no sleep’ people of a single healthy newborn/baby often say when they mean they were woken 4 or 5 times, but still probably got about 2, or 3, or even 4-5 hours… I mean no sleep…. zilch… de nada, for days on end, as we struggled with two newborns in different locations (our son came home when he was a month old), and the enormous amount of extra work that comes with having a chronically ill kid (he was fed by tube then, and ended up being on a newborn feeding schedule, being fed every 3-4 hours, day and night, for the first year – with crippling reflux, meaning 20-30 vomits every day until he was 14 months). My husband and I experienced a significant number of hallucinations during this period, as our minds and bodies were pushed into a land of sleep-depravity on par with torture victims, and our emotional wellbeing took on the form of a rollercoaster ride.


But we got through it, and three years later that experience, and so many others in the mix since, have thankfully led to a resilience that will be helpful on the journey ahead.


Then, last week, as we packed up the last of the kitchen, and prepared, yet again, to leave our home, I thought: do you know what, despite all that, three years ago we really were lucky… Three years ago we knew that eventually we’d be coming back to our house, and that the rest of our life around that house would be as it was before.


I couldn’t help thinking again – and it’s something that’s been especially playing on my mind so much since – of those fleeing Syria etc, who are having to walk out of their homes (for those lucky enough to not have had them bombed) and walk away from everything, with tiny babies in tow, not even sure that they will make it to the end of that day alive, not to mind a destination where they might be offered sanctuary from the inevitable death that awaits them where they are. People with kids as young as the twins were then/younger/as sick/sicker… it’s hard to even imagine how any of them must feel leaving their home – something that should be our sanctuary. I think of the stress we had, that I’ve detailed above, and the tiredness and fear we felt, and know that’s merely a fraction of what these people are facing as their current normality.


I know from my experience that when it comes to my kids I will – and have – pushed myself beyond the limits of what I could have imagined to keep them safe/provide for them, but my position of privilege means what I’ve experienced is only a drop in comparison to what those parents, getting into tiny boats, putting lifejackets on their kids (if they were even lucky enough to have got some before they ran out), willing for nature and luck to be on their side. If they’re not on side: death. But death if they stay. It’s unimaginable.


For anyone who’s read this and wonders if there is any small way they can help, some more info here: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/syria-refugees-what-you-can-do-to-help–2


“Home” by Warsan Shire

no one leaves home unless
home is the mouth of a shark
you only run for the border
when you see the whole city running as well
your neighbors running faster than you
breath bloody in their throats
the boy you went to school with
who kissed you dizzy behind the old tin factory
is holding a gun bigger than his body
you only leave home
when home won’t let you stay.
no one leaves home unless home chases you
fire under feet
hot blood in your belly
it’s not something you ever thought of doing
until the blade burnt threats into
your neck
and even then you carried the anthem under
your breath
only tearing up your passport in an airport toilets
sobbing as each mouthful of paper
made it clear that you wouldn’t be going back.
you have to understand,
that no one puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land
no one burns their palms
under trains
beneath carriages
no one spends days and nights in the stomach of a truck
feeding on newspaper unless the miles travelled
means something more than journey.
no one crawls under fences
no one wants to be beaten
no one chooses refugee camps
or strip searches where your
body is left aching
or prison,
because prison is safer
than a city of fire
and one prison guard
in the night
is better than a truckload
of men who look like your father
no one could take it
no one could stomach it
no one skin would be tough enough
go home blacks
dirty immigrants
asylum seekers
sucking our country dry
niggers with their hands out
they smell strange
messed up their country and now they want
to mess ours up
how do the words
the dirty looks
roll off your backs
maybe because the blow is softer
than a limb torn off
or the words are more tender
than fourteen men between
your legs
or the insults are easier
to swallow
than rubble
than bone
than your child body
in pieces.
i want to go home,
but home is the mouth of a shark
home is the barrel of the gun
and no one would leave home
unless home chased you to the shore
unless home told you
to quicken your legs
leave your clothes behind
crawl through the desert
wade through the oceans
be hunger
forget pride
your survival is more important
no one leaves home until home is a sweaty voice in your ear
run away from me now
i dont know what i’ve become
but i know that anywhere
is safer than here

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