Where am I coming from and where am I going…

I didn´t want to leave my country. I had everything for a complete life: beautiful home, family, successful profession, a garden, social life, respect. I had a mission, I had my duty there. And beyond, I had the language. I knew all the secrets of the places, all what is hidden, the invisible – the tastes, the smells, the nuances of the culture, I understood all the connections, social relations. I could read ´in between the lines´.

Photo: Facemepls/CreativeCommons

It was an understanding deep from the guts. I knew everything which was invisible and of which I was even unaware; this was what it meant for me to be embedded safely in a society. Even if I was never fully satisfied with the rules, with the system, or even with the values, I still felt home, which meant that I felt potent. I was able and motivated to make changes. I was able to start new things and protest against old ones.  I was able to connect with people, ideas. I was responsible.

I decided to leave my country because my partner – for his own reasons – couldn´t live there anymore. I accepted this, even if I did not share all of his feelings. I decided to leave, because year after year we started to lose our financial and moral security. I decided to leave because I wanted a reliable society and education for my child. But the real reason was that I didn´t want to lose the person with whom I was, and still am, in deep love. I didn´t want to set our family apart.

Nevertheless, I can see other factors, deeper motifs behind my decision. When my husband has finally won his research fellowship to Amsterdam, I was also ready for a change. I was ready to try a new life, to challenge myself, to take the step to the next stage.

Most probably I have heard his voice saying that we will never come back but I took it as a two-year long journey to another country.

Ready to change

I was in such a privileged position that I could move to another European country and start a new life. I turned to forty, our relationship ten, our child five. We both believe in the necessity of change. Like a big cleaning, changes – from time to time – force us to look into the mirror, to make a thorough selection in our life, our belongings. What is important and what is not. What is still inspiring, meaningful and what is the routine, the inertia. We not only have to make this scrutiny but we also have to make decisions. For each other, for ourselves. So we packed everything, I gradually closed all the running sessions with my clients, we checked out from the kindergarten and started to look for flats in Amsterdam.

But when we came to live to Holland all of a sudden I became a migrant woman, a worrying mother, and a professional who had to start most of her career over. I was a person who left behind a home, a career, friends, grandmothers and a plentiful garden. Even though I was an experienced traveler, moving with a child, moving for good was not the same. Miksa, my son, asked me: ´Mama, wouldn´t it be possible to teleport our house all with my friends in the neighborhood, with gramma, our old Porsche and everything?´ He spoke from my heart; where is my hairdresser; how is here the waxing and for how much; where can I buy fresh green paprika and yeast? How can I explain fast and easily to the doctor if I am in pain and how can I make myself understood about my feelings without speaking the local language?

Moving with a family

Usually I take my time to learn the place I travel. The rules, the customs, the language, the people. This time we moved with a child for whom it was obligatory to start the school as soon as we arrived. I found myself in the limiting and structured life of parents with school aged children. We started to follow the routines of local families without being familiar with the system, the rules, without knowing anyone, without understanding the local language, the culture. While my partner was occupied in his office at the university, I tried to find a balance in managing the set-up of our new home, running the household, managing our son, learning Dutch, and restarting my professional life in our new country. The time I had for these tasks was every day between 8.30 and 14.30.

While before I had my own income and occupation, I had more time to work, and I had the supporting social networks, the grandparents, neighbors around, now I became a full-time housewife, a mother, dependent on my partner, on the family, while living, pretty much isolated.

Like dancing together with your legs being tied. You are connected to and dependent on each other.

How to keep the balance when everything is so fragile, dynamic, always in a constant change? When you feel responsible not only for yourself but for your child, for the relationship, for the whole family? I made the decision: my son, the home, the family first, this is crucial for the safe landing, my personal life can come after. It was temporary and not a sacrifice but still, it was difficult. I was helping my son with the new language, with the new friends, while helping him to remain connected with the Hungarian language, culture, friends. Only after years have I started to feel how tiring this process was. Slowly by slowly I felt that it was too much, I couldn´t cope with it anymore. Sometimes I felt being lost and vulnerable, weak and helpless. I felt that something went wrong in the power balance between us with my partner. Sometimes I was depressed and angry, I was blaming him for the move, I was losing myself in the complex matrix of transition. And it was difficult to share. What was I to say to my friends back in Hungary, who told me, with longing eyes, that: wow, I must be enjoying myself in Amsterdam? Even identifying myself as a person who needed help was very difficult, it was not evident to see myself as someone, who cannot handle everything in a smooth way.

I lost my balance.

New quality born

I learned many things from the migration of our family.  I learned that while I need to stay connected to my previous life I have to find my own ways to integrate into a new society. I learned how difficult it is to keep the balance between multiple tasks, priorities, relations, roles within the family, in the relationship with my partner and within my own life during the transition process. I learned a lot about the personal meaning of our fundamental, taken for granted concepts of culture, identity or home. I learned how I could activate (again) my (hidden) resources to feel empowered again. I learned that sometime we can afford, and should be allowed to be weak, and I learned that weakness does not necessarily mean powerlessness. I also learned that I needed more time and space than expected to arrive to this new state in my life.  I learned how to become more aware of my basic needs, resources, capacities.

Now I am also more aware of my values, preferences, more awake about my feelings and more empowered because I know that I can manage, I can rely on my own resources. I can always create something new from the beginning. I can connect, I can take the control over my life. Leaving my country was to step out of a box. After the long process of transition I found my balance again, I can feel my energy, I´m not only surviving but I have new plans, new desires.

In a constant move

After years I can see what I love in my Amsterdam life. I love bicycling, I love the urban silence, the unpolluted air, the freshness of the weather, the water everywhere. I love that everything is clean and healthy. I love the culture of work, mutual respect, freedom, equality, solidarity. I love the school, Laterna Magica, where my son feels so good. I love that people are straightforward, open minded and tolerant. I love transparency and justice. I love that the city is a multicultural capital but still it remains cozy, human and livable. But I am writing this text now from Sicily, Palermo. I spent two months working here because still there are important things I miss from Holland. I miss the social mess, the energy of the sun, of the south. In Sicily – even without speaking the language – I feel more easily connected; I love the hugs, the inclusive greetings, the social proximity. It is a paradox but in Amsterdam I feel that everything is already done, I cannot easily find a space for my creative and helping energies. In Sicily I also love the unlimited wildness of nature and the presence of ancient civilizations in every corner. I can now work here because my husband takes care of our child, the house and our Amsterdam life alone, besides doing his full time job at the university. Now he gives me back the space to find and follow my own needs. We are wondering whether it is possible for us to find a sustainable balance which includes more than one place where we can feel local.

Don´t ask where I´m from, ask where I’m a local

We are all on the move. Sometimes it is not that visible, sometimes the distance is not that big, some discourses on migration are louder than others, but actually, in Europe, somehow everybody is moving from one place to another. I was talking with a senior lower middle class couple from Great Britain who moved to Normandy because of the weather and because they could afford to buy a small house there in the middle of nature. But still, language was a challenge for them, the man had to leave his profession while his wife travelled two times a month to see her elderly clients back in her country. Yesterday I met someone who was born in South Sicily, lived years in North Africa, in Rome and in Florence, and now he is bartender in Berlin. He visits his family four times a year. He loves real winter in the north and couldn´t live without seeing the sea, the waves during the summer. But another Sicilian woman, an architect moved back from Berlin after three years because she feels that she has to make changes in her own country. She doesn´t yet know how she can get a job in Sicily. Her boyfriend, also Italian, stayed in Berlin, but still, something – energy, she says – calls her back. My best friend – who, like me is also Hungarian –, lives in Paris. Living in Amsterdam makes it easier for us to see each other on a regular basis. I can talk about how to raise a child in an intercultural environment with my French colleague in Sicily whose husband is Italian and their son, like mine, speaks three languages. And my child spends the holidays with his grandparents in Pécs, Hungary, he feels home there in the same way as in IJburg, Amsterdam. I can fully agree with Taiye Selasi´s thoughts, that it is not our national identities but our personal experiences that enable us to connect with each other – even across boundaries. Our rituals, relationships and restrictions define the spaces where we can feel home, feel local.

Where am I heading now?

My profession is education, care giving and social activism. I need to understand and speak fluently the language and the culture of the society where I work. I also have to have my inner balance and power to be able to help, to give, to empower. When we left Hungary I felt miserable because I lost my language, my balance and my power.

When we left, I was about to create a social garden to provide a safe place for integration, where people could heal their traumas of migration, where they could rest without being pressed to do anything particular. I thought that this is only possible if I am deeply rooted, physically connected to a place. The desperate events of the European refugee crisis confirmed my desire to devote more attention to the topics of transition, migration, integration but also taught to me – as I was looking for the physical location of this garden– that I can use the metaphor of the floating garden for my life and  for my work. The garden I am looking for, that I create is floating, it´s among us. When I work with my Hungarian clients via Skype, or go there to give trainings, group sessions or when I work with migrant professionals in Italy or in the Netherlands, it is all the same, because I can connect in the same way. I can connect through sharing experiences, sharing our basic human needs, our vulnerabilities, things beyond words and languages. Because we are all humans, all on the move, in one way or another, we have so many things in common that connect us. But I had to learn all these things and it was not easy. I am in my forties. I am still on the move.

Dora Djamila Mester

Dora Djamila Mester

is a trainer, coach, educator on the field of sexuality. Social scientist and sex-positive activist. The founder and leader of the Budapest based non-profit civil organization, Ars Erotica Foundation for sexuality education and for the acceptance of sexual cultures.