In 2008, I came across a small graffiti in my neighbourhood in Cardiff, and it spelt Go home Polish. I dwelt on it for a while, unsure whether I really should be going anywhere or whether I already was home.
In 2016, with the Brexit referendum breaking Britain in half, and the rising wave of nationalism sweeping across Europe, the slogan took on an even darker tone, and I felt compelled to respond to it. Literally.
In April 2018, I set off on an 1900 km journey, on foot, between my two homes - Wales and Poland - with a British passport in one hand, and a Polish one in the other. I drew a straight line on the map, got a pair of good hiking shoes, and walked out of my Cardiff flat, facing east: Wales. England. France. Belgium. Holland. Germany. Czech Republic. Poland. My goal was to ask people about home, in a journey that would take 105 days to complete.
Although I anticipated confrontation, polemics, and awkwardness, the antagonism never really came. On the contrary. People responded to the question in a deeply personal way: human to human, rather than citizen to foreigner. Most put their hand on their chest to show me where home was. Many wanted to tag along. Few mentioned their nationality. Only one chased me away.
As the journey progressed, the Go home Polish’ slogan became
irrelevant. However, I decided to keep it as a title, and a symbolic axis on which this project is set. This is to challenge the language that dehumanises the other. This is to object to generalisation. This is to look at the geopolitical agenda from the perspective of each individual.
And where is home? The answer is elusive and complex, a riddle that transcends time and administration. But I have found it, north of Olpe in Germany:
The village Ursula used to live in disappeared under the surface of the water when the dam was built. A whole village turned into Atlantis. Folks relocated and left their homes behind. She was a little girl.Some sixty years later, her children bring Ursula back to that place, to the shore of the lake that swallowed her home. She is in her 70’s, but remembers exactly where the house is - her finger like the magnetic needle of a compass, trembling gently and pointing. There! The children take to the water and swim to that spot. They float above the ghost house they can neither see nor enter, connecting to an unattainable place, feeling its pulse within their own being. And although they feel it profoundly, they know it cannot be reached or contained.
This is hiraeth. This is heimet. Home.
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BBC Wales article (in Welsh) available here