This morning I watched a Ted Talk video a friend had posted on Facebook by Pico Iyer; who ponders the question of “Where is home?” for the 220 million of us living outside our countries of birth.
As a Sri Lankan brought up in Zambia for part of my childhood, living in New Zealand for the last 13 years (apart from the year spent in Singapore), now dating an Englishman, I am starting to feel very confused about “who I am” and can relate to Iyer’s question of “where is home?” very much.
My Englishman teases me about using Americanism’s like “gotten” and corrects me every time. I learnt my English from British expatriate teachers in Zambia, but after a life time of reading anything and everything and exposure to lots of American TV, I am no longer sure of the origin of certain words. It is not important to me. What matters is that I can express myself day to day in a language not my own and more importantly express myself creatively through this blog when I feel the need to connect with the rest of the world.
When I was young my parents shortened my given name Sandamali to Sandi, which sounds nicer on the lips of native Sinhala speakers than it does on others who invariably change it to Sandy. Most friends and family use this form of address and during the time I was married to Jacob’s dad, he and his family called me Sandi despite my often saying I preferred my given name. Funnily enough now after the separation they only address me by my given name; why I don’t know. While I have no problems with people calling me Sandi as long as it is pronounced correctly, at work I have always insisted that my name had no short form. To me my name is an acknowledgement of my identity. Those who flatly refuse to use it despite my introducing myself many times as Sandamali, I look upon as as discourteous.
And it is not really about my name, but the question of who am I in terms of identity. When my Englishman insists he doesn’t do net curtains, wear slippers, vacuum clean or wipe down counters as it reminds him of things he hated growing up, he forgets that I didn’t grow up with any of those things as a child. Instead we put curtains with the nice side facing outwards so our neighbours could enjoy them. Slippers meant rubber slippers or jandals as the kiwis call them which we mostly wore on our wet bathroom floors. Floors were concrete so you swept them instead of vacuuming them and we didn’t have kitchen counters, so we couldn’t wipe them down. They are all things I learned later in life, particularly since moving to New Zealand. Similarly, it has taken me many years to embrace the kiwi way of life of camping, beach, sun and hot pools as they too were all very foreign to me. I was born in the Central Highlands of Sri Lanka and went wading in the sea whenever I got the opportunity as I have always loved the sea. But back then we wouldn’t have considered donning a swimsuit and going swimming. The traditional bathing costume was a sarong; but even that I would have only worn for bathing in fresh water, not in the sea. Since moving to New Zealand I have become more Westernised and now take holidays in the Gold Coast and have learned to enjoy that lifestyle. And now I am with someone who eschews it all. So do I go back to who I was back in Sri Lanka or do I keep going as I am and let him live his life as he wants to. Or do we find a middle ground where I won’t feel so lost?
Last September, when I was traveling through Germany, I bought a beautiful black overcoat. The nicest one I have ever owned. Now when I wear it people often stop me and compliment me. I know I have a good dress sense. Yet sometimes I look at what I am wearing and feel like I am playing dress up. I work at looking good in a form of dress that is not my own. Nothing about it says anything about where I come from. I feel like a pretender. Yet it is a the game we play to live and succeed in someone else’s country…….
My identity crisis remains; “Who Am I”. Am I Sri Lankan, Kiwi or something else? And do I really want to be English to please someone else? I don’t really, I just want to be myself. The good and the bad parts that I have strived to like and accept. And I hope my Englishman will find a way to like me just the way I am instead of picking me apart……..