• Sara Moinian

My Home Is My Heart

by Bethelihem Gebresilasie

My migration journey from Eritrea to the United States has served as a catalyst for my life as it is wide and ever-reaching. At the age of nine, in May of 2010, I left Eritrea with my mother. Excited for my first airplane ride, I hurriedly said farewell to my father, unaware that it would be several years before I could see him again.

The plane landed in Khartoum, the capital city of Sudan. We moved into an air-conditioned apartment, where I spent the majority of that summer. By the time I started fourth grade, I was desperate for interaction. The isolating effects of migration became evident to me, as I stayed at home alone while my mother worked. I felt a deep yearning for my father, my friends, and my community back home. 

On the first day of school, I woke up before my alarm rang and put on the uniform I had prepared the night before: a red shirt and blue cargo pants that adhered to Sharia laws. I quickly ate my breakfast and waited by my window, stained red from the routine sand storms. For the first time, I was a new student—an experience I would have time and time again in the future. In Eritrea, I had attended the same school from kindergarten to third grade, alongside the same group of peers. Moving to an unfamiliar learning environment and social setting forced me to build meaningful relationships with peers from different cultural contexts.

I liked the droll of Khartoum, It was a dry and slow heat. There was always someone selling sweet tea with cinnamon in a corner, and you can sit on a makeshift stool as the sun beat down your back. The main mode of transport was a reksha, a three wheeled car with leather curtains for doors, As it skid down the highways, the curtains would flap like a pair of wings.

However, I still felt like a foreigner. There is an ache in recreating a new community; I felt abandoned my surrounding. A total estrangement from a world that is so painfully solitary, but not eternal. I made friends, and when I improved my Arabic it was easier to feel a ribbon of bondage to my Sudan. It’s interesting the way culture is an adhesive, these artifacts of language, food, and clothing, allowed me to view Sudan as a place I could and wanted to reside in. However, I felt no desire to adopt the national identity. I knew and understood that I was not Sudanese and will never be, yet it was never a deterrent in soothing my sense of inferiority. We moved to four different apartments in Sudan, so the turbulence became second nature and adapting to chaos a hobby.

A year later, after I had begun to feel settled in Sudan, my mother and I migrated to Uganda. She continued her work in South Sudan, while I remained in Uganda with a relative. Separated from my parents, I was emboldened to develop my own values; I took note of the traces of colonization around me, like the way in which the English language rippled through the air.

Another healthy component of being raised in African nations and witnessing the everlasting violence of colonialism is my lack of reverence for the West. Without the scribble of movement, my grasp on history wouldn’t be as wide and progressive. Colonialism was a violence without an end, as it’s been replaced by economic puppetry and entrenched a deep sense of dysfunction into African communities. After 2 years of living in Uganda, I left for the United States. I continued to meditate on the effects of oppression in Uganda and globally. Throughout my journey, I have realized that my community is not confined to a particular location, but to all the spaces in which I have had a glimpse of.

I feel that there is a desire to connect your identity with your geography. It’s understandable, as your location dictates the stream of culture you drink from, and the cultural expectations you will abide to. It’s constricting, to continue your sense of self persistently based on your location. There’s always more, and the sense of solid fluidity gained through travel is worth the temporary sense of loss of identity felt in the beginning, 

My past has been the bearer of growth, change, and shifts in my perspective. Here in the United States, I am grateful for my desire and ability to connect with a diverse range of people and adapt to the constructs of each community. I feel hooks attaching me to every part of the world I’ve lived, each leaving an irrevocable mark. 


A version of this post originally appeared in “Tenacity” The Teller October 2019 Issue #7

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