Updated: Apr 5, 2021
This has always been a question since many of us became aware. Once we get socialized into communities, we ask this question indirectly or directly. We want to be welcomed when we join a group, a team, a workforce, a family or be friends. We want to feel understood and supported. There is also a question of trust. Trust is not given, it is earned in many cases. Babies and children tend to trust adults through their care and guidance like families, this typically results come from good environments and in some cases not so much. Not everybody grows up in a safe place.
I grew up traveling often when I was younger. I learned the different languages, the culture, new places or terrains to acclimate and the many customs that I thought at first were very strange. Living in countries in the north of Australia, Asia, Africa, Central America, and North America, I learned that there are variations of foods to learn to eat, different school systems, clothing, dialects, faiths, music, a social impact like poverty, political systems, cast systems and many more. I've seen the abuse that adults inflict on other adults and children. I saw many beautiful places and I also saw many filthy and disturbing places.
I was around 12 years old when we moved to the Philippines. Initially, I thought they were speaking Chinese. It was very hot and humid being in a tropical place. There were many roads around that were not paved at that time and not too many guardrails to protect the driver if they went off the cliff. Public transportation consisted of tricycles and modified jeeps to provide high volume riders. I learned to not wear any jewelry and hide money in shoes or anywhere a pick pocket would not reach. I also experienced sexual harassment from boys and men constantly hollering at me when going to school or traveling by myself. It is as if they never saw a girl before. They did have beautiful natural resources and the food is exquisite when it comes to a variety of fruits and cuisines. But I felt I experienced cultural shock. We had a beautiful home that was in front of the main street, a second house that was inherited by my father and behind that there were squatter areas with poor people. I could not forget the stench of the markets and the mountains of garbage that people lived in Manila, Luzon in the Philippines. I also couldn't forget the overpopulation and the pollution in the cities. These were not my happiest moments growing up.
My fond memories growing up were in Honduras, Central America. This is where I felt I belonged at that time. The weather was perfect. I lived there with my parents between the age of 8 and 12 years old. I loved seeing the blue skies with many stars. This is where I believed I wanted to be an astronaut and maybe even a pilot. I was very artistic and draw everywhere I could, whether napkins, paper, sometimes walls when I was younger and many more. I tinkered a lot and broke radios, electronics equipments and tried to put things together. I was experimenting at home with different materials and mixing them in the bathroom or outside in the backyard. I was roaming our neighborhood with mostly boys and my brother by racing on the bicycle or building forts etc. Yes, I was a tomboy then and still today. To me girls were too boring at that time and even in Honduras, I will never forget some girls throwing rocks at me in front of our house. I don't know the reason, I just know they were throwing rocks at me. From then on and many more times, I learned to not trust girls early on. This memory altered my definition of belonging.
I was born in Papua New Guinea and my brother in South Africa. We don't recall much of that memory since we only lived there shortly, moved on and too young to remember. We have pictures to show that we had a life there and they were happy memories. I was a very active and curious child. I am still curious today. I asked many questions that adults were uncomfortable to answer. Because I read so many books growing up, many of my questions were difficult to answer. I also learned not to trust the answers that adults gave me, they lied often or made up stories to brag or just to look like they knew the subject when they didn't. Learning a new culture, custom, what to wear, what not to say or to say, what to eat and how to respond to the remarks that people made from different countries was a challenge, but I was accustomed to constant change that I learned to deal with it often. It was just the way we lived. I couldn't complain, I had no choice in the matter as a child. I had no previous background or even pre-explanation why we moved or needed to go. We just moved. I helped pack our things. I was a strong child then and still is today. Moving furniture around, dismantling it and re-building it was normal to me. Doing chores was normal too. I cooked, cleaned, helped my father type up the United Nations reports and many more were normal.
Both my parents were teachers in either English and Science etc. I don't exactly remember what they did for the United Nations since it was never clearly explained. Most likely as part of NDA. I was used to getting quizzes or exams at home. By the time I went to school, it was easy to pass those surprise quizzes given. The courses weren't that difficult for me since I practiced math, and other subjects at home. Plus, I read novels and non-fiction books like science and more. Reading was my escape from chaos and from the confusion. I could travel with my mind and imagine a different world where I could understand and felt I belonged. The growing up world for me was always conflicting and I saw many terrible and sad things growing up from poor people and more.
There are many more to add to this question of belonging that I would need to write in a novel. The main point is that belonging is a difficult subject for many. Depending where you grow up and where you go and even when this experience is happening; there are many good and bad outcomes to learn from. There is no simple recipe in finding where you belong. It is a life experiment and journey to find the people you trust. This finding and searching is painful. You will experience betrayal more than finding trustworthy people. Find your tribe, keep looking and don't stop. Eventually, even if it takes you 30 or so years, you will find that tribe. Don't give up. Keep finding your own truths, follow your instincts and gut feelings. It will save your life many more times than you think. If you don't follow that strong inner voice that protects you, you will most likely experience more heartache than you would want. Know that you are not alone and that there a few specially good friends there to support you. Family doesn't mean they need to be blood relatives, they are who you consider to be family and who accept you for who you are.