to be a dweller

By | 15 September 2022

many years ago, my mother would send me down the steps of our house to snip away
lemon verbena or clambering rosemary – or show me the restrained way to cut the fatter and older
spring onions so they’d grow again, hollowed and dewy and cold because our home is always cold. I’d
bring them over to her chopping board, under the hanging lavender
under the crockery dotted with tiny flowers, window facing the Leith Valley

I remember the violence of life uprooted without secateurs. the nail or the pull …
to limp on by extended simile, displacement and its elaborations can be unpredictable:
refugee camps were set up at the border crossing for hugely over-projected numbers of
Syrian and Iraqi refugees in 2003. post-invasion, Anglo-American strategists assumed uproots
without offshoots: Iraqi and Syrian peoples would flee, then return when security was
but staying could mean guarding. leaving could mean never returning, like Palestinian
Arabs 50 years earlier. neighbouring countries could provide refuge over refugee

my mother spent two months after my father emigrated to sort out visas and
to bring a short-haired, two-year-old girl out of No Longer Home. she uncoupled
the defining of person to place. she is braver than me: at school, I wrote
a fairy-tale about a princess moving castle. it has taken me weeks to
take down flat hangings, to admit I can’t take paints on moving day

even in 1860, refugees were not collected in internment camps. the Ottoman state integrated
refugees, exiles, and migrants by way of self-settlement1. there were provisions to articulate
themselves: seeds, draft animals, a stretch of 17 acres where they would build their own
house, land holdings held for 15 years to protect against local investors

there is a lot to spin out from ‘camps’ of temporariness: the earth
as tent of mortality swallowed up by life. how saving something
according to Heidegger doesn’t mean snatching it from danger, but setting it
free into its own being.2 guest, stranger, person in need – the huge need
beyond shelter: for education, for sustainable livelihood …

perhaps I have been host and migrant. perhaps my mother dwells in
-longing, even after 20+ years of belonging. if local hospitality fits uneasy into
international protection, how can I meet a people not as passive, pliable – easily
managed – how can I be reshaped by them?

  1. Dawn Chatty, ‘The duty to be generous (karam): Alternatives to rights-based asylum in the Middle East,’
    Journal of the British Academy, no. 5 (2017): 185.
  2. Martin Heidegger, ‘Building Dwelling Thinking,’ in Basic Writings (1993), 351.
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