On Belonging

Originally published on the Storymoja Festival blog.

Belonging is a funny thing. We spend our whole life searching for it in different places, but it’s never ours to take. It’s always something that must be given to us. Early on in life it’s is the most natural – for those of us lucky enough, we find it with our parents and families. For me, it lay in the food I ate, and the nooks I choose to hide in. It was captured by 3 feet high scribbles on walls and my grandmother’s favourite tea set.

Then it started to become more difficult. Has a classroom ever given anyone a sense of belonging? Fifteen years wasted in the pursuit of it through bangs, and highlights, and atrocious wardrobe choices. Even my body didn’t feel like my own anymore. I looked in the mirror, and everyday there was something I didn’t like. Suddenly the boy who laughed at me during P.E had more power in his taunts than the voice of my mother which a few years prior, could instantly stop my tears.

I was fortunate to find a permanent place of belonging one afternoon, at a barbeque I almost didn’t go for. Belonging walked in tall and handsome, with a face that felt so familiar and hands that felt like they’re meant for only me. He didn’t make me feel like a stranger in my own flesh. Belonging stayed.

But there’s still a part of me that is waiting for it. Yes, I have always had my family, and I have found my people as well, but we can’t only find it in human beings for it to feel complete. There must be a place too. Where is this place?

A girl of Indian origin, born and brought up in Kenya, where do I belong?
I want to belong to Kenya. If belonging were mine to take, I wouldn’t feel this dismemberment. I want to belong to Kenya, but all my life I’ve been told I don’t. I’ve been told I don’t belong by matatu drivers, and custom officers, teachers, and even people from my own family. I go to India, and I don’t feel it. My lungs don’t open fully, still locking in a piece of home. Yes, Kenya is home. I can stake my right on that word. Whether I get belonging or not, Kenya is my home.

Belonging feels like it’s mine when I think of the past. Not my past. The past of unknown people. People walking through lush fields of mustard in Punjab. That’s mine. The smiles on their faces bright, the hope in their eyes unspoiled by the horrors of the 1947 partition. The Punjab I belong to doesn’t exist anymore. Spread out across India and Pakistan, ruined by drugs and politics, today’s Punjab isn’t mine. The people aren’t mine, the air isn’t mine.

Why can I only see my belonging in sepia tones? Despite being recognized as the 44th tribe of Kenya, why can’t it be as vivid as the sunset in the coast, or as loud as the rain in Nairobi? Why doesn’t it prickle me like the February heat?

I belong to Kenya’s 44th tribe, but where does this tribe belong? I want it to be in these streets, but that isn’t mine to take. Who will give it to us? Why is the boy in the playground back, his voice louder than the verbal recognition of my belonging, laughing at my readiness to grasp it?


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