“Damn it!” I usually try to avoid curse words, but at that point, my patience was running out like the battery on the phone whenever you have to make that super-important-life-changing call. I have been sitting in my business classroom for the past 1.5 hours trying to teach myself how to use a sewing machine. It was probably not the most obvious activity to do in that room (and I would be much more confident writing a SWOT analysis), but there weren’t many accessible places at school outside of working hours. Frankly speaking, I hoped to be so much better at sewing. It doesn’t seem that hard, right? However, every time an encouraging voice whispered in my head that I mastered it and should drop out of school to become a fashion designer, the thread would break or get tangled.
On my left wrist, there was a simple bracelet made out of purple, red, pink, and white strings. Take a deep breath, change the tension of the thread, go on… This simple accessory gave me more motivation than anything else. A month before, I was one of the leaders of an educational project for students from BanYa Literacy Center, the school for children of Burmese immigrants in Thailand. One time during the project, we had a Science Day, and after the elephant toothpaste experiment, a little girl came to me. She did not speak English or Thai, and, unfortunately, we did not have a Burmese speaker in our group. Sometimes, words are not needed to understand each other. Smiling, she took my hand, put a bracelet in it, and ran away, rubbing a balloon on her head, amazed by the magic of static electricity.
Now I was constantly poking my fingers with a needle, trying to sew the reusable pads for the older girls in BanYa. Some of them had to miss school every month because they could not afford sanitary products. Having zero previous experience with a sewing machine, I made myself a promise to make it work. The bracelet was always associated with that girl’s smile in my mind, but there were so many challenges hiding behind her innocent eyes. Most of the students’ parents migrated due to unemployment in the country and rural poverty. They experienced a language barrier, often did not have any legal documentation, and could not access the health care system. Their children had to adapt to a new environment, but all of this still was better than staying at home without a job.
I was blessed not to experience any of those challenges as a child. Nevertheless, this project echoed somewhere deep in my heart. Sitting here, 7000 km from the city that heard my first cry, thinking about the children and their families who had to leave homes for a better future, I came to the realization: I do not know where my home is. They always say that your home is where your parents live. Although for some reason, they forget to mention how it works when your father has to move countries to make a living. What do I call home now? My whole life, we were renting apartments, moving from one place to another. My father was going on work trips in different cities of Ukraine all the time. Until he lost his job because of a crisis and started working abroad. We wouldn’t see him for four, sometimes six months. There are so many families like mine in Ukraine.
Not everyone knows what it is like to move away from family … for the family’s good. Here I am right now, getting an education on another continent. Who knows if Ukraine will be the country of my residence ever again. Nevertheless, my heart will always stay in the place where they put poets instead of presidents on the bills and fight sincerely on the ground still heated from the fire of revolution. Maybe, following the steps of my father and staying abroad due to better job opportunities is the best option. Although sometimes, the stamps in my navy passport make me think that traveling around the world to find where I belong will make me lost in all of the parallels and meridians. What if coming back “home” and hoping that my family will be there together again is what the universe has prepared for me. Picking any of these paths, I lose something. However, putting all your life in 23 kg of luggage teaches you to let go.
We so desperately want stability in our lives that we lock ourselves in the concrete cubes and decorate them with candles and expensive carpets to proudly call that place your home. Do not get me wrong: I want to have a place where my soul can melt into the coziness of huge bookshelves and the bitter smell of coffee with cinnamon. However, a geographical location is not needed to describe a home. Picking up my backpack, I feel excited and free. I carry my metal mug in there along with all the stories my mother told me while drinking mint tea from it and songs my friends sang next to the bonfire in the forest, pouring mulled wine in our mugs. In a pocket protected from rain, there is also an envelope with tiny post-it notes filled with the warmth of my loved ones’ wishes and hopes to meet soon in the future. These things travel with me from locations that aren’t “home” for me. Nevertheless, they bring me a feeling of home.
Moving to another place is scary, but sometimes it is the best option there is. So I sit here and sew sanitary products to help more girls to go to school and, hopefully, make the transition to their new lives at least a tiny bit easier. It is a good thing about “not having a home”: while looking for mine, I get to see the lives of others, become a part of their environment, and, if luck is on my side, make a positive impact. For that, I get to keep a bracelet that becomes a part of the home in my old backpack.