Rotary Peace Center at Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, Thailand
Sometimes the question ‘where are you from?’ is one of the hardest to answer. There are 21 Peace Fellows in class 20 and due to the nature of our work, many of us have lived in and travelled to many countries around the world. Where we were born is not necessarily where we live. Where we call home is not necessarily where we live, where we work or where we were born. It reminds me of a TED talk by Taiye Selasi on being multi-local. Her idea is that where we are ‘local’, the places we call home, are a function of our relationships (where are our most important relationships – the people we speak to regularly?), rituals (the cultural practices we have and observe), and restrictions (where do we have permission to live).
I was born in Melbourne, Australia and have travelled the world to around 75 countries. I have an Australian passport and my immediate family live in Melbourne. Like most Melbournians, no matter where in the world I am, I practise the Melbourne appreciation of great coffee, food, and sport. I have not always lived in Melbourne. As a university student I lived in Toronto, Canada. More recently I lived and worked in Dublin, Ireland for five years. I identify with the Irish love of storytelling, music, and ‘the craic’. I have also attended Irish weddings and funerals and connect with their concept of family and festival.
Back in Australia, my parents have a home at Cape Paterson on the coast of Victoria and here I also have a strong sense of place. I have swum in the surf and observed the brilliant sunsets innumerable times. Here we greet the neighbours by name and share unhurried conversations about the latest developments at the surf life saving club or the whale spotted off the coast.
For me home is Melbourne, Dublin, and Cape Paterson. Yet I currently live in Bangkok.
My classmate Asmara holds passports for Lebanon, Brazil, and France. Yet she lives in Berlin. As a child, she used to call home the last place she lived. The place that she missed the most was home. Today when you ask, ‘where are you from?’, Asmara will tell you about her passports, but she is probably more likely to tell you that home is wherever her husband and daughter are.
Another classmate, Jackie, was born in Port Moresby, educated in Papua New Guinea, London, and Brisbane. For Jackie, home is more a feeling than a geographical place. It’s the sense she has when she gets off the plane each time she flies into Brisbane, it’s the Papua New Guinea coffee beans which go into her coffee – no matter where she is.
How does this relate to peacebuilding? Internationally more than 60 million people are displaced from their country of origin – the most since World War II. Many will never return to their place of origin, the place where they were born. The world is becoming increasingly multi-local and this presents both opportunity and challenge for peacebuilders. This diversity can bring challenges to our peaceful existence. Differences in culture, religion, and practices can breed fear, which can in turn escalate into conflict. However, the benefits of this diversity include a richness of new skills, knowledge, and variety and this creates multicultural communities with the capacity to better understand other perspectives and peaceful co-existence.
Where are you from? No matter where home is for you, one thing that runs strong throughout this group of Rotary Peace Fellows is that our identity is something that is within, that travels with us. Home does not have to be a physical place. It’s not about passport or birth. Home is deep within us, where the heart is. So next time you meet a Rotary Peace Fellow, don’t ask them where they are from, ask them where is home.
Ellen Maynes, Melbourne/Dublin/Cape Paterson
Rotary Peace Fellow
January 2016 Session