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The bitter and the sweet: am I going home?

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Reading time: 4 minutes
My farewell as a Storyteller, the stories about where we come from and what we call home.
Magnet with the image of a black, orange and yellow cassette tape with the phrase "Bittersweet Beirut" in cursive font.
Bittersweet Beirut. Source: Luanatic / Minbaladeh.

Some words are difficult to translate. And I love them. 


In a class exercise, we had to take an object that was with us at that moment and share the story of this thing with the person next to us. A friend from Lebanon and I coincidentally picked our respective keychains.


On hers, the figure of a cassette tape with the words Bittersweet Beirut. She says it is a popular souvenir. The cassette tape reminds her of her father's old car that still has the cassette player. She used to hate those tapes, but now she loves them, misses them. I ask why the word bittersweet. “The history of my country”, she says. She then shows me the stickers on her laptop: one has the electricity poles with wires, a classic image of the streets in her city; some words in Arabic, like dream; a picture of a small cup decorated with roses, made especially for drinking coffee.


It's my turn now, and in my hands I have a pencil-shaped keychain. It was a gift from a Mexican girl who was in the group of students who participated in an exchange to London i did a few years ago. I remember her on the last day with this huge box, handing out keychains to a class of sixty students. She was the only one who had thought of leaving a gift for everyone, a little piece of herself and her country for everyone to take home. That opportunity was one of my greatest professional achievements, but at one of the darkest moments of my life. Bittersweet, even though I don’t have an exact word in Portuguese for it. I now keep the keychain with me as a reminder to care for myself and others.


“Bittersweet, do you feel this way being abroad too?” Yes, we both agree. “Realizing that I'm here is bigger than me”, my Lebanese friend says. The latest events in Gaza had not yet erupted. Today, she is one of the activists around me, fighting to keep talking about the Palestinian cause. During the past few months, I have been walking this path with other women who shared with me the pain of many lands. We experience the pleasure of telling about the culture we love so much, the mission of talking about the struggle of our communities, the desire to go and see the world, and to return and build a different story at the place we came from. We all chose to study people on the move, or what forces or prevents them from moving. And it is beautiful to see how this program brought us together.


Today, I write my last text as a Storyteller  from Oslo, Norway. I'm approaching the end of the first year of my Master's degree. Another year abroad awaits me. After a long winter, the cherry trees finally bloomed this week. After traveling through Warsaw, Gdańsk, Sopot, Kraków, Budapest, Vienna, Prague, Rome, Vatican, Florence, Bologna, Milazzo, Syracuse, Catania, Paris, Nice, Monaco, Tromsø, Oslo, today I decided to buy my tickets to Brazil. For just a couple of weeks. I feel saudade from home, that is another word difficult to translate. It’s more than missing something, it seems to speak to a deep connection that we have with a place, a person, a thing that is no longer with us. It's neither sad nor joyful, just deeply human in its ambiguity. Bitter and sweet.


Despite preferring dark chocolate and drinking coffee without sugar, feeling the bitterness of the days sometimes brings too much gall to someone like me, who already suffers from gastritis. But the encounters… oh, the encounters are sweet. Thinking about that Mexican girl, I recently prepared brigadeiros, a typical chocolate dessert from Brazil, and I wrote in a small piece of paper to each person in my program a reason why I was grateful to have met them. They became home. They will soon become saudade.


A friend from Pakistan, after struggling to see the sky while growing up, dreams about building a home with big windows on all sides, to be able to look outside and let the light in. Today we cross skies together and collect sunsets and auroras in multiple countries. I think she taught me a lot about the sweet part. Just as my Turkish friend taught me kindness and hearty breakfasts, my Uyghur friend taught me about dreaming. Just as one American friend taught me about sharing silences and heavy suitcases, and the other one taught me love and comfort.


Go for the places, stay for the people. Discover untranslatable words, experience inexplicable feelings. And on a sunny afternoon after a long winter, you might realize that home no longer needs to have a key or four walls.


I hope you enjoyed following a part of this journey as much as I enjoyed sharing it. Keep moving. See you around!