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Telling the other story: Narratives without borders

posted Dec 13, 2018, 1:17 AM by J Grant   [ updated Dec 13, 2018, 1:26 AM ]
Home was here: Birmingham, England. Home was not in Limerick, Ireland; approximately 372 miles away. But one long weekend has managed to change my very idea of home and now I tell you: Home is where the soul is. 

On the 16th of November 2018, I travelled with five other students from Holyhead to Limerick, (courtesy of Narrative 4 and University of Birmingham.) A journey filled to the brim with nerves. A foreign country, with foreign people and a foreign culture. I wasn’t going to fit in; I had already decided that I wasn’t going to belong and the weekend would be a series of awkward, forced ‘hello’s’, ‘how are you’s?’ and an arty-farty story exchange. 

But it was far from it. Warmth is the word that now comes to mind when I think of Limerick. (Which is ironic, considering it was very cold.) Warmth and unity. When I first met the Irish students. The first part was relatively true; awkward, forced greetings and icebreakers that really didn’t break the ice. However, that wasn’t unique to Ireland because I’ve realised that’s how a lot of encounters begin and then end the same way. If it wasn’t for the story exchange that followed, we would’ve met the same fate.

The following day, Saturday 17th, was a long day with two creative writing workshops in which we were taught the importance of venturing beyond our comfort zones, stepping into the unknown and making it our own. “Many people advise you as a writer to ‘write what you know’ as a word of wisdom for success.” Ruth Gilligan, the inspirational woman spent two years organising the entire trip would often say something along the lines of this. She’d then proceed to tell us about why it was important that we did write what we knew, that we talked about our experiences as an individual, that we tell our story.. And then finally, she’d ask, ‘What about writing what you don’t know?’ When I first heard her say it I thought it sounded pretty nice. It was a catchy, rebellious statement. I liked it. That was all that I thought of it until the end of that Saturday where we were invited to the ‘Telling the Other Story’ public event in which several authors including Ruth read extracts of their own and each other’s novels. Each story was distinct from one another and also distinguishable from the authors. Donal Ryan was not Farouk, a Syrian doctor who strove to protect his wife and daughter from a war-torn Syria, now without a home. But he didn’t have to be. He had written the other story, he had told the story of the real lives of millions of Syrians who have lost their families, their homes and their lives to the hardship and hatred that has taken their country. He has shown empathy.

The next day was the dreaded story exchange: Sunday 18th. Anxiety was thick in the air as we were randomly assigned our partners to exchange our stories before sharing the story with the group as your partner in the first person. Two by two, people were shipped off to find a quiet place together, with every two the room seemed to be closing in… and then finally I heard my name. ‘Kadeja and Aaron.’ Ruth said before I locked eyes with a tall, blue-eyed boy smiling dutifully. Oh no, I thought. I bowed my head and quickly shuffled out the room. I hadn’t met him, I hadn’t even had the chance to say an awkward hello to him or even attempt to break the ice. We were given approximately one whole hour to get to know each other, exchange stories and then tell it back for each other. Looking back at it, I only wish I could stretch the hour for days because within a few minutes we were laughing and making jokes and then by the end of the hour we were hugging, telling each other we’d be great out there, that we’d be there for each other.

When they finally called us, we sat in a circle and it was evident the ice had cracked somewhat; the barrier had shifted. Everyone was smiling and chatting as if they’ve known each other for months. And then it was finally time to tell the story. I was first. ‘Hi, my name is Aaron and this is my story...’ I began and that’s all I remember before I slipped into his shoes and became him and lived his story of loss and betrayal with him; I told his story. And then he told mine and Ms Daya told Ms Mahoney’s and Clem told Mercy’s and Sam told Danielle’s and Aimee told Samar’s and Emily told Kishan’s… by the end of it, we were had tried on a dozen pair of shoes and downed almost two packs of tissues. I felt warm. My story told them as much as their story told me: we were the same. We were as human as each other with the same emotions and the same desires and the same sorrows. I guess you could say the barrier was broken, but I think it would be slightly more accurate to say the barrier was a mere fragment of our of imagination. We were not strangers, we had known each other for years.

Home is where the soul is. I left part of my soul in Limerick with my story, part of me lives there and will continue living there. I brought back stories with me, we all brought back stories with us and there is a home for them here.

Kadeja 13E