featuring two perspectives on the new year
Interview by Marie Chung
As the year comes to a close, it is common for many of us to find a place to reconnect either with ourselves, our family or our community. Typically, there are many different ways we experience the end of year celebrations and this often depends on who and where we are in the world, our culture, our religion, our families, our upbringing and what we are like as individuals. Today, we delve into that of two influential storytellers with unique perspectives of home, family and celebration. Hiba, a Sudanese-Egyptian young woman who arrived in Australia as a humanitarian refugee, talks through rituals, traditions and connecting with home from a place that's not necessarily physical. Emilie, a cyber security guru and volunteer, also has a fluid perspective of home and having slept rough in her youth, shares a mature and intellectual reflection on growth and progress. Both women show snippets of what Christmas and the New year are like in their respective homes whilst also drawing a parallel on the end of the year as a time for reflection and connection, no matter who and where we are.
What does home mean to you?
Home to me isn’t confined to a physical location; rather it’s captured in sights, sounds, smells, taste and touch. Home is my mum’s voice, the smell of her cooking. Home is my best friend’s laugh and my partner’s hands. Home is also drinking shay (spiced tea) and telling stories under a date palm in the hot Sudanese sun.
Home – to me – is ever-changing, whether that is on a physical level, an emotional level or a mental level. However, I’ve grown to a point in my life that I now regard my mind as my home, my sanctuary and my refuge. I see ‘home’ as not your parents place, or your house, but rather where you feel your utmost content, a place where you can take off your shoes – again, whether physical, emotional or mental – and rest your tired feet.
How do you celebrate Christmas?
HT: Every year I celebrate Christmas in January with my Ethiopian Orthodox family in their home. We eat doro watt (traditional chicken stew), kitfo (minced meat with a selection of condiments), shiro (chickpea stew) all mopped up with injera (Ethiopian flatbread). We then have buna (spiced coffee), popcorn and himbasha (Ethiopian celebration bread). I’m neither Ethiopian, nor Orthodox. To be included in an event that is so intimate and so special is a blessing. It’s also a testament I think to human connection - a phrase that I grew up hearing is that we are all the sons and daughters of Hawa (Biblical Eve) regardless of religion, or any other factor.
EQ: I think my Christmas will be quite haphazard this year, as I’ve grown away more from my biological parents, I’ve grown closer to my un-biological parents – so I’m still unaware of which family of mine I’ll be spending Christmas with this year.
is there room for inclusion during the christmas period?
HT: Absolutely! There is room for inclusion in everything that we do. Inclusion to me is the connection that we have with others. Inclusion is based on mutual respect and dignity; it is letting the other know that they matter.
EQ: I think there’s definitely more room for acceptance of religions and their celebrations. I often get the feeling that other religious celebrations are discounted and treated with hostility by people who feel as though it lessens the importance of Christmas.
How do you prepare yourself to be bigger and better in the new year? Is this useful?
EQ: I usually try to stray away from the usual “new years resolution”. We change so fluidly and rapidly, that it almost sounds self-contradictory to place a strict endpoint on your year, e.g.: “I’m going to lose 20kgs”, “I’m going to be braver”. I take the new year as not a wishing well for the year ahead, but rather to reflect the year that has past, and how it changed, how I changed, how I grew and how I shrunk.
HT: It has only been in the past year that I have begun to prepare myself for the New Year. I wrote down goals, personal and professional, that I hoped to achieve. While I think this was a good exercise, I will not be repeating this again this year. I realised that I was trying to fit myself into a persona that wasn’t me. For 2018 I am going to reflect on my values instead, and use them as the basis for who I would like to be.
What does the end of a year bring up for you?
EQ: The end of the year has been on my mind quite a lot lately. The last three new years have always reflected around myself thinking “I lived through another year” which, often disappointed me as I no longer felt excited about life. I would constantly estimate how long I’d last in this world, and the new year was never in it. I remember thinking to myself on the train the other day, and almost habitually I had again told myself:
“I lived through another year” only this time, I felt happy. That, and proud of myself.
HT: This has been a challenging year for me, on a number of different levels. I think sometimes we forget that while the problems and challenges that we face are significant, in the context of the problems that others are facing, they come into a different light. This is not to say that it makes our problems any less significant, rather it means that we need to take a step back and reflect. This requires the humility to listen, which is something that I will need to practice more in the coming year.
As I reflect on this year, I am reminded of the Egyptian proverb ‘بلوته عليه تهون غيره بلوة يشوف اللى’ which translates to ‘he who sees the problems of others is given perspective on his own.’
Both Hiba and Emilie featured in our live storytelling events in 2016 and 2017. To learn more about the two, head to our Live Talks section.