Blogbox | Diaspora

One body, two lives

By - 18.02.2020

Growing up in the Kosovar diaspora.

Where do you feel at home? 

Is it better here or there? 

These are just two of the questions that people like me have heard an infinite number of times. People like me were raised or born in a foreign country. To be one of us means having had a lot of good fortune. To have had the enormous luck not to live through the war in Kosovo; of having had so many possibilities in life that my fellow countrymen didn’t have. 

We are lucky; this must never be forgotten. But not everything that glitters is gold. 

When, as a child, people asked me if it was better in Kosovo or Italy (where I grew up), I always answered Kosovo. 

Little by little, all the security I had built for myself as a child was missing, and those questions began drilling inside my head.

I dreamed of going back there. Indeed it was my goal. 

“At 18, I will return to my parents’ country, where people pronounce my name correctly, where I feel at home.” 

That was my conviction. 

When dreams meet realities

It was a feeling strongly influenced by my situation. When I was small, Kosovo meant holidays, no school and playing with my lovely cousins all day. Then I grew up and began seeing the world through the eyes of an adult and realized that coming back would not make any sense, that most of my relatives would give anything to be in my position. 

Little by little, all the security I had built for myself as a child was missing, and those questions began drilling inside my head. 

They led me to think about one specific thing: My double identity. I was sure that after moving to Kosovo, the problem was going to disappear. But then I realized that it would be far better to stay in Italy. 

It has been an enormous question since I was small. I immediately noticed that I could not ask for help from my parents. What did they know about it? I looked around and saw only Italian friends or Albanian relatives who had no idea about my double identity. 

When you grow up like this, you end up feeling like two different people. 

At home you speak one language, you behave in a certain way, you respect the rules of a culture. As soon as you step outside the door, everything changes into another language, another culture, all different. 

You’re still the same, but you behave differently. Even though I will always think of myself as an Albanian guy born in Kosovo, I have to admit that living in another country for twenty years shapes your person. 

I never felt like I belonged completely to one country.

Now all I do is watch people like me; I like to call them the middle ones. I look at them, I observe them, and I try to talk to them as much as possible, regardless of their nationality. 

I’m interested in how they live. 

How do they solve the thousands of daily problems caused by this condition?

How do they manage the name issue? Many of us have a name that simply doesn’t work in some other countries. People can’t pronounce it. Do they have a nickname like me? Do they like it?

Do they prefer one country more than the other? Have they chosen one or the other or are they able to keep both?

Where do they feel at home? 

I still believe that for those like me, the feeling of home is something completely different. I never felt enough for either part. I never felt like I belonged completely to one country.

I admire the new generation of “the middle ones.” Yes, I have a great deal of respect for them. Because they are living life to the fullest, without letting themselves be compromised.

“I don’t care what my parents, or the locals, think. I don’t care about my parents’ rules or what local cultural rules I should follow. I live my life the way I like it,” a sixteen-year-old girl told me a while ago.

That’s what I have never been able to do. I feel like I’ve been continuously hiding. 

I used to hide my country of origin when I was with my Italian friends. I was ashamed. I felt inferior; I felt as if I did not have the right to be there. I looked at them, and I was convinced that they were superior in everything. It’s not easy to grow up as a foreigner. 

What’s even more absurd: When you are finally accepted and no one considers you a foreigner anymore; but your friends are still racist toward your fellow countrymen. 

“Hey guys, I’m like the ones you insult, too.”

“No, you’re different, you’re like us.” 

Maybe someone else liked hearing this, but it always put me in an extremely difficult situation. I was not like them, why did they think so? 

Instead, with parents and relatives, I hid the part of myself that was like my friends. I felt guilty looking like them; I didn’t want my people to think that I was forgetting my roots. 

And so, worrying about not disappointing anyone, I think I ended up not living either life. I’ve always hidden. 

Now I have understood my mistakes. I have realized that there was nothing to be ashamed of. 

Being grey

I had to be proud of this situation: I am able to represent two countries, two cultures and two languages correctly. 

I only needed a little more character and to be myself. For years though, I didn’t even understand who I was. Everyone was either on one side or the other. I was in the middle. As I took a step in one direction, it seemed to me to hurt those on the other side. So I stayed in the middle.

I look at the younger generation, and they all seem braver than me.

I keep talking to people like me, and I realize that each of us has experienced this condition differently. Perhaps this was the greatest disappointment. To realize that we are not the same at all. That each of us, despite the same condition, have had a different life. 

All the beliefs I had built for myself as a child have entirely collapsed. It was, of course, going to happen. In the end, I was just a child, and I thought that there were a lot of other Kosovar children around the world who had the same fears as me. I dreamed of meeting them and hearing them tell me what was going on in my head, but it did not happen. And that’s right. 

But if there is one constant, it is that each one of them seems to have chosen a side. Everyone tends toward one more strongly. Not me, I’m still halfway. Maybe it’s okay here too, in the middle, maybe I’m enough for both. 

One body and two lives, is that possible? 

Sometimes it’s wonderful, when you switch from one language to another automatically without any difficulty. When in Italy people told me that I couldn’t be a foreigner because I spoke perfectly, and when in Kosovo my relatives said that I didn’t look like someone who was growing up abroad. I was always so proud of myself. 

Sometimes, it is terrible. Sometimes I dream of being born again, but in one place and knowing that I will die in that place. I won’t need to abandon it and I will have the real feeling of home. 

I look at the younger generation, and they all seem braver than me. 

Or maybe I have been braver than them. I kept both sides attached to me, and perhaps unconsciously, the best part of each one. 

There is no right answer; there is no better option than the other. Everyone ends up being shaped differently by this condition, and that’s wonderful. In the end I’m still in the middle.

I’m not white or black, I will always be grey. 

I like to repeat to myself a phrase I underlined in the romance, “The Sympathizer” written by Viet Thanh Nguyen. It goes: “Remember, you’re not half of anything, you’re twice of everything!” 

I am learning to live with it, to look only at the positive sides. 

Sometimes, however, on those nights when I can’t sleep, I always end up asking myself the same question: 

Who am I? 

Feature Image: Arrita Katona / K2.0.