Home: Between Scotland and The Gambia by Caroline

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Growing up in seven countries, I’d always found it hard to understand where my ‘home’ was. Strangers would ask – ‘if you had to pick where you consider home, are you Scottish or Gambian?’. I would avoid the question by saying it was like picking a favourite parent since Scotland and Gambia are where my parents are from.

This was a lie; I simply felt like I belonged in neither. In Scotland I am the other, too brown to be truly Scottish. In Gambia I am ‘Toubab’, too white to be Gambian [1]. ‘Too foreign for home, too foreign for here, never enough for both’ [2].  So I exist in this weird limbo, floating in between both countries. Some days feeling more Scottish or Gambian, most days indifferent to both.

My mum’s death seven years ago and a dictatorial regime in The Gambia meant I avoided the country for a very long time. My mum’s memory hung heavy in The Gambia. Her laughter was in the wind amongst the trees, her voice in the cackle of birds, her physique in every curve of Gambian women. Every time I thought of Gambia, memories of my mum would flood my brain.

My skin would prickle at the memory of her laughter, and my heart would quicken at the thought of her scolding me for not coming back. As for the regime, in 2013 the president attempted to seize our property during his quest to own most of the country. The very land he tried to steal was where my mum was laid to rest…Gambia was a painful place, so I avoided it for years.

So I lived in Scotland where I searched for traces of Gambia in hair salons, restaurants and Western Union branches. I searched for my mum’s memory in African food shops, longingly staring at ‘Aunties’ who walked past in a vibrant cloud of fabric. I would hear Mandinka spoken in shops and would wrap it around me like a warm blanket, smiling to myself for hours at hearing the familiar dialect [3]. I tried to carve myself a home in Scotland yet felt lonely. I missed Gambia and everything it represented.

A few months ago I decided to move from Scotland to live and work in The Gambia. I told myself it wasn’t long term, a couple of years to get to know the country better and an opportunity to work for a UN agency. I arrived desperate to feel a sense of belonging…yet everything about the place felt unfamiliar.

Little has changed about the country – the same Gambia that I knew when I lived here as a lanky 13 year old was suspended in time.  Everything looked the same, yet everything felt different.  My Mandinka, once a language I spoke with ease, had lost its fluency. Just like in Scotland, I was faced with the same question of ‘where are you actually from?’.

I struggled to carve a place for myself when I didn’t know that many people and I didn’t have family here anymore. For a few weeks I was in a dark place. Grief had come in and unlocked raw emotions that had been repressed for many years. I was unhappy and felt like I was failing myself. The whole point of me coming to Gambia was because I felt it was what I needed. This was what I wanted for so long, yet I felt…lonely.

Through all that, I went through a period of self-reflection. I wouldn’t trade my childhood for anything and consider myself extremely lucky to have lived in different cultures, yet growing up in so many countries meant I never laid roots. I spent so long trying to fit in and shaping myself to the places I lived that I neglected my internal growth.

The psychological effect it was having on me was that I felt more and more anxious at finding my ‘home’. I’d spent so long hopping from one place to another that I felt lost, and I was scared. I felt like there was no place I was meant to be, or nowhere I could come back to.

For years I had put so much emphasis on home being a physical place so I could feel a deep sense of belonging. Now I know this isn’t true. I find my home in people. In my family and the people I love is where I have a safe place. Somewhere I belong and somewhere I can come back to.

Yes, certain aspects of where I come from keep me rooted. In Scotland and Gambia, I feel a sense of familiarity which is comforting, and both cultures have shaped me to be the young woman I am today.  But for that deep sense of belonging, I know my  family and loved ones keep me planted on earth, and I feel reassured they will keep me forever anchored.

[1] Name for a person of European descent

[2] Ijeoma Umebinyo, ‘Questions of Ada’

[3] Main language spoken in The Gambia

Caroline is a 25 year old Scottish/ Gambian currently living and working in The Gambia. She has a background in the field of human rights and has worked for organisations in West Africa as well as the UK. In her spare time she can be found watching terrible reality TV and avoiding any form of exercise. Tweet her @mamanyima.

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