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WHAT IS BELONGING? by Mariam Mohamed

Belonging isn’t about a place or a person. It’s intangible. A feeling that’s different for every person. For me, it means safety, comfort and contentment. Feeling completely at home with yourself and space around you. Somewhere where you feel safe to be unapologetically yourself. It’s not something that's found easily. It takes courage, commitment and disappointment.

Sometimes, it can feel like you don’t belong anywhere in the world. You feel other. Like the black sheep. This is a feeling I am very familiar with. As a second generation immigrant, I find that I don’t belong in any place. I am estranged from the “motherland”. I feel disconnected. While it is my ethnicity, I’ve never been back. I’m not up to date with the cultural trends and I can’t speak the language. But I don’t belong here either. I was born here. I was raised here. But, there are so many systems in place that remind me that I don’t belong here. I feel like I don’t have a place to call. I’m too Indian for Canada but I’m too Canadian for India. It’s something I struggle with almost daily. The photograph with the Indian clothes was taken in my home. The armoire is bursting at the seams, trying to hold all of mine and my sisters' collective Indian clothes. The shelves are bent under the weight of the entirety of our cultural capacity. As someone who loves clothing, clothes are one of the only connections I have to my culture. I incorporate Indian fashion into my everyday style and it helps me to feel more connected. Like I belong.

Over the years I’ve learned a lot about belonging. What it means and how I can achieve it. I feel like belonging is an outcome to self-expression and strong identity. Belonging is achieved when belonging is no longer needed. When I needed to be accepted by other people, I found myself never feeling like I fit in. Constantly changing and molding myself in order to belong made me feel like I didn’t belong within myself. I needed to let go of these expectations in order to really find places and people I belonged with. In the past year, I have done a lot of self reflection. I wanted to look in the mirror and feel like a person, not a mould of who I thought I should be. I found things I actually enjoyed doing and people I actually enjoyed being with. I made space in my life for creativity and self-discovery. One of the biggest self realizations I made was that I actually liked being outside and being in nature. I discovered thru-hiking, which is long distance hiking, and I marvelled at the idea of being in nature for months at a time without ever interacting with society. When I’m hiking and surrounded by nature, I feel fantastical. Nature is so incredibly beautiful with all it’s interconnected, simplistic glory. I feel as though I’m witnessing something magical. A supernatural event. I feel the thrill of going on a rollercoaster while also feeling the calm of the first few seconds when you wake up in the morning. I find hiking to be the ultimate way to capture nature in its fullest potential. And so, the photograph of me in the forest with a cyanotype of trees superimposed on top shows my contentment in nature. This is where I belong.

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