Defining Home – By Joy Mazahreh

From my time photographing in Jordan last June – Capturing Grace on a 17 day Journey in and around Amman Jordan.

It was an amazing experience last June in Jordan to work with writer and Capturing Grace team member, Joy Mazahreh. Jordan is a place of peace in the Middle East, a safe haven for many who have lost everything as a result of wars and political turmoil. Joy and I spent time with refugee families who have lost and rebuilt, working hard to create a sense of home in a land that is not their own. I am excited to be sharing Joy’s stories over the next few days on my Capturing Grace blog, with the current events in the middle east, these stories could not be more timely. I know that you will be inspired by what you read. 

The following phrases from those who have lost so much still echo in my head, words of sadness, words of hope. Refugees who have fled from wars, the children of refugees who desire to honor a past that was lost, clinging to hope through traditions that bring familial continuity. 

“As we fled from Syria during the war, ISIS stole my five-year-old son, I have not seen him since, my heart is broken.” 

Joy and I were inspired by the work we witnessed at the Zarqa Life Center… “I had stopped taking care of myself. Now, through counseling and trauma care, I realize my value — I am once again happy to wake up.”

One of mine and Joy’s favorite memories during our time with JIRA (Jordanian International Relief Agency) was with a family who weaves baskets with a very special meaning. Lana Qabajah is a basket weaver, she implements into her designs, fabric from the Palestinian robes that her family once wore. These fabrics have specific embroidery and designs that represent Palestinian cities where they once lived. The products she makes are both symbolic and beautiful. Her work preserves their heritage, these threads weave a story of the past, connecting them with a place and time that is now gone, but not forgotten. As I heard Lana Qabajah’s story, tears rolled down my face as her story connected with my own. Their hearts refuse to forget, they now create joy, meaning, and purpose from precious connections to their past.

Joy Mazahreh wrote the following story, Defining Home. as an introduction to the stories I will be sharing over the next few days. I am so grateful for having Joy on my Capturing Grace team. I invite you to also read Joy Mazahreh’s story. – Ronnie

Defining Home – by Joy Mazahreh

British-Somali poet, Warsan Shire, writes in her poem “Home:”

i want to go home,
but home is the mouth of a shark
home is the barrel of the gun
and no one would leave home
unless home chased you to the shore
unless home told you
to quicken your legs
leave your clothes behind
crawl through the desert
wade through the oceans
be hunger
forget pride
your survival is more important

no one leaves home until home is a sweaty voice in your ear
run away from me now
i dont know what i’ve become
but i know that anywhere
is safer than here

I have always had a difficulty defining home. The dictionary defines it as a permanent place where one lives. For many years, this was true to me. I lived in Amman, Jordan all my life and when I would say: “I’m going home,” I would specifically mean my family’s house in Amman. How could I not? My bedroom is there, all of my belongings are there too. It was only natural to call it so; I did not know another home.

When I moved to the US two years ago to continue my education, I would call my mom while grocery shopping and say: “I’m going home” as well. When I heard myself say that for the first time, I was shocked. How was it this easy for me to replace the “home” I have known all my life with a tiny apartment I am not yet familiar with? How is my home, all of a sudden, thousands of miles away from the one I have always known? I would later discover, when I started traveling more often, that even my tiny apartment is not my “new home.” After a long day in a new place I would say: “I’m going home,” meaning I am going to the hotel room. I started questioning—is it this easy? Is the hotel room my home now?

It did not take me long to discover that home is not one place. It is not a place to begin with—it was never a place for me. When I started asking friends and loved ones, “what is home to you?” they all had different answers as well. Some said it is a place, others family, or a person, others food, a moment, or a memory.

As I was registering all those new definitions, I also started thinking of all the people around the world who were forced to create a new meaning of home. War and violence have led so many populations to hunger, death, displacement, and loss. According to the UNHCR US, 108.4 million people worldwide are forcibly displaced by the end of 2022. It is astonishing how we as humans are expected, within the urgent need of survival from violence and persecution, to have the immediate response to finding a new home.

I still say “I’m going home” wherever I am in the world today. It took me two years of listening to people’s stories to learn that home is a fragile yet a fluid concept. It can break easily and abruptly. However, with this loss comes the hope of creating new meaning(s) of home. For me, home resides in finding new meanings of home every day. As an English grad student, I focus on novels that define new meanings of home and find home in that. In my conversations with people, I find home in learning their stories and knowing how they found home too.

The stories I am about to share with you are about people who lost, found, or are still looking for the definition of home. In each of these stories, home means something different, even if many of the circumstances are similar. Each of the stories will be about women who were either forced to leave their home or who inherited the loss of home from generations before theirs. For each of these women, home becomes a unique experience, and many of the stories I am about to share have taught me something about what I think is home too.

In the following stories, home is family around the table, home is memory passed through generations, home is a remedy in times of distress, home is a couch, and home is ambition. I invite you to have an open heart and to listen closely to the stories that are about to be told, to negotiate your own meanings of home based on what you have learned, and to pray for each of these women to find the true meaning of home in the Lord, and to believe that our permanent home is not in this world, but with Him in eternity.

Think of the upcoming stories on Capturing Grace  as a rewriting of the “home” entry in the dictionary. The entries are endless, every definition is unique in its own way. I also invite you to write your own definition of the word: what is home to you?


Ellie Everett
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