Home in a paper bill

This week is the "week of the dialogue" in the Netherlands which is usually celebrated the whole month long with people from different cultures sitting around a table together talking about their experiences. I joined a table (numerous locations around the country) and this was my experience.

"Bring a special object that reminds you of home," said the woman on the other line. This was two years ago and I was talking to the moderator of the table where I was assigned on the first "Nederland in Dialoog" (the Netherlands in Dialogue) that I attended.

Nederland in Dialoog is a once-a-year one-day affair that is intended to put people of different cultures, colours and racial origins together (literally, on the same table) to discuss a certain theme which varies each year.

It uses the "appreciative inquiry" method developed by the Brahma Kumaris Spirituele Academie in Rotterdam where the first "Dag van de Dialoog" was held in 2002. The sharing of experiences and showing of respect for each other’s differences are central to the discussion.

Since 2005, the Dag van de Dialoog has been held nationwide, hence the title Nederland in Dialoog. This year, 60 places all over the country mix people from different cultural backgrounds together on tables.

I was working that day and did not want to bring heavy stuff "that reminds me of where I came from" that I just wore the golden earrings that my mother gave me before I left the Philippines. They are special not only because they were given by my mother but also because of their curious shape.

They are shaped like arrows and look like little houses. All these factors remind me very much of the place I used to call home. The house shape reminds me of my former abode. While the arrow suggests discipline which, in any form one sees it, is present in any family, Filipino or otherwise.

Other people brought other things. Some reminded them of home, some of other events. Apparently, the moderator only told them to bring "an object that reminds you of a special event" or an "object from your last travel that reminds you of the culture there."

As did Ivan from the former Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. He brought the former paper bill of Yugoslavia that came with his family when they fled to the Netherlands in the 1990’s. He keeps it in his wallet to this day because it reminds him of where he came from.

The only thing is, his home does not exist anymore. Yugoslavia was dissolved into six countries (Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Slovenia and Serbia and Montenegro) in 1992 amid the Yugoslav wars.

"Whenever I see this paper bill, I am reminded of the place where I grew up in, the house where I used to play with my siblings in," he told. "We still have family - aunts, uncles, cousins - in what is now Bosnia, but when people ask me where I came from, I am always apprehensive to say "Yugoslavia" because it is just like saying I came from a non-existing country."

Another couple in our table brought a statue as reminder of their Baha'i (pronounced as "bahay") faith. They are a pair of volunteers who try to spread the word about their belief where there is only one God, however we name him, or her.

Everybody is welcome because everybody is a child of God, or however you name him, or her. Introducing their faith reminds me so much of home where everybody is embraced and everybody is welcome. Connectedly, the meaning of the word "bahay" in Filipino is "house." Isn't it amazing how home-oriented the talks turned out to be?

Not quite surprising I suppose, if you put together people from different backgrounds and ethnicities. And if there was something to learn from the evening, it was this: We can find home wherever we are, where we are safe and where we are loved.

It does not matter if it is the country where we were born in or the country that does not exist. Because if home is where the heart is, one does not need a certain place to hold on to. Memories are enough. Or objects that activate these memories. May it be an earring, or a statue or an old paper bill.

Chared Verschuur-Ballo is a journalist from the Philippines. She has been living in the Netherlands for four years now. 

Chared Verschuur


Chared Verschuur

Broadcast Journalist and Science Communicator living in The Netherlands since 2007. I come from the Pearl of the Orient Seas (Philippines). I love to write and share information. My hobbies...

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