By Emma Sartori

The notion of home is both complex and simple for some. It crosses literal and figurative ideas and draws in many other factors including migration and travel. It was this theme that formed the basis for The Mara Crossing: On Journeys Across the Globe session.

A largely expat/migrant audience joined host and Australian expat Jane Cornwell, poet Ruth Padel and authors Evelyn Conlon and Tara June Winch for a discussion that meandered along at its own pace, never seeking to give a definitive answer, instead offering members the choice for individual definition as ideas posed applied to them.

Is home a physical place? Is it made up of things, of people, of emotions? How do you know when you’re home? What happens to a home when you leave, whether by choice or not? What happens when you return to that home? What are people seeking when they leave a home? Anything? Or are they simply seduced by the unknown?

Maybe “home is travel, the journey,” Padel posed.

Perhaps it is, but throw in factors such as choice and the push/pull factor and the topic is turned on its head. Choice and a sense of home seemingly go hand in hand, but sometimes there is no freedom to make a choice; hands are forced, no matter how subtly, by others around them.

For migrants, “Home and migration are two sides of the same coin because everybody is leaving home but going to try to create a new home.

“There is a push-pull factor. The pull factor is the hope for a better life … but of course there’s a push factor too and it’s execution, famine, economic degradation,” Padel mused.

While an astute audience member later remarked: “With choice, in a greater sense, you can always defer to some kind of structure of decision-making that seems larger than any individual.”

For expats, the longer we’re away from home the more blurred the lines become, for when we physically wander from home, so too does our mind.

“It [home] does become romanticised, blurry, magical, a dreamland,” said Tara June Winch, an Australian now living in France.

We sentimentalise things; life, people and moments, so much so that returning home becomes a struggle because the home as you knew it evolved, quite possibly unintentionally casting you out.

When we return we are strangers essentially, Evelyn Conlon said. “It’s like when somebody dies … once the person is dead then the rest of the community leaves, turns their back and fills in the space in which that person was. So in a way, when a person emigrates and leaves that space is filled in. When they come back in, how do you recreate that space?”

Can we even recreate that space, especially if contact with home while away was minimal or non-existent?

It doesn’t matter, Conlon pointed out, because in this day and age nobody can ever be truly gone from somewhere. And she’s right, technology has made sure of that, social media has made sure of that and the way most of us have allowed all of that into our lives has made sure of that.

So, why do we leave? Why the search for home? Why do we one day feel home is not where we were once taught it was?

Padel sums it up beautifully in the final poem of The Mara Crossing, Time to Fly: “Because you need a place to shed your skin in safety. You go with a thousand questions but you are growing up, growing old, moving on. Say goodbye to the might-have-beens you can’t step into the same river twice.

“You go because hope, need and escape are names for the same god. You go because life is sweet, life is cheap, life is flux and you can’t take it with you. You go because you’re alive, because you’re dying, maybe dead already. You go because you must.”

Emma Sartori is an Australian writer continually beating away inner demons with a pen. Follow her on twitter on @EmzSartori.

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