In 2016, aged 53, I sailed to Spain in the direction of inspiration and passion. Without an itinerary or companion, I stood at the rail under a blue sky looking for whales, my rucksack stowed under my chair. Before me, my great aunt sailed to the Falkland Islands in 1931 to be with her husband, and my grandmother to the UK from Africa between 1937 and ’45 on the WW2 “banana boats” to have her babies. Unwittingly I was connecting with a strand of female familial travel, albeit less dangerous.
Many countless women have made such journeys: some by choice, some under terrible stress and it continues to this day. Leaving a war-torn country, running from starvation, going to get married or roaming to satisfy wanderlust; women have repatriated for the good of the children, for their own safety or for a better life.
Once arrived, there is the inevitable culture shock, depending on the length of stay and the trauma suffered. If able to speak the native language or educated into the ways of the new country, it is likely that settling will be smoother. It may be a profound relief or a terrible realisation as time passes; there may be help on hand or there may not.
Scotland has sent away its natives (to Australia and Canada for example), been the recipient of prisoners of war and become richer for it, and has always welcomed refugees. It has a great reputation for kindness and generosity, even though some people are retained in camps outside Glasgow, or even sent back by the British Government. Over the past 80 years we have been blessed (depending on our approach) with the ability to be transported quickly and efficiently across oceans and continents, and are now cognisant with the traditions and beliefs of others, even if we do not always respect them as we could.
In these Brexit days we are hyper-aware of the number of couples we know who both hail from different lands – perhaps neither are Scottish but the children were born here. They are currently wondering whether to apply for an Irish passport, to leave or become British citizens. My daughter’s friend from school has parents and grandparents who hailed from Italy and have lived here for generations but she has a yen to live in the place of her ancestors. Certainly, many of our youth consider themselves European and move comfortably between countries without memory of former border searches and divers currencies.
As single women, I and my two fellow panelists in Travellers Tales, part of the Audacious Women Festival have made many journeys between our homeland and Scotland. Enquiring into the courage and daring needed for such adventures, the level of independence we have gained in the process, and attempting to address the resulting challenges, we each have stories to share with each other and our audience. We will engage with key questions that arise for anyone who has moved house a lot: Where does my heart lie? Did I leave my soul back home? In fact, where is home now?
We will compare how we developed support networks. We have lived and worked somewhere else, had relationships and raised kids away from our homeland, but where do we belong? Do we see ourselves returning one day or have we now merged, creating a synergistic identity? If our extended families are spread around the world, and we spend time conversing in various tongues while preparing meals from imported foodstuffs, what traditions are we passing on to the next generation? Which queue do we stand in at the airport if we go on holiday, and is it the same one as our children?
Taken up as we are with these debates, even within the United Kingdom where Welsh, Gaelic, Scots and so many other languages are spoken, places of worship have been established by hundreds of nationalities, and the original travellers with their sometimes nomadic lives are remaining in one location for much of the year, we are more engaged than ever with this topic. Our once segregated and separate communities are now all muddled up, our genes already diversified, so perhaps there’s no going back. How can we accept this state of things, whilst avoiding extreme reactions and hatred, and what can we do to ensure we live together in greater harmony?
We anticipate a lively discussion!