Of Migration and Homeland

"Taha Al-Gawashi"

Today is my eldest daughter Celine's birthday. On this day, three years ago, I moved from Libya to Spain with my wife and our two girls (Celine and Maria) to escape the deteriorating conditions and secure a better future for my daughters. 

Celine and Maria were born in Libya. We immigrated on December 11, 2017, which coincided with Celine's third birthday. Today, Celine turns six. Though her life has been equally split between Libya and Spain, the only things she still remembers about her birthplace are our family members, and the Libyan dish zumita.

There is a big difference between migrating as a child and migrating as an adult. My daughters are Spanish–no different from any other Spanish child their age. But my reality is very different. I migrated after I lived my whole life in Libya, roamed its corners, and fully absorbed its culture and history. 

The truth is, I adapted to Spain the same day I arrived–despite the initial language barrier. Notwithstanding its challenges, migrating as an adult has many perks, the most important being the ability to make observations and comparisons. 

I’m passionate about observing people's behavior, their lifestyles, and their relationships to one another and to the state. I also love comparing the way people behave here in Spain, versus how people behave in my homeland–their history and ours, their culture and ours. I find this to be an enriching, educational experience. 

Migration has turned me into a child again. It has ignited my youthful curiosity; I find myself asking naive, yet profound, questions about everything–just like a child. Every day I learn something new, visit a new place, or encounter something different: a new word, a new piece of information, a new dish. 

The world is different here. I may live in Spain, but I meet people from across the world. Spain is a diverse country, open to the world. In Libya, people live in isolation, always pointing out differences in origin or heritage. They always remark: “This person is Egyptian, this person is Tunisian, that person is Syrian…or he’s black, he’s Arab, he’s from Fezzan, from Jabal Al-Akhdar, etc.).

In Spain, no one asks me who I am, or what I do, where I'm going or where I came from; people love life and love living it, and they leave others be. 

Spain is one of the world's most beautiful countries, if not the most beautiful. And it is without a doubt one of the richest countries in the world, especially culturally. I love Libya, my homeland, despite everything it's going through, and I love my new homeland, Spain, despite being a stranger here. 

The proverb goes: Poverty in your homeland estranges you, and wealth in a foreign country turns it into a home. Personally, I never believed being rich or poor to be a matter of money, but rather, of intellect. I’m not rich in my estrangement, and I wasn’t poor in my homeland; every day, my wealth increases, at least intellectually.

Born in Tajoura, he is a photojournalist and filmmaker. Many of his journalistic photos have been published in The New York Times, The Times of London, and others. He participated in filming the documentary “Drowning Messages,” which won the Audience Choice Award at the Malaga Film Festival in 2020.

Taha Al-Gawashi
Previous Story
The Beauty, the Gazelle, and I
Next Story
The Vow Between A Sister and A Brother