'You came back!' A neighbour said when I ventured out onto the streets last Saturday afternoon. 'I didn't think you would return.'
'I always knew you'd be back,' another neighbour ventured. But she had to believe that. She'd been left minding my dog.
Just for the record, I always knew I'd come back. I loved every minute of my time in Wales – speaking the language, revelling in the culture, the scenery, the history, living with a parade of artists, being part of the Corris community. I didn't want to leave. But I always knew I would be coming back and that, once I got home, it would be fine. Why? Apart from the obvious reasons like a husband and family? This is a question I have been exploring with a friend on Facebook. She asked whether it felt weird to be back. Here is what I said to her:
Strangely, not weird at all. It's slipping into a well worn glove. But I always feel like that at when I land at Heathrow, even more so when I cross the border into Wales. I guess it is possible to have two homes.
She asked: do you feel like two different people?
Definitely. I am different people – two versions of Liz. Speaking Welsh makes this more pronounced. I am a different person when I speak Welsh. There are aspects of me that people who don't speak the language have never seen.
She asked: do you find each person to be equally real?
Wherever I am feels the most real at the time. Yet strangely, I feel more Australian when I'm in Wales than I do when I'm in Australia. I am acutely aware of how much Oz has influenced me. There is no escaping it, I've been here since I was five years old. I am not polite enough, circumspect enough, or knowledgable enough to fully belong.
She said: Hmm… I'm not sure that I understand…?
Here is the example I gave:
In Welsh class, in Machynlleth, when we were learning animal names, we were given photos. People looked at the photos and provided the Welsh names. I pointed at pictures and said: what is it? They all looked at me blankly. I said: I've never seen that animal before. If you extend that knowledge gap across history, flora, marine life, seasons, customs, life expectations, the school, medical and political systems, you might begin to comprehend the yawning black hole. It would take a lifetime to acquire that lost knowledge. Even then, I could never fully do so. It is gone. Forever. I was raised in Australia.
It's taken me years to come to terms with this sense of dislocation. It is no accident that when I decided to write a novel it would be about migrants. Moving to Australia was the single most defining event of my childhood. It is why learning Welsh has become such an important part of my life now. Many of the people in my class share that sense of dislocation. In fact, one of my friends, Dai y Trên sent me a poem that tackles this issue. Like me, he came to Oz as a child. He has Breton and English heritage. He has been learning Welsh for twelve years and he is, incidentally, the person who first introduced me to Say Something in Welsh. He gave me permission to share his poem (in Welsh and English) so long as I acknowledged the assistance of our long-serving tutor, Faleiry, and the members of our Welsh class. Dyma hi:
Hiraeth (A pham fedra i ddim mynd yn ôl)
Pan o'n i'n ifanc cymeron fi o wlad fy ngeni
Dim fy newis i ond heb eu beio nhw.
Ond fedra i ddim caru gwlad haul-sychu
Anialwch crasboeth, peryglion,
A coed sy’n edrych yr un fath i fi.
Na, well gen i gwlad mwy harddach, gan flodau anhebyg
Caeau gwyrdd, lonydd deiliog a chrwydro
Ble mae’r haul yn gynnes, dim yn ddeifiog,
Ble does dim byd yn dy frathu di
Ac maen nhw dal yn parchu’r trênau stêm arddechog.
O hanner byd i ffwrdd dwi 'n teimlo'r hiraeth
Mewn breuddwyd fy nhynnu nôl i wlad garedig.
Ond rhoddodd tir hwn wraig a phlant – teulu perffaith.
Pe bydda i gadael nhw am reswm hunanol
Baswn i’n arwyddo fy ngwarant marwolaeth.
Hiraeth (And why I can’t return)
When I was young they took me from my birthplace
I had no say, though them I will not blame.
But I cannot “love a sunburnt country”
With its deserts harsh and dangers
And the trees that still to me all look the same.
No, I prefer a land more gentle with lots of varied flora,
Verdant fields and wandering leafy lanes
Where the sun is warm, not burning,
Where nothing tries to bite you,
And they still revere those little steamy trains.
From half a world away I feel the tension,
In a dream I'm drawn back to a world benign,
But this land gave me a wife and two fine children –
If I abandon them for selfish reason
The death warrant I’d be signing would be mine!
Dai y Trên. 16ed Mawrth 2016. (Diolch am fy ffrindiau am eu help efo’r geirau Cymraeg)