• Iris Sirendi

On Days Like This.

2007 marked the year that would come to define me as a person, the start of an era of my life that, in some ways, will last until it ends. We moved to England in the summer from Estonia, a little country in the north of Eastern Europe.

Over the years I’ve pieced together some of the reasoning behind it, a patchwork of platitudes from my mother that came to form a mismatched quilt of “it is what it is”. I wrap myself in it, round and round, as if pulling it tighter will make it any easier to comprehend. As it stands, it’s been just over 13 years, and I don’t know if I’ll ever have the full story. The trajectory of my life will always be owed to a decision I couldn’t have a say in, one that I only know bits and pieces of. I sit and try to unpick the stitches, ask family members “So why did we have to go?”, but none of it changes my abject reality. I stand somewhere between Estonia and England, Eastern and Western Europe, between ancestries of colonisation and of occupation, an identity that ruptures into two versions of ‘myself '

Don’t get me wrong, I love it here. My West Yorkshire town. My little corner of the universe.

It’s home. It’s where I learned to speak English in a year after being pushed into a classroom with only ‘hello’ and ‘can I go to the toilet?’ in my arsenal of speech terms. It’s where I went to school, where I fell so deeply in love with reading and writing and art, a love affair I’m yet to match. Where my younger sister and I grew up side by side with less than two years between us, and each 12 months made us more inseparable than the last. But it’s never been enough to bridge that gap, the one where I anglicize my name, the one where I say “near Russia” if anyone asks, the one where I cross my fingers and hope they don’t ask me about Brexit or papers or status and launch me into some inflammatory tête-à-tête where I’m forced to defend my right to exist on the same piece of land as they do.

It’s ordinary for us as immigrant children to feel as though we’re not English enough for England, not native enough for our ‘own’ country. We’ve spent our whole lives becoming an amalgamation of cultural traits, a mismatch of one place and another to create one whole being. No wonder I feel so disjointed as an adult, so devoid of the sensation of belonging. I know what it is to have family, to have friends, a house, but ‘home’ is a word without real meaning. Is it England? Is it Estonia? Sometimes, it feels like neither. It’s as if I exist in the space between them, in the expanse of sky and air and land and sea that bridges between the two. Not Estonian. Not English. Just… there.

On days like this, recollecting on everything that I’m not, I keep a reminder to myself close to my heart. If eras and generations of time and people and places are what come to define us, then I am a product of a Singing Revolution, of thousands of men and women who stood hand in hand with strangers to make the Baltic chain that eventually, against all odds, would lead to the independence of our people. I’m a product of working class northern England, kicking footballs at ‘No Ball Games’ fences on our estate, eating bread and butter sandwiches and sledging down snowy hills on a piece of cardboard, knowing the value of hard work and a ‘good head on your shoulders’. I might never be English enough for England, or Estonian enough for Estonia. And that’s okay. They’re just places, inconsequential pieces of land. Home is where you make it. Maybe 2021 can be the start of the era where just being me, not Estonian, not English, not proving my worth to anyone, is good enough.

Cover Artwork by - Emily McHugh

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