Belonging or be-longing – for all that is familiar

Marwa Rida is the creator of End2End Events, an event management business born out of her passion to create meaningful experiences with and for others.  She enjoys really good food, really good coffee and really good dessert, as well as experimenting with different cuisines.  Marwa loves creating experiences for others to enjoy and most importantly loves belonging to a tribe of like-minded individuals.  She says she is “perfectly imperfect – there are so many layers to what you see!”

To “belong” means to feel connected to a space, a country, a group of people and even to various items that you possess.

As a North African migrant, belonging is a notion that I struggled with a lot during my first year in Australia.

I arrived in Canberra when I was 25 years old, in October 2003. I was a newly-wed bride, ready for the challenges of married life, living in a different city with a different culture. What I was not ready for was the sense of fear, rejection and not belonging!

This feeling stayed with me for a long time while I desperately tried to find my way around “the Australian way of life”. Over time, it developed into an overwhelming sense of emptiness and a feeling that there was something missing. This eventually translated into homesickness – missing all the simple things that were familiar that I had taken for granted in the past.

I especially missed coming home to the smell of a fresh, homemade meal after a long day at work; connecting with my immediate family members and discussing the challenges of the day over a warm meal and a cup of black peppermint tea brewed the Egyptian way. Instead, I came home to an empty space.

With my husband working long hours, I had a lot of time to spare but no one to spare it with… other than the TV screen, which had become my friend. I watched endless episodes of Friends, whilst wishing for my own friends to share meals, laughs and good times with. Where I came from, socialising was a big part of your daily agenda, as was getting together over a big homemade meal.

It took a while, but I finally started to find ways to belong and connect to something other than the TV screen.

My first step was going for long walks and treating myself to a cup of coffee after.

I quickly formed the habit of going back to the same coffee shop – a popular coffee chain that ironically reminded me of where the Friends on TV met. There I would sit and watch people, coffee in hand. There were the ones that looked busy, the ones that looked irritated, the ones that smiled back at me and the ones who were exactly like me: had nowhere to be and no one to talk to. This simple act of having a coffee in a public space surrounded by strangers started to instil in me a sense of belonging, and I started to understand people’s habits and ways of life.

As an added bonus, I also picked up some Aussie slang while walking around the shopping centre chatting to shop assistants. Luckily for me, a shop assistant’s role is to ‘be friendly’ – which meant they had to ‘befriend me’… if only for a short time!

My second step on the path to belonging was to introduce the flavours of my heritage and my overseas family life into my current home, and the few gatherings that I had with my husband’s workmates. From shopping for the ingredients at speciality stores, to cooking the meals I used to come home to, the memories started flooding in and filling my new home with a new sense of belonging.

Fast forward almost fifteen years, and I now have a much bigger sense of belonging to the space and place I choose to call home. I have two beautiful children who are born and bred in Canberra, and from just a few jobs (where I managed to build connections and create long-lasting friendships), I am now the proud owner of a wonderful business. My business was born from passion and a hope to change the world through the creation of meaningful events, where people from various backgrounds can connect, enjoy each other’s company and build relationships, so that no one is ever left alone or left feeling that they don’t belong.

© Marwa Rida, 2018