• Valentina Poletti

The first day that I belonged

All my life I have searched for belonging. My whole life has been set up to push me in an endless search and constant desire for this feeling. Indeed everything in my early conditions was precisely the opposite of it. All my early life experiences were of rejection, ostracisation, and outcast.

In my family of origin I was the black sheep and the scape goat. The one nobody saw, nobody understood, nobody felt, and everyone turned against, like an enemy to condemn with all issues. In my first kindergarten experience I was in Austria, the only kid who did not speak German, and so during lunch time the older kids would take me to the play ground and beat me - because I was different. At school in Italy I was the weird one, constantly bullied because I was different, I was quiet, I was not like the others.

No matter what nation I lived in, I was always a foreigner: in Italy I was the half Polish one who had lived abroad, everywhere else in the world I was the stranger. In every work setting, group setting, social setting, I was the outsider, the one who thought differently, who acted differently, who did differently.

And so it is no surprise that all my life I searched for a feeling of ‘home’. That feeling that seems to be always so outside of the grasps of my reach, yet so sweet and longing. Like the kid from the “piccola fiammiferaia” tale from my childhood: the poor street orphan girl trying to sell matches on the street to make a living, who on Christmas Day watched families eating dinner in their warm and cozy homes from their lit up windows, and died in the cold.

At 18 years old I could not wait to get as far as possible from the ‘family’ that grew me up and that I never belonged to, and I was thrown on the other side of the ocean, in the jungle city of New York. After a year and a half of trying everything, right after September 11, my flat mate ran back to China to grieve the loss of his brother, and I was locked out of my home, where all my belongings were. I slept at friends places and ate their food and used their clothes, and realised I still did not belong. I then went to yet another side of the ocean, in India, and mixed myself in a tiny village with the locals. I ate like them, spoke like them, walked like them, in a town far from any modernity and from any influence from the West. Even there, the person I got closer to was an orphan, and I watched as he was beaten on the streets because he did not belong to any social class. I saw the untouchables living like street animals, forgotten by all, rejected by all, shamed by all, and I saw myself in them.

Belonging has been my life journey, my life imprint, the experience I manifested this particular life and ego in order to create. And in the past few years, during my intense spiritual awakening and consciousness exploration I have started to manifest it.

The first time I felt true belonging was 3 years go. I felt a calling to go to Nepal, to the Himalayas, even though it was the wrong season to do so. I ignored all the sensible advice to avoid the forests and the mountains in the monsoon seasons, full of leaches and deserted by tourists.

I took off and hiked hours for days under the pouring rain, on paths that were barely followed by others. Something stronger than me was pulling me, I knew it was the right thing to do.

In the last refuge, a very old mountain lady that kept the little tea shop for the few visitors passing by, told me the next refuge would be a 10 hour fast paced hike - 15 hours on a slow pace. If I did not make it I could freeze during the night. If I got lost I could starve to death. There was no closer refuge, and no-one else on that route.

So I started, I pushed my well trained legs from all the Swiss mountain hiking I did in the years before, and kept alert and focused during the entire time using my meditation training. I could not afford tiredness, I could not afford confusion. One mistake and I could be gone. There were no searching teams in that area.

The rain was pouring down the lush mountains, as I kept going through the tiredness and the pain. The leeches were so many I just began ignoring the blood flowing through my feet.

In the last bit, when I started to see the small hut at the end of the path, I let go, and I finally allowed myself to rest. I reached the hut and without saying a word I looked at the host and sat at a little table, drenched from head to toe.

There was a lady and two men, cooking something in the kitchen fire. They looked worn by weather and a tough life. I didn’t have to explain, they gave me a little bed and a hot tea. As I sat there on that table, allowing my legs to start feeling again, I looked around and I saw a light emanating from those people that I had not seen before. I could not recognise that feeling at first, yet there was something compelling about it. As they invited me to dine with them (I was the only guest in weeks), they made jokes about me in their language and laughed, they served me their hot food, and chatted with me with their little knowledge of English and sign language.

They explained to me how they lived their life, where they got their food and necessities. The closest shop to get grains and other necessities was two days by feet down the mountain. They walked with large baskets on their back and made their journey by feet all the way down to the store and then up. They had two orchyards, where they grew some vegetables, one a kilometre or so away on the mountain path, the other three or so. Each day they walked there to tend to their vegetables. Aside from that, they had fire for heating and cooking, wood from the forest, tools for survival, some local simple instruments to play music and the rest the I described, nothing more.

As they invited me to sing and dance with them, suddenly I recognised the feeling. I felt that I belonged. Up there in the mountains, in the middle of nowhere, under the monsoon, I found the only people as outcast as me, as different as me, as strange as me, to welcome me as part of their family. One of them half jokingly proposed to marry me and to stay there with them: I wondered how much he was joking, and how much he was serious. As I slept that night in the tiny wooden bed, I rested my head on a place that for the first time in my life felt like home. The next day the rain had stopped. I put on my wet clothes drenched in rain and blood and made my way down, greeting them and thanking them for their hospitality. They waved back at me, like a family would, sending one of their members away.

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