By Neha Kirpal
“If I were to tell you my story,
What story to tell you?
Do I tell you the story of the little girl
who was bullied in school?
The story of the girl
who was always told she was too sensitive?
Do I tell you the story of the girl who
lived in 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 I can’t remember
how many homes?
Or do I tell you the story of the girl
who never felt that she had a voice?”
Lebanese-Canadian activist, author, poet, speaker and educator Najwa Zebian’s debut book of inspiration, Welcome Home: A Guide to Building a Home For Your Soul (Hodder & Stoughton, 2021), is a part-memoir, part self-help book drawing valuable life lessons from the author’s personal experiences of leaving Lebanon at the age of 16, moving to Canada as a young Muslim woman, living at several different places with different family members, and building a home for her soul through it all.
A teacher and a doctoral candidate in educational leadership, Najwa began to write in order to connect with and heal herself as well as her first students, a group of eight young refugees. The author of three collections of poetry, she delivered the TEDx talk ‘Finding Home Through Poetry’ and recently launched Soul Academy, a digital school as well as a podcast, Stories of the Soul.
A lot of her personal journey of finding herself and her home involved understanding external constructs such as her culture and religion. Moreover, she learnt very early on in life that men, typically being protectors, had privilege over women.
In July 2018, when Najwa was 28 years old, she went public with her decision to take off her hijab, for which she received a lot of hatred. Through the experience, she learned that reputation is just a word invented to keep women living in shame. She discovered that her worth is not built on or broken down by ideals placed by society, culture or religion. Rather, it is built on and within her.
“Let me remind you that what’s wrapped around my head
is not wrapped around my mouth.
So I will not allow the label that you wrap me with
to wrap around my voice.”
In her search for a home for herself in the world, she found that one’s home is within us, and not a physical place outside of us. “It is the place where your soul feels it belongs, where you can unapologetically be yourself, where you are loved for your authentic self,” she writes.
She believes that the biggest mistake we make is to build our homes in other people. This makes us evaluate our self worth based on how much those homes welcome us, thus giving people the power to make us homeless.
Instead, she prescribes that in order to see the true worth of our love, we should stop evaluating it by who receives it, the reaction we receive or whether it’s received at all. “When you work so hard to conform to outside expectations, you abandon yourself,” she writes.
“What would your life look like if you lived it as you wanted to, not as you were convinced you needed to live it?”
Najwa explains that a firm foundation of one’s home must be built with self acceptance and self awareness. We should learn to embrace our authentic core self without all the external labels that define us—such as a person, job, degree, title and stage in life.
Through practical step-by-step tools and prompts, she explains how one can construct the following rooms:
- Self-Love (the practice of loving oneself authentically),
- Forgiveness (to learn how to let go and forgive),
- Compassion (compassion toward the world, oneself and from others),
- Clarity (to see oneself clearly with our own eyes),
- Surrender (how to drop resistance against feeling emotions), and,
- The Dream Garden (how to discover our passion and live our dreams).
The book’s narrative is also interspersed with many of the author’s personal poems which she uses to make certain points from time to time. On self-love, she writes: “If loving someone is beautiful, how is loving yourself anything less than beautiful?”
On forgiveness, she writes: “It is the resilience in your spine, in your veins, that takes the credit, not the misery that gushed from the hearts to release an arrow at you.”
And on the subject of women being taught to stay quiet and apologise for expressing their boundaries, she writes:
“Your anger can be the softest,
whisper that says
and send echoes in the world
on the wings of the butterfly
they told you would never
leave her cocoon.”