At the beginning of the month I spent an evening at a sort of farewell gathering with my friend and her family, before bidding her goodbye as she travelled halfway across the world to a place called Azad Kashmir. She is of Pakistani origin and her family is large, with more cousins and aunts and uncles than one can easily fathom, but their family unit is something special. Sitting around the dinner table laden with colourful dishes, each emitting aromas which simultaneously made my stomach grumble and my eyes water, the feeling of hungry anticipation was unanimous. As her honorary guest I was offered the first portion, which would have been fine had I known what to choose. Being very much of Celtic origin, all I could request was ‘the least spicy, please,’ as I was handed a dish of something unknown. Of course it was delicious, though the side-gallon of water was definitely necessary. My friend took great care that I was only given food my taste buds could handle, for which I was eternally grateful.
As I walked home later that evening, I felt a cosy warmth inside that had nothing to do with the vast amount of spicy food I had consumed. The whole evening had been so positive and friendly, but most of all, in a bizarre parallel-universe sort of way, familiar. A feeling of happy realisation came over me as I suddenly understood that her family was the same as mine, right down to the package of leftovers I carried home for later. I thought about everything, from the amount of people wandering in and out of her house during the evening, to the myriad cousins, uncles, aunts and family friends, to the meal itself with more food than anyone could really eat, to the cultural bond which tied everyone together. Despite the supposed opposite exteriors, the parallels between our families were uncanny.
Living in England, I only really see my immediate family, which isn’t quite the same as being among what seems like hundreds of people milling about and turning up at your house just for the craic. A short hop over the Irish Sea however, and you’ll find a totally different story. The majority of my family are Irish, which, for any Irish readers out there, probably means there’s no need to continue. For everyone else though, I’ll explain. Being the daughter of a parent with nine siblings whose ages span over a couple of decades, I have over fifty cousins, including various recent offspring from the older ones. The latter may not strictly be classed as cousins, but to avoid complex family trees we tend to just label them as such. Needless to say, family gatherings are large. And fun – really fun – but mostly large. There’s always tons of food, heaps of leftovers, and that buzz which only comes from being part of a big family unit. If nothing else, the Irish culture never fails to promote inclusion, friendship, and full stomachs.
Minus the spices, and it becomes extremely difficult to differentiate between my family and that of my friend.
I’ve travelled to Ireland almost every year of my life so far, and every time I’m greeted by that same good humour and acceptance. Living in the next door country the majority of the time, I sometimes forget that familial buzz, but spending just one evening with my friend and her family revived that feeling tenfold.
This month has been very much one of restlessness and yearning to get out and explore more, but that evening brought with it another dimension to my perspective of the world. No matter how different the exterior – cultural, physical, environmental, etc. – more often than not, our roots remain the same.
If you read this Asra, thanks for reminding me of that all too important family spirit, and even more so for the samosas!