There Is A Place For You

Sunday, February 19, 2017

“so, here you are
too foreign for home
too foreign for here.
never enough for both.”
—Ijeoma Umebinyuo, “diaspora blues“

If I were to put my hand into a bag filled with my few belongings to find a word that would sum up my feelings in the last 3 years, I would retrieve the word "displaced". Do you have any idea what it's like to be displaced? Most of what you have is strewn around in different places. Toiletry kits, clothes, books, your mind, dreams, pieces of your heart, people you want to keep close.


2016 found us in between 3 countries. We welcomed the year in France with family. My husband had received a job offer in Scotland and we had been excited to go. Not only did it present us with the unique opportunity of living in a new country again, it would mean being able to live in an English speaking country. But the job fell through. So we found ourselves revisiting the idea of moving permanently to Portugal where my husband spent his childhood summers.

We first arrived as a family in Portugal in the dead of the night, in wintry February. Perhaps it was our subconscious wish to arrive unnoticed, to slip ourselves in, and hopefully trick everyone into believing we had been there all along.

We could not have looked more foreign- a European man who spoke Portuguese with a Brazilian accent, an Asian woman who only spoke English, and a chinky eyed, rosy cheeked child who smiled at everyone she met.

But we loved this country and we were determined to make it home. Apart from the language barrier and having to live in a small rural village, it was a joy to be there. We had a lot of sun. We lived close to the ocean, mountains, forests, rivers and a number of historical towns within a 30 minute radius.

There were only a couple of things missing: jobs and friends.


The thing about being displaced, about losing your sense of place in society or the world in general, is that it often brings about the maddening desire to claim it back. I wanted to fill my space in the physical world again. To have that place for work, people to interact with, a community to be welcomed into, or even just a familiar face in the street to say hello.

The constant cry is that you belong here, or you make yourself belong, or you must go.     ― Chang-rae Lee, Native Speaker

It took time and a huge amount of effort, but I began to make friends and found ways to make myself useful. I took Portuguese classes each week. I began to understand the language. I read books by local authors. We traveled across Portugal. I made a point to meet interesting locals on a regular basis.

I started to fall deeply in love with this country and it slowly learned to love me back.

Today, I'm back in France although my mind is constantly returning to Portugal. I wish I could say I felt less displaced than I did. I wish I knew where I could plant my feet firmly on the ground. I wish I could say where I would be in a month or a year. 

I honestly don't know. 

But I want to reassure you and myself that there is a place for you.


There is a place for you. 

There is a place that needs to know your stories, to feel your magic touch, to hear your calming voice. 

There is a space that only you could fill. That only the sound of your laughter can soothe into submission. There are dark, damp corners that need that warm light that only you can give. 

There is a place for you. 

There are people longing, waiting just to know you. Look around. Find them. Look into the eyes of every being that you meet. And when you finally meet those like minded people, you will recognize it almost immediately as you gaze at each other. As though your soul has found a piece of yourself in them. 

There is a place for you. Places that change and glow and expand the moment you set foot in them. As though by your mere presence the place has acknowledged your kinship. So you must walk slowly, mindfully. Be careful not not to miss these places as they may not show themselves again on your journey. There are many places for you to find and fill with your light.

There is a place for you. 

There are groups of people that are waiting to be transformed through work that only you can do. But you must find those unique gifts within you. What is it that only you can give to the world? It might be a skill, or a summation of knowledge you had accumulated on your journey. Or it could be as simple as your mere presence. Never underestimate the power you have in your hands when you are in the right place among the right people. 

And will you be turned away?

Yes, you will be. By people and circumstances that find you and your beliefs so different that you threaten their way of life. You threaten their old ways of seeings things. You threaten even their routine. They will eye you warily and speak about you in secret. They will ridicule you in the streets. The gatekeepers will find ways to push you away.

But don't let them stop you. It is not you they are afraid of, it is themselves. They are afraid to question their way of life. They are terrified to confront themselves and see what's missing. They are afraid of what you represent, change.

There's always a place for you because there is no one who's exactly like you. 

No one who has your voice, your laugh or just that carefree way you walk into a room. No one has the same ferocity in facing the world. No one has been through what you have been through. No one has fought your battles and survived. You have a unique story to tell the world.


We must find our place in the world. In fact it is our obligation. 

We have an obligation to know ourselves. As long as we know who we are, we can find our rightful and humble place in this world.

We have an obligation to practice our craft no matter how small or mundane we think it is. We must understand that we are doing important work. 

We have an obligation to use our gifts to help others. And we all have them. At any given moment, no matter how small or impoverished you think you are, you always have something to impart to others. 

We have an obligation to be ourselves. To lead lives we truly enjoy. To follow that inner voice that leads us to where we need to be. To do things that give us joy and make us come alive.

Look around you. Look no further. There is no better place than this. Because where you are, is where you need to be.

This is the place for you.

Lois Yasay Ribeiro is a writer from the Philippines. She lives in Portugal with her husband and daughter. She opened a secondhand English bookshop in Porto called Frigate Books.

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  1. Thanks for writing! Living as expats, moving around in the world for work and travel, and then finally landing in El Nido we sometimes wondered about our own place. We’ve had each other but naturally we seek community. It was hard living on the road for a year and half though we we’re happy to dig deeper in our own lives and relationship. Then we ended up in Palawan and couldn’t seem to find a community of like-minded people at least a group we could jive with and for the first 6-9 months we we’re pretty isolated from the town. Once we finished construction of our house we ended up attracting different souls to our mother nest and are slowing finding our place. We’re still not 100% convinced this is the place for us but are open to what today is going to bring us. While I think it’s important to find our place I also thinking some places simply find us where we need to belong.

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