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EPISODE #22

The Gower Girl and the power of 'Hiraeth'

Helen Iles
  • Born and bred in the Gower
  • Sitges, Catalunya, Spain
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It’s raining in Wales. I checked. From the deck of my little eco-home in Catalunya, I can look at the app on my phone and know that in Swansea, it is likely to rain all week. I swipe left, and see that the weather for Sitges offers a full round sun. Every day.

It’s not why I came here, though. Not really. I came because Husband got a job in Barcelona. We lived there for six months but I’m a Gower Girl. I can’t bear all the concrete and glass. I need trees and sky and a sea shore that isn’t busy with tourists ALL year round.

"I can’t bear all the concrete and glass. I need trees and sky and a sea shore that isn’t busy with tourists ALL year round."

We found this house on the internet. We were looking for land. For a parcela. And there, up in the forest but not fifteen minutes from the sea, we found Villa Mimosa. She had been abandoned for 10 years and she was ready to be loved again. So we decided to love her. We scraped and sanded and polished and varnished and sculpted. We planted trees and made beds to grow vegetables. We added solar panels and insulation against the cold winters and the hot summers. She, in turn, grew this deck where we spend so much of our time. She grew a cosy nook by the fire, a mezzanine bed and, more than anything, she grew a heart. She became a home.

"Amongst our international group of friends there are a few Welsh people, but it is the wildlife who remind me most of Wales. Now, in the Spring, we have woodpigeons cooing in the treetops, just like at my grandmother’s house in Sketty."

Amongst our international group of friends there are a few Welsh people, but it is the wildlife who remind me most of Wales. Now, in the Spring, we have woodpigeons cooing in the treetops, just like at my grandmother’s house in Sketty. We have bluetits coming to the feeder, nodding their cheeky heads as if bringing news from over there. And we have a fat robin, who hovers greedily, hoping to catch a snack when we’re digging the loamy red soil.

"Moving away from her homeland was too hard. It left her listless, lifeless. I nod. She knows I have felt this too."

At a class I am hosting in meditation and writing, one of the participants, a designer called Claire who is also from Wales, tells me that at some stage, she lost her gumption. Moving away from her homeland was too hard. It left her listless, lifeless. I nod. She knows I have felt this too. She has read my book. As the group takes turns to read, their own stories, Claire offers to turn on “the big light”. It makes me laugh out loud. Takes me right back. Back to my parents’ home in Derwen Fawr. I don’t know why this phrase moves me to tears but when we check, not one of the others uses these words in this way. Not Natalie from England, not Ellen or Lisa, who grew up in Holland, and certainly not Coco, who is Spanish through and through. But after that, Claire offers every week to “put the big light on” and we laugh and laugh, feeling the joy of new places and friendships through our longing for belonging - our Hiraeth.

 

Helen Iles is a Welsh filmmaker, writer and meditation guide, currently living in Catalunya. You can find her book Hiraeth - Our Longing for Belonging at: https://hiraethbook.org/. Connect with Helen >>

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