I used to say to my friends living in the big cities.
That I live in a small city. Away from the tall
buildings and wide roads. I say, “It’s a small city,
but it’s full of people. And it’s lively… And it’s noisy…
And it’s completely different from other cities.
But it’s home.”

And they ask, “What does it look like?”

And I say,

“I live in a city where everyone sleeps early and
wakes up early. I live in a city where food will only
taste delicious if it’s spicy. I live in a city where houses are so close to each other you can hear the cries of the child at dinner, where people from here is friends with the people from there. One mile away from their home. Our market is dirty, and it stinks but you can find things you never thought of seeing.”

I say, “My home is a city that lacks many things
but it has all the things we needed.”

But then came the bullets. The loud echo of
gunfires that can be heard from mountains to hills to houses.
And then came the fear and the silent prayers.

I could still remember how my father went looking for me in the house, thinking I wasn’t at home.
I can still remember how he called for my name,
relieved, that he saw me at home.

He told us that our city’s in danger.
WE were in danger.
I could feel he was scared. Not for himself. But for us.
My father was the only man in our house and
he made us feel safe in the first night of the war.

We planned on staying. Since our house was made of
bricks and beams, I believed it’s strong.

That house is our home. A home made of hopes and dreams for the future.
For my family.

But we decided to flee. We left. We left home.
We left the familiar. And stayed in a shelter.
Stayed in the unfamiliar.

I’m staying in a place where everyone was distant.
I’m staying in a place where food has become so hard to chew
and even harder to swallow.

I now live in a place where days are hurting and
nights are noisy. I now live in a place where a good
night sleep has become a stranger and a cup of coffee
in the morning is always cold. I now live in a place
where the house belongs to someone else and
they call it a shelter.

What about our home?

The city that I call home is abandoned. It was
abandoned by its own people to flee from danger.
It was left alone, braving all the bombs and gunfire.
Turned to a battlefield. Full of bombs, soldiers,
rebels, all destroying our home.

The home that we used to know is now full of

shattered buildings, empty houses, even dead
people and… broken hearts. What happened to
the home I used to live in? I don’t know.
I was forced to leave the home I have known
in my entire life and I now live in a place
where everyone is unfamiliar,
where everyone speaks different, acts different
and lives different.

And my friends asked,
“The place you’re in right now,
isn’t that called home too?”

I said, “No — the place that I call home is not this.
That there is a fine line between shelter and home.”

And if you are calling this shelter my home,
then please, call me homeless.

(Author Norsaliha Binatara, 19, is a freshman at the College of Social Sciences and Humanities at the Mindanao State University in Marawi City, taking up BA English Language Studies. A resident of Marawi City from Gadongan, Poona Bayabao in Lanao del Sur, Norsaliha presented this piece at the ‘Meranao Spoken Word Festival’ held at the American Corner of the University Library, MSU main campus in Marawi City on 23 May 2019, to commemorate the second anniversary of Day 1 of the Marawi Siege. The Festival’s theme was “Reflect, Recreate, Reclaim.” President Rodrigo Duterte declared the country’s lone Islamic City “liberated from the terrorist influence” on 17 October 2017. ‘Meranao Spoken Word Festival’ is the first of a series of Spoken Word events initiated by the Iranon Gumilang as a Meranaw Cultural Heritage project in partnership with American Corner Marawi and English Majors’ Society)