Roots in the distance

Roots are not solely about where we come from. It’s where we feel like home. Many feel intimidated in a cultural environment different from theirs and would not move to a foreign country at any cost. Others enjoy discovering the world for a week or two once a year during their holiday, but they get homesick already after a few days abroad.

Then there are those few, who for some reason feel connected to wherever they go and they often settle down for a few years in a faraway place for full immersion. For them, there is always something relatable and loveable – a dish, the countryside that is eerily familiar to their childhood surroundings, a spot in a forest with familiar trees, and the kindness provided along the journey without anything being asked in return, couldn’t be experienced in any other setting. These strange creatures often feel restless while in their home country and thrive when they spend time away.

Roots are necessary for them too as points of reference, but keeping and appreciating their roots doesn’t restrict them in any way. If we look carefully, and we are open to taking in the richness of the world, we might find that we are connected to distant places and curious customs in a thousand ways.

Roots by Alex Haley is my all-time favourite book. It tells the story of Kunta Kinte and his descendants, a young man taken from the Gambia and sold as a slave in the United States. Little did I know about the controversies that surrounded the book after its publication in 1976, so the possible plagiarism and historical inaccuracy couldn’t distract me from enjoying the writing. I took it as a non-fiction, undoubtedly based on historical facts. It captured my imagination and kept me awake many nights primarily because of its focus on how the protagonist sticks to his roots and keeps his spirit alive despite the madness of slavery.

In Alex Haley’s Roots, the quest for understanding his ancestry is central. Haley’s exploration of his lineage back to Kunta Kinte is a testament to the resilience of cultural identity through generations, even in the face of displacement and oppression.

Haley’s journey of discovering roots resonates with my experience in Turkey, where I uncovered unexpected ties to my Hungarian heritage, revealing more remnants of the Ottoman rule in our language and culture than I had ever imagined. As I walked through the empty streets of a small village in the Taurus Mountains, I found myself being connected to a time when the Ottoman Empire’s influence stretched across continents, including Hungary.


One of the most tangible remnants of Ottoman rule in Hungary is the language. Hundreds of Hungarian words, phrases, and idioms have their roots in Turkish. Many are from the period of the Hungarian conquest of the Carpathian Basin in the late 9th and early 10th century, others are from Ottoman Hungary which lasted from the occupation of Buda in 1541 for more than 150 years. Most of these words are related to nomadic life, religion, trade, and nature. It wasn’t new to me. Neither was the fact that my surname is of Turkish origin. But beyond the exams I had to pass at university related to this topic, I hardly ever think of my possible ancestry. I love the fact of having a Turkish name though, it makes me feel a little more interesting than I may be in reality!

In the region I was visiting, many houses bore names and it made me stop when I saw the word heves written on a fence. This is the name of the county where I was born and in Hungarian it means heated, fierce, and intense, while in Turkish it can mean enthusiasm, ambition, and zeal too. My hometown is famous for a siege that occurred in 1552, during the Ottoman wars in Europe. Legend says that the women of my hometown greatly contributed to the Ottoman army being expelled from the region, and the Siege of Eger became a symbol of heroism in Hungary. Can you see the connection between the name assigned to the region and the historical events? We are a fiery kind, I won’t deny.


It’s a fact that Hungarian culture is closer to the Orient than to the West. I love the buzz and opportunities London offers, but my nerves feel more relaxed in less affluent parts of the world.

This time I will only share one other thing that I found striking during my trip. I have written about our obsession with planting walnut trees in every possible place. I know that historically walnut trees were considered the trees of gods and semigods, Mohammedans respected them the same way as Christians, Catholics, and the ancient Greeks, but I haven’t seen this proved in the countries I visited before so I thought that we were unique in this sense. Then I saw how the countryside in the Taurus Mountains is covered with walnut trees, young and ancient alike. It felt like a revelation, finding a place for a piece of the puzzle.

Go wherever it feels like home

My discoveries were not just about historical facts, but profound connections to my own heritage. Our circumstances and history couldn’t be more different but I can’t chase away the thought that my experience was akin to what Haley might have felt uncovering his African ancestry – a greater understanding of identity not just for personal fulfillment but for preserving the rich tapestry of our cultural heritage.

Our roots are often more intertwined and far-reaching than we realize, and we can also put down roots in places we love, even if at first sight they couldn’t look more different from our homeland. Why not? Every tradition began somewhere and every walnut tree grows from a shoot. Roots are about the cultural and historical links that shape our identity, and these links can be centuries old or formed newly.

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