We travelers, expats, third culture kids or whatever you want to call us enjoy extemporizing on the nature of home. Where is it? What does it mean? How do we find it?
Pico Iyer deconstructs the amorphous “Where are you from?” into places of birth, where you pay taxes, where you have your citizenship and other increasingly arbitrary guidelines that we humans use to try to understand each other better.
Myself? I was born in South Africa and have lived in the United States, Israel, Panama, France and now Argentina. I’ve had two citizenships, soon to be applying for a third. I can tell you where I am and have some idea of where I’m going, but for the life of me, I don’t know how to explain where I’m from.
Pregnancy has redefined what home means for me, and it is most definitely not a place.
In pregnancy, my body craves things that have been imprinted on me by the past. I know home when I take a bite of chocolate mint chip ice cream. It pulls me back not to a specific memory but to that which made me a child. I feel it in my body. There is comfort and peace. I am my most me.
Home cannot be a place because places don’t stand still. They change. They grow. They fall apart. Places have fights, unhappy days and doubt.
Home floats. It lives in the ether and is accessible anywhere. Home has no future. You forget to keep an eye on the kids or your bags, because you know they’re safe wherever they are. Home is warmth by the fire or the moment a cool washcloth soothes a feverish neck. It’s when the longing to travel or exceed or succeed or to be anywhere else or do anything different ceases to exist.
I don’t remember every place I’ve been between my birth and now, yet every one holds pieces of home.
From Main Street in Buffalo where I photographed an anti-Planned Parenthood protest at 7 am on a freezing Saturday morning to a little cafe in Amsterdam where I sat drawing and taking notes on a novel. Home serves sticky buns at a bakery on the island of Bocas and peers down from the steps of Columbia University onto Amsterdam Avenue where I rented my first ever apartment that I paid for with my first ever job.
Home is finding the right mix of cream and sugar in my coffee. Or walks through Riverside Park with the cherry trees blooming. Or those first nights with Lila sleeping on my chest as I lay on the couch in our living room in Brooklyn.
Travel, too, has no place. It lurches forward, often without thinking.
You’ll find regret or elation or something else you couldn’t possibly explain until the moment you see it. Travel doesn’t know what will happen in that big blank of space lying in front of you. It calls for infinite faith and trust. You must let go of what you think should be.
I could not for a moment have predicted the path that would take me from South Africa to New York City to the other end of the planet where now I wake early to watch the sun rise vermilion over the hills of San Lorenzo.
Travel shivers of the new, climbing down from a sweaty bus in a border town after a shaky night of uncomfortable sleep. Travel doesn’t know how many hours you’ll stand in line and suggests you breakfast on those empanadas frying in a little cart beside the station. Who knows how long before you’ll eat again?
Travel and home. Without one, the other has no shape
Now, here I am going on six months pregnant, having a baby in a foreign country in a language that isn’t my first.
The moment I got pregnant I stopped being able to rely on knowing myself. What I eat, when I sleep, what makes me sad, they’re all different now. I know only that having this baby will change me, just as everything changed the moment Lila arrived in our lives. New baby. New life. New rules.
It overwhelms me, and thus I search for home in the crevices of my day to day.
Life, that relentless series of events that represent either travel or home, offers apex and nadir, abysmal and wonderful. Most moments, though, are ordinary. They won’t fill novels or become the stories you tell with animated hand gestures.
Yet, it is those small spaces, the little pieces that fill our lives every day with ordinary joy that we find home. If we don’t take note, we lose hold of everything.