I had just finished posting about my weekend trip back to South Africa to watch the world cup I read this post about what home is to the nomad. For me this was a really thought-provoking post as when I read it, I had to really think about the meaning of home. What or Where is home? Up until two years ago this question would have been incredibly easy to answer. Now that’s a different story. Home for me has become more than one place.
Home = Where you grew up?
Home is a place you grow up wanting to leave, and grow old wanting to get back to.
John Ed Pearce
As I had never moved (not even house) until I was eighteen years old, home for me was always (in some ways will always be) the small town I grew up in South Africa. My parents and family still live there (until they move back to Portugal). I even have a car there. There’s a saying about the region I live in South Africa “Jy kan ‘die seun uit die bos vat, maar jy kan nie die bos uit die seun vat nie” (You can take the boy out of the bushveld, but you can’t take the bushveld out of the boy) and that’s certainly true for me. I love Thabazimbi for what it is. A small town where everyone knows each other; A town where three cars at stop sign is a traffic jam; A town with no traffic lights.
Up to that point in my life, before moving to London, home was bound to a permanent physical location, Thabazimbi, South Africa.
Home = Where you live?
Home is not where you live, but where they understand you.
At eighteen I moved to London and stayed there for six and a half years. It was in London where home became even more bound to that physical location. It became more than just a place, but how that place made you feel. Not once, did London ever come close to representing some sort of home to me. As I was a student I would go back home to South Africa as often as every four months and those four months for me were hell. The longer I stayed in London the longer the further apart my trips home would become (not out of choice). The only thing that kept me sane during this time, was the once-a-month spoilfest of South African goodies that I would buy at the South African shops in London. Even our flat in London had constant reminders of Africa, with tribal masks on the wall. I longed for South Africa all the time. I was trying to survive in London by trying to make it more like South Africa, which is impossible.
A lot of people say that with familiarity comes a sense home. I made some amazing friends and have a bigger group of friends in London than I do in South Africa. Things in London became familiar. Our local supermarket staff knew us. The local off-license knew what kind of travel card we would ask for. The Turkish restaurant down the road knew exactly what I was going to order. Despite all the familiarity London never felt like a home. It always felt like a place of transit; a place where I was just waiting for the next bus to take me either home or to another place. Living in London only strengthened the my thought of home as the place where I grew up.
Home = Something Familiar or Unfamiliar?
One never reaches home, but wherever friendly paths intersect the whole world looks like home for a time.
It was moving to Abu Dhabi that changed my notion of home. The first full day I spent there as a resident it felt like home. It was a strange sensation. This city which differed from my town in South Africa culturally, religiously, demographically, physically etc. Nothing about this place on paper should have made this place feel like home. Yet it did. The longer I stayed, the more at home I felt; The more friends I made; The more familiar I became with the city; The more the city became familiar with me. Every time I spoke to friends and family about the city, I could only tell them how much I loved it there. My parents in particular couldn’t understand my affection for the city. That was until my mom and little brother came and visit me. After one day my mom immediately said ‘I can see you are happy here’. Up until that point I couldn’t understand why this place felt like home to me. Then my mom cracked it. I was happy here. I could comfortably see myself living here. I could actually see myself have a family there. It was during my stay in Abu Dhabi that my homesickness for South Africa practically dissappeared. I still loved South Africa but I no longer attached the significance to it that I did in London. It was home yes, but so was Abu Dhabi now.
Suddenly my notion of home was no longer dependant on one permanent location. Home was now linked to a state of mind. Where I feel as ease; Where I feel happy. I realized that home could be anywhere you wish it to be. Abu Dhabi was now home too. Leaving Abu Dhabi was very hard for me and even seven months on I still think about the city everyday and always in the same breath as South Africa.
From Abu Dhabi I moved to Libya. Another Islamic country. I though moving here wouldn’t be that difficult as I had lived in this environment before. I was curious to see how I would feel about the country once I arrived to see whether I would have that instant gut feeling that this could be home. Unfortunately I didn’t. I’ve been here 6 months now and yes, I enjoy living here (with its ups and downs) but this place has by no means felt like home. It feels like another place of transit, where I’m waiting for the next location. It feels like living in London again.
Peace – that was the other name for home.
I’ve been back to London, Abu Dhabi and South Africa since moving to Libya and only Abu Dhabi and South Africa have prompted the “Ah, I’m home” feeling.
I’ve only mentioned places I’ve lived in for a reason. No place I have travelled to has felt like ‘home’ (whatever that really means) not even Portugal, with one exception. Istanbul. And once again I can’t understand why. The city is in a way more like London than Abu Dhabi or Tripoli. It has nothing in common with South Africa, yet when I’m there that feeling of being ‘home’ completely overcomes me. I’ve been to Istanbul four times and every single time, the reaction is the same. For some reason beyond my comprehension I feel at peace there. I feel happy. When I read Ohran Pamuk’s book Istanbul, I felt like he was writing about home. There is obviously a trend here. The trend? A place feels like home, because it just does. There’s no logical reason behind it.
Home = Anywhere you allow it to be!
There is a magic in that little world, home; it is a mystic circle that surrounds comforts and virtues never known beyond its hallowed limits
What this post and Dan’s post about home has made me realize is that home is no longer a function of place for me. It’s a state of mind. Home is somewhere, anywhere I feel happy. It’s a place where I do not need to make an effort to feel content and at peace. There’s no rhyme or reason to it. A place can feel like home no matter how far removed it is to your cultural, religious, demographical background. There’s no formula for ‘recreating’ home and that in my opinion is the beauty of the less defined notion of home, as in the end home could be ANYWHERE!