It is typical, they say, that when you are a wanderer, an expatriate, you forget what it is like to have a sense of home. Home becomes nowhere and everywhere. Home can be the warm palms of your lover or the familiar conversations that you have with the shopkeeper whom you address by name.
I identify home by three factors:
• How familiar am I with the kitchen?
• Can I successfully orientate myself around it?
• Can I survive from my 7kg of carry-on luggage?
The kitchen because I enjoy making my own breakfast. A grumpy lump of grogginess – still bothered by the stale taste of my own tongue – I detest mornings. A convenient kitchen allows me to mindlessly grab cereal without the least effort or coordination.
Orientation, because a home is a base. A home determines where to come back to. And if I want to come back, I must be able to leave. I have come to appreciate the familiarity and safeties of my homes, every time I go away. I want to miss the fumble of my sheets and the rough comforter that could use a wash.
Luggage, because there are few things in life you really need. The 7kg is packed with memories, experiences and human entanglements. Yes, 7kg, because I am cheap and do not want to pay extra. 7kg because I am lazy and do not want to carry anything heavy. 7kg because I refuse to pay for a cab and give into the pull of soul-sucking capitalism. But 7kg because not all my shirts bring me back to summer camps, my first seminar, nights on the hill.
I consider many places home. Hanoi, Vietnam born and bred. Hanoi, the assumed “poorer one” than the South State Ho Chi Minh city, but does that matter? I adore Hanoi’s history, culture and stories, the bustle of an ancient city where nothing really works – people neither. Streets are too violent but nothing beats being behind the handles of a scooter, gliding through the tucks and corners, the narrow paths. Hanoi, where my family is.
My mother who talks too much but taught me nearly everything I know. My father who is quiet but can word his way out of anything. My sister who sends me hundreds of dog videos and whose clothes I hoard. My cousins who make me laugh and who feed me. My grandparents who spoil me.
Germany, where I discarded my identity for a bubble of two hundred students. Germany, where my Hanoi cultural capital, from how to order the perfect bubble tea to how to organize a city-wide event, became obsolete. I was thrown into a language I did not know, people I never met, streets I could not find. Yet Germany with its humble cities and tiny villages that never make it to the tourist map never fails to take my breath away. For the people, teachers who not only taught math and history, but took me skiing, went to cafes and resolved my angsty teenage girl problems. For the people, friends who fight about whether we should have vegetarian weeks or the Western Sahara/Morocco conflict, remained dear to each other at the end of the day. For the people, these people, contributed no small part of making this strange place home.
Now maybe, slowly, Providence, RI. Maybe I will grow tired of walking the same path through the same stores on Thayer Street. Maybe the seemingly diverse canteen menus will bore me. Maybe walks to town will cease to be daunting. Maybe the first time I leave campus, perhaps for an overnight or for a break, I will come back, and I will love being back.
I suppose at this point, after reading through all this nonsense rambling, you expect me, the writer, to provide you with some closure. Maybe dazzle you with an overused, fancy metaphor: that home is an anchor that keeps your ship from going astray, while giving you the feeling of security to go out and explore the mighty water. But my purpose was never to do that. Now that you have learnt about me and my journey of “switching homes”, you can reflect on yours. Write to me. Tell me what home is for you. The place, the people, the dog?
Edited by Emma Bourgeois