What does it mean to come home? What do you find when you’ve been away? What is home, anyway? Several months ago we left Moldova in Eastern Europe where we had lived happily for a year and half. We returned to our little house in the country in the US to await further adventures.
Upon arrival, we opened the door and entered the house. All was silent. It was cold. We brought in our suitcases, turned on the water, turned on the heat. Everything was in order. Everything was the way I had left it a few months earlier when on a quick check-up visit. (You’ll Never Know What You’ll Find When . . . ) The bed was made, there was food in the freezer.
Two days later we connected with the neighbors across the road who were happy to see the house “alive” again. They are the only ones we ever got to know in the few years we lived in this country neighborhood. We’d bought the house to have a base after years of living the expat life and not owning a house anywhere.
Yesterday I read through some of my stories from the time we lived in Ghana, West Africa, and found one about us returning to our house there after a mere two weeks away on a visit to the US.
Akwaaba! You Are Welcome!
We’ve been gone two weeks, but it seems longer. Stepping out of the plane is like entering a sauna. I love Ghana, but the weather is the pits.
As we arrive home, Steven, the night guard, opens the gate. He gives us a wide grin and asks how everybody is in our home village in America. Is everyone well? Our children? We tell him they are fine. Leah, our maid, who lives in our compound, comes out to help get our luggage in the house. She’s all smiles, happy to see us. Three-year-old Emilia comes rushing across the gravel in her bare feet and hurls herself at my mate.
“How are you?” he asks, waiting for the response he has taught her.
She sticks her thumb in the air. “Excellent!” she jubilates.
It’s good to be home.
The sun shines brightly the next morning – a new tropical day.
Ali, the gardener, arrives, rings the bell and shakes hands with us, his face beaming. “You are welcome!” he says with genuine delight. How was our journey, he wants to know. How is everybody in America? How are the parents? In good health? And the children?
Everybody is fine, we assure him.
After emptying my suitcases, the first thing to do is get in my little white KIA and go stock up on food. The vegetable mammies at the road-side market greet me as if I’ve been raised from the dead, their faces aglow with delight.
“Madame! You have come back! You are welcome!” Smiles all around. How are the people in my home village? Are my children well? And so on and so forth. We talk. We laugh. Then we pile the food in my basket. Pineapples and mangoes and bananas and paw paws. Onions and tomatoes and zucchini. After I pay, they throw in another pineapple and cucumber, as a dash.
The next morning we fall back into our routine and my man and I go for our morning walk. Halfway around we see Grandpa tottering toward us on plastic flip flops that are about to disintegrate. He is old and almost toothless. He finds us hilarious, always greeting us with amused chuckles. We see him every morning going in the opposite direction, but we don’t actually know who he is.
Overcome with joy, he stops moving when he catches sight of us and begins to talk in his incomprehensible laughing cackle, barely keeping his balance. Clearly, he has missed us.
“We have come back,” we tell him rather superfluously.
He offers us another stream of happy mumbles, leaning on his homemade cane, teetering precariously.
“Everybody is fine in our home village,” we assure him.
We wave and continue our walk, hearing his chuckles receding behind us.
It is good to be home.
Well, dear readers, that was home then. We are no longer there. We are here, which is America, where we have no cleaning lady, no gardener, and where no one in the supermarket knows me. They don’t ask me about the people in my home village, but they are friendly and wish me a nice day when I leave with my shopping bags full of apples and strawberries and broccoli and spinach.
Where will home be next year? We don’t know.
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Do you have any stories about home? Being home, coming home, feeling home?
So true – the sense of rootlessness is the price you pay for wandering the world! I too feel the same way. Born in Mozambique, then moved to South Africa, later on Germany, back to South Africa, Portugal and now Australia…I no longer know where I belong although I certainly feel at home in Australia because all of this reminds me of Africa. Sometimes I wonder when I get old where would I like to be…close to family, childhood friends? Where would I like to be buried when I die? So many questions and no answers yet!
I don’t know where home is any longer. Not a clue. That said, I do know that I wouldn’t be able to go back to my home country, France. Your house in the US is beautiful. I certainly looks like a perfect retreat.
And you managed to feel at home in your home country. Kudos to you!
Have you lost your sense of “feeling” French at all? I feel like you in that I don’t know where “home” is. I haven’t lived in my native Holland for decades and although I’m comfortable enough there, I’m not really “home” there anymore. And although I have lived in the US for years off and on, and am now a citizen there as well, I don’t “feel” American, although I am certainly comfortable here. This sense of rootlessness is the price you pay for having foreign affairs 😉
I so enjoy reading your stories as they make me long for “calm” away from the US, where people have time for one another, and know what life is about.
I fall into the same trap of being overwhelmed with work, or at least feeling like I have to sit at my computer and spend so much time feeling “guilty” if I’m not being productive.
What is that all about? Time to live another expat adventure!
Sadly, the rat race is becoming more prevalent and normal in lots of places abroad. Also, this rush-rush life style becomes part of your own way of being to the point where you feel guilty for “wasting time” if you just sit and read a book for more than ten minutes, or spend time in the garden doing nothing but “blissing out.” It’s not only our own environment, it’s how we are ourselves. So says I, before I’ve had my coffee 😉
I don’t have a homecoming tale but just love what you wrote. Because it SO tells the tale of Africa, which I so dearly miss. People are so genuinely interested in you and happy to see you, it makes you feel so happy. But then it always also makes me feel slightly guilty that I have all these things I worry or feel bad about, when it seems to be so easy to be happy by just being neighborly. I wish someone had taught that to me growing up, but that is not our Western style.
West Africans are so fun and nice to be around in general, and like you, I also wish it were easier to have this “joie de vivre” and just be happy. And we should, with all our privileges, but it’s not in our Western culture to be expressive in that way.
Welcome’s in the states just aren’t nearly as welcoming. But your house looks like the perfect retreat to recount your travels in! Welcome home!
Welcome home! One time I came back from Kenya to the UK. I’d been away 18 months and wanted to surprise my parents. But when I got to St. Pancreas station to catch the train to my hometown there was a bombscare. So I proceeded to the pub with other fellow passengers, shared my bottle of duty free with another penniless traveller and got home much later and drunker than expected…
Sounds like your kind of adventure, Annabel. You made me laugh, although a bomb scare is no laughing matter.
Wow, that was a LOVELY homecoming back to Ghana! Homecoming for me is a steady reassurance of familiarity–reinds, family, house, food. But I think anywhere would feel like home if I received a welcome like you did after 2 weeks away from Ghana! 🙂
I miss the West African friendliness, for sure!
I was once asked what the best place I ever visited was. My favourite place to go and I had to say home, because if you don’t have a home, how can you enjoy your time away?
My home now is not really a home yet. Too many boxes still unpacked, too many things still not even here! But I will be moving soon to a little house and hopefully then I will be able to get my cat back (every home should have one), unpack everything and have a real home again. With a view this time!!
Wishing you lots of happiness in your new Norwegian home!
For us, home is where we feel mentally comfortable. It has little to do with physical comfort. Our family (son and granddaughters) live in Norway. We visit once a year, and it’s wonderfully refreshing, and we love them all dearly. But home is home. We know where everything is, both inside the house and at the supermarkets; we know where the ATMs are, and where to buy petrol. We know when the rainy season is – and we don’t have a snow-season, in the Caribbean! Our main feeling about being home again is the relief. That looks a bit silly,… Read more »
A coming home story? Hm…when I first came back home, to my country, to live, I was angry, depressed. Then, one day, I decided to find things to enjoy. It became better after that.
Here, people used to be like the folks you’ve described in Ghana. But then, a lot of people have started earning lots of money, and now they’ve become a bit uptight 🙂
You’ve mentioned the South of France before. It sounds wonderful. Isn’t that where Peter Mayle lives?
Ah yes, home is where the heart is and where is yours Karen? After having lived in so many interesting places where do you consider home? I have always felt that I have a foot in both worlds…one in American and another in Europe. I often times find myself longing for one place while being in the other.
It’s because I have lived in so many interesting places that I don’t have roots anywhere, which is the negative side of all this living around the globe. There are so many great places to settle in the world! I’m still a European at heart, although I don’t fancy myself living in Holland anymore — the climate does not appeal to me. The South of France looks good with the great food, wine and side-walk cafe culture. People watching, coffee or wine in hand, is one of my hobbies 😉 We love Italy too, for that reason!