I feel like a bit of a mutt, nationality-wise. My passport and birthplace call me British, my upbringing and my heart say I’m South African. Born in one place, raised in another – and now raising my own family here, there and everywhere – sometimes I’m a bit fuzzy about my national identity, about where “home” is.
I’m fuzzy, that is, until the exact moment, once a year or so, I step off a 747 on to the tarmac at Cape Town International Airport. And then it all becomes startlingly clear.
For me the simple truth is that “Home” is more than where the heart is.
Home is where the sky opens up to embrace you, where the smell in the air and the breeze on your face sing a familiar song and your heart relaxes. Where they know you without any need for explanation. Where street corners and memories are inseparable from one another and the bird song in the morning is like a language you’d almost forgotten was your mother tongue.
We’ve just spent two weeks in the Cape, the home of my heart, and despite a brutal three-day journey to get there, a tummy bug picked up on the plane, and the jet lag which seemed to go on and on (both sides of the journey), I’m so grateful to have been injected with my “fix” of home for the year. We saw family and old friends, met babies who had been born while we were away, dug our toes into the impossibly soft sand of our favourite beaches – even coming from the Caribbean I can confidently say nothing tops the beaches of the Cape – and every evening, with a cold glass of Stellenbosch wine, toasted the view of Table Mountain that was the backdrop to my childhood.
It was wonderful. It was home.
We ate and drank at our favourite places. We got to witness good friends say their wedding vows and to eat cake with my husband’s grandmother on her 90th birthday. We drove up the coast to stay at the beach for a few days and Annabel surfed her first wave. We went on a game drive and saw the animals that make Africa the destination of dreams, we ran at sunrise as the mountains glistened in the distance, and one perfect evening we watched dolphins dance in the waves as we ate pizza. We introduced Ruby for the first time to the country we love most, and she blossomed a little bit more every day in front of the new faces and places, sights and smells.
The last decade fell away; it was as though we’d never been anywhere else.
And in the blink of an eye the days had gone by; we were saying the painful, all-too-familiar goodbyes again and boarding the plane for the long journey home. Home from “home”.
The sorrow of goodbye doesn’t lessen with time. If anything it gets worse. The feeling, like lead, in the pit of my stomach the day we leave – as though I’m doing something very unnatural, going somewhere strange.
And yet, here I am. Home from home – and that feeling is gone.
I think most expats can relate to this… We don’t consciously miss where we come from on a daily basis. Life happens wherever you are. Now that we have video calling and instant messaging, loved ones are that much less remote, and as we get on with the business of the mundane everyday, the missing – that longing you’re sure will never go away when you step on the plane – fades without you even noticing.
I got back, I hugged friends hello. I got back into my routine – running in the mornings, making packed lunches, doing the school drop-off. When I’m asked how our trip was I say “wonderful”. When I’m asked if I’m happy to be back I say “yes”. Both are true.
I feel the pull of home less each day, but I’m grateful to have been back and been reminded where my soul was seeded.
I think where we come from is part of what we bring to wherever we are. The world is all the richer for the contribution of our differences. In our street, we have Canadians and Germans, Texans and Spaniards, Polish and British and Swedish and Mexicans, and of course Bahamians – our gracious hosts. We all have different backgrounds and experiences but what we have in common is far more than what sets us apart.
My heart beats to the rhythm of the pounding Benguela Current, but here, today, I’m home from home.