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What is ‘home’? A panda’s perspective.

May 21, 2017 33 Comments

You cannot tell where my home is by looking at me. It isn’t reflected in my language, my accent, my words, the features on my face, the texture of my hair or even the nondescript colour of my passport. As I grow, I am learning that home is so many different things and yet, sometimes it is nothing at all. It consists of so many elements and takes on so many different shapes that it’s hard to say where exactly it starts and where it ends.

Recently at work I was in discussion with a fellow South African. He asked me if I was looking forward to “going home” as it is exactly a month until I board a plane to Durban, South Africa. I had a particularly hard time answering him as it became unsteadily real to me that where I was going wasn’t really home. I technically have no address in South Africa. I realised, with some degree of surprise, that in South Africa, I would now be a citizen but not a resident.

How do you define home – is it the place where you’re born? Is it the country your parents hail from? Is the place where you’ve spent the largest number of amassed years? The geographic location tied to your earliest memories? I am lucky that for me, all these questions have the same answer.

Sometimes I think it’s the house in which I had my first birthday party, the one I cried all the way through as confirmed by embarrassing baby photos in aging photo albums.

Photographic evidence that I never like the spotlight

But then again, maybe home is another house, the place where one day, my parents brought home three little gifts for me from the hospital, collectively known as The Triplets.

These were their usual expressions…

And once that house was full of people, my father got us two dogs, Simba & Tiesto, and thus our family expanded even more.  Tiesto has since passed on (earlier this year) but remains etched in my memory.

It’s where my siblings and I sang Disney songs loudly after renting VHS cassettes from the video store even when we didn’t know most of the words. Home is where I decided to go flying down the steep driveway with no hands on the handlebars of my bicycle and thus, ended up losing most of my milk teeth.


Home could be where I discovered my first culinary pleasures at the hands of my mother’s exceptional cooking (although at time I believed all mothers were great cooks- I was in for a rude awakening later in life). It’s where, through my two local libraries, I discovered my insatiable love for books, especially books about faraway places and foreign people. Conversely, it’s where I discovered that I didn’t quite loathe anything more than I did numbers and formulae.


But if I expand my definition of home then my memories are fuller.  If I begin to think of it as not a house but rather, of the city and province where I grew up. Then it’s also where I learned that sometimes people treat you differently because of your perspectives and socio-economic status. Where I met people in high school that I realized I didn’t want to associate with or turn into.

But this home , the home of my city, is also where I completed 4 university degrees and consequently  met the people that have become my second family, my best friends and closest confidants. A diverse and incredible group of women, each and every one of them is smart, capable and stunningly beautiful, inside and out.

Home is where I fell in love with a boy for the first time. It’s where long nights spent chatting away on the phone to him (in the days before instant messenger and smartphones) were filled with excitement and jitters. 9 years later, home became the place that very same boy cried when he first saw me in my bridal gown on our wedding day.

That look you give each other when you realise you’re finally husband & wife!

Home is where I know the roads well enough to be able to give you directions. It’s where I can predict weekday traffic patterns, and recommend a you a few options for your anniversary supper. I can tell you where to get the best ice cream (Era Ice Cream), the nicest market (I Heart Market) and the best public beach (Thompson’s Bay). Home allowed my passions to flourish – from photography, to fitness to food and writing, for so long home has been the incubator for my many labours of love.

IMG_7264 (1)

But I have to expand my definition of home even further. I called South Korea home for two years after twenty one years of living in South Africa. In this home I learned to live alone, to cook food, to wash clothes and to navigate through a foreign land on my own. It was the first place I saw and lived through snow and monsoons. I learnt to read and write in the local language and thus, Korea gave me the self-confidence to try exotic foods and travel solo across South East Asia with just one bulging backpack. It’s where I learned the value of a good work ethic, and the freedom that comes with financial independence.

Fox & I in snowy South Korea

But home has most recently been Kuwait. A place where I lived through 50 degrees Celsius, where I saw the craziest driving ever , where I saw wealth and opulence beyond measure, where I saw so much of diversity outside of South Africa and saw how a country can work when a government takes care of its citizens. I have my favourite restaurants and everyone at my gym knows my face. I know how to navigate my way around Kuwait easily and I know which roads to avoid when. It is the place I shared my life and experiences with the world through this blog.

But now I am leaving and my concept of home must again change.  Maybe it’s here now; maybe it’s there later, maybe it’s somewhere I haven’t discovered yet. Perhaps the world is my home.


Home is so much more than just a place/city/country on a map. It is the scent of the humid South African air as you wake up near the ocean; or the shouting of drunken Koreans on the street at night or the sight of Kuwaiti men smoking shisha outside their villas on any given weekday afternoon. It’s the feeling of relief whenever you land in that airport, knowing you don’t need to worry about visas or interrogations because this is where you belong right now. It’s the people you meet, the hearts you break, the brunches you share and the roads you drive on. The things you love about a place and the oddities you love to complain about. Home is about a feeling within you- you take it wherever you go, lose it in some places, pick it up again and revel in the feeling of just being “home”.


P.S. Credit to my sister- one third of the triplets- for providing me with the nostalgic family photos! (I am only mentioning her because she insisted on me giving her credit… siblings!)

In response to the Daily Prompt: Unmoored

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  • JerseyGirl May 21, 2017 at 7:08 am

    Love love love this post. Your descriptions of all our your lives away and home in South Africa are beautiful, love the old photos you shared of your childhood. I agree with you 100% that you can have many homes and it doesn’t have to be one specific place, home is a feeling, where you feel connected at that specific time, where you are settled and enjoying the day to day. People think it’s weird that I call kuwait home, but it is. Im sure that your next move will be just as wonderful as all your previous experiences and it will very soon be another home that ou can carry with you.

    • Expat Panda May 22, 2017 at 2:46 pm

      Sometimes I think its weird that I call Kuwait home too (haha!) but there you go- pure evidence that home can be anythings from a place to a feeling. Thank for your the feedback, I wasn’t sure anyone would find my family photos interesting 😀

  • phillygirl77 May 21, 2017 at 9:44 am

    Hey Panda,

    Are you leaving Kuwait permanently or just for the summer? Has it only been 1 year? What made you make this decision? Just curious.

    • Expat Panda May 22, 2017 at 2:48 pm

      Hi (virtual) friend. I am not returning to Kuwait once I leave for the summer (well it will be winter where I am going!) I am going to be publishing an in depth post about this decision to leave Kuwait for good as I think it will help other people coming to Kuwait to understand how things are and how my life has been here. But do not despair, I have another adventure is planned and as soon as my paperwork is submitted, I will reveal it 😀

      • phillygirl77 June 6, 2017 at 9:47 pm

        Can’t wait for the post. I know it will be good. I also realize it probably can’t be posted til you leave lol

        • Expat Panda June 6, 2017 at 10:53 pm

          I will literally post it at the airport or something haha!

  • Julz May 21, 2017 at 10:48 am

    Home is a strange idea, isn’t it? For me home is the country where I am resident at any given time. So right now Mauritius – but then in 6months could be somewhere else. It’s got so confusing for the kids at some point that it was our home at the hotel or our home in Grand Bay or even as far as our home at their grand parents because we lived there for a few months last year. Bless them. now we are back at ‘our home at the hotel’ but i still get the ‘at the hotel’, just in case…

    • Expat Panda May 22, 2017 at 2:49 pm

      Home just means so many different things to everyone that it is hard to define it. I think for you, as a family, maybe home is whoever you guys are together whether its a hotel, grandparents’ house, Mauritius or somewhere else!

      • Julz May 22, 2017 at 4:56 pm

        Something like that yes 🙂 probably for my husband it’s always mauritius, but for me who has moved since always it’s a bit more hazzy

  • kwong575 May 21, 2017 at 11:56 am

    I love this!

  • thexpatUAE May 22, 2017 at 10:41 am

    Absolutely love this post! Dissecting where home is is such a common thing for me – I do question it a lot and I know for me personally home is all of what you explained – places, feelings and scents etc.
    Was so sweet to see those photos as well – I’m such a sentimental person and I love looking through old photos so thank you for sharing x

    • Expat Panda May 22, 2017 at 2:52 pm

      Haha it was a little daunting putting up family photos especially since I consider myself as a cringe-worthy child but glad you enjoyed them! Home is fluid and flexible concept… for now we are both calling the Middle East home and even within that, you could divide it further into UAE and Kuwait but thats the thing- it can be as narrow and as wide of a description as we want it to be!

  • Nostalgia Diaries May 22, 2017 at 7:15 pm

    This is a wonderful post! I wrote about what home means to me a few months ago on my Everyday Nostalgia series. For me, a person who’s never stayed in one place to long, home isn’t necessarily a place — I find it in my loved ones, and in our shared past and connections.

    • Expat Panda May 23, 2017 at 7:45 am

      I 100% agreed with everything you wrote in your post. I’m happy to see that I’m not the only one who feels this way about the concept of home.

  • Siyana May 22, 2017 at 8:15 pm

    Home is where your dog is. 😀
    Apart from that, I live in two places and get equally sad when I have to leave either of them, and then equally happy when I have to get back. 😀

    • Expat Panda May 23, 2017 at 7:46 am

      I totally get that. When you’re in one place, you long for the other and vice versa. It’s a vicious cycle! Thank you for your feedback 😊

  • sharonceestheworld May 22, 2017 at 9:54 pm

    This really touched my heart. I think we are really blessed to create a home in so many places 🙂

    • Expat Panda May 23, 2017 at 7:47 am

      We really are fortunate enough to have experiences that allow us to be at home in more than one place 😊

  • Sastri May 22, 2017 at 10:20 pm

    A lovely post! I have lived in a several countries growing up, and I am calling the US as a home for now. Yet, others see me as a foreigner 🙂

    • Expat Panda May 23, 2017 at 7:48 am

      Although it can be frustrating at times, I try to let my view of a place shape my experiences there rather than how I am perceived. Thank you for taking the time to read my post 😊

  • Strictly Lighthearted May 23, 2017 at 2:28 pm

    Such a wonderful post! For me, home has to be the city I grew up in as it will always have a sentimental value. I guess that is also why when we were in London and my husband told me that we might be moving to Dubai, my first response was ‘I am going back home!’ 🙂 … Your family photo’s were adorable. I’m sorry to hear about Tiesto. I too lost a dear pet at the start of the year so I feel your pain. I even wrote a blog post dedicated to Buddy called ‘You Will be Missed’ … ❤️

  • Bharti Chopra May 30, 2017 at 1:23 pm

    Wonderful post and I relate to this so much. For years home has been a house/place where parents lived, we used to visit these place for festivals etc as the common belief is you celebrate festivals at “home”.
    Lately I feel home is where I’m happy and where my heart is.

    It’s been so long I left my parents house for education , job and then marriage that calling it home doesn’t feel right.
    Since last 18 years I haven’t lived in a place longer than 5 years , so home is a sentiment now not a physical location.

    • Expat Panda May 31, 2017 at 5:04 pm

      Really glad you enjoyed this post! I think home for each of us means something completely different and thats what makes it a special concept 🙂

  • Wunderlander June 4, 2017 at 9:57 pm

    Such a lovely post. And an old question that has 1 million answers. Funny is that I myself call every place I sleep “home” when I am away from home in another country. I dont say: lets go to our Hotel/room/tent…. I always say home. Haha. I think theres more than 1 home! Xx

    • Expat Panda June 4, 2017 at 11:32 pm

      I agree with you 100%! Home is a very versatile term.

  • Fabulous-Fusions June 6, 2017 at 7:51 pm

    What a great post!!!! Although I’m not such a big global citizen like You, I find it hard to say where is my home. I know where is my current home (house, where me and my family) live, but home overall… It’s… mmmm….that’s a hard one!

    • Expat Panda June 6, 2017 at 8:04 pm

      Haha it is funny for me to be called a global citizen because I honestly don’t think of myself as particularly well-travelled. Home means many different things to everyone, its all about how it makes you feel 🙂

      • Fabulous-Fusions June 6, 2017 at 9:01 pm

        I don’t think you have to be a big traveller to be called a global citizen. I believe you are just the right example 🙂

  • higgledypiggledymom July 13, 2017 at 3:54 pm

    Love this! Home for me is where I am happy and with my best friend and love of 30+ years.

    • Expat Panda July 18, 2017 at 11:53 am

      Thank you for your sweet comment and I am glad you enjoyed the post!

  • […] Hotel- she is a pastry chef! If you want to know a little more about my family, you need to read this personal post of […]

  • Ineya Hsu September 21, 2019 at 6:14 am

    Absolutely love this post and can totally relate! I always struggle to give the simplest answer “Where are you from? Where is your home?”. Takes me 5 minutes to explain. LOL. As I grow older I think home is not a specific place, just where your heart likes at the moment. And many places can feel like “home” at the same time.

    • expatpanda September 22, 2019 at 7:42 am

      I couldn’t agree more… home is definitely more of a feeling as we grow older and move around the globe!

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