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