Home is an emotionally loaded concept that means different things to different people. Some people see ‘home’ as a general area, a town perhaps or a place like the Bushveld or the Highlands. Others think of a physical structure, a place with walls and a fence or a boundary that marks the space as exclusively theirs. For others, it’s more about the emotional connection to other people; ‘home’ is with friends, family and loved ones.
Is it possible for ‘home’ to be in two different places at the same time? I think if you ask most people who moved from one country to another, the answer would be yes.
On my recent trip to South Africa, I was suddenly overwhelmed by an intense feeling of homesickness. This took me by surprise and ever since the question of home, and what it means to me, has been rolling through my mind like a wave. So, I started to unpack the issue and its complications: I’m a South African living Ireland; my current home is in Letterkenny, but my future home will be in Dublin; and Henry is currently living and working in Dublin, while I’m indefinitely in Letterkenny until we find a suitable place to live. I realise the culmination of my circumstances are unusual and should be short-lived, but perhaps my struggle to define home isn’t that strange considering how life is in constant flux for many young people who are moving between jobs, cities and countries.
Is it possible for home to be in two different places at the same time? I think if you ask most people who moved from one country to another, the answer would be ‘yes’. When I go to South Africa people will often comment that it must be nice ‘to go home’. The trouble with this statement is that it could imply that I’m not currently at home in Ireland. If this was the case, why would I get homesick while in South Africa? On the other hand, it’s true that South Africa will always be a home to me. There are things I actively miss when I’m in Ireland. From the moment I arrived in South Africa, I enjoyed seeing the familiar sights, listening to the different languages, and catching up with friends and family members. It all gave me a cosy sense of belonging. This did not stop me from feeling homesick, though. During my return journey to Ireland, however, I had to explain several times why I was travelling to Ireland: twice at border control and to several curious fellow travellers. Explaining myself, answering questions, showing residency stamps… I found it a very strange way to travel back home. And yet, now I’m back in Ireland, I’m enjoying the lush greenery of the summer landscape, I’m thrilled to hear the Irish accent(s) again, and it’s been wonderful to see my friends. It all feels very familiar and comforting. So yes, I think home can be a general place that brings you joy and comfort, but I don’t believe it has to be limited to one place.
This brings me to the physical space, the actual structure we like to call home. During my trip, I spent two weeks at my parents’ home. It was interesting to be a guest in a space where my family live and function. I feel ‘at home’ there, but it’s not my home. To be fair, I only lived in that house for a year and a half before I went to University. From there it was dormitory rooms, later a bachelor pad in Stellenbosch and then a small garden flat in Johannesburg. All these spaces were for a brief time my home before I packed my bags and moved on to the next space. Perhaps this is so top of mind for me because we’re in the process of packing our bags again. As wonderful as it is to be back in my house in Letterkenny, I know that I won’t be here for long and I’ve already started to say goodbye. I’m washing cupboards, packing clothes into boxes, and I’m going for a few final walks in the countryside and picking herbs from my garden for old time’s sake. For me at least, a physical space where I can tend to my plants, hang my pictures and go about my routine is part of feeling at home.
But a structure does not in itself make a home. Not when your loved ones are missing, which is why it was so wonderful for me to sit around a dining table with my whole family back in South Africa. Unfortunately, it’s also why it’s so challenging for me and my husband to live in different places at the moment. At the end of the day, if you’ve created a home with other people, they’re an important part of your definition of home. In that sense, my home doesn’t quite feel complete without Henry and because my family is on a different continent, there will always be a little bit of home missing here in Ireland. In the meantime, I’m being kept company by our two cats who have been doing a great job making this space feel like home: Like loving family members they remind me when it’s time to take a break, they encourage naps, and they keep things interesting by being a little annoying at times. 🙂 To me then, a home is first and foremost a place I share with my loved ones.
Memories of the homes I’ve left behind have been surfacing on that wave rushing through my mind: Small echoes of all the things given up every time I had to move, but also gleaming reminders of all the things I’ve gained along the way. I’m sad to leave Donegal behind. Even though I knew I wouldn’t live here forever it quickly became a home to me. But I do feel positive about creating a new home in Dublin. There’s something alluring about a new space with different routines and new opportunities. In time, I know it will all feel familiar again. In a way, I’m always ‘going home’, even though the places, spaces and faces shift and change with time.
I’ve been listening to The Salt Path by Raynor Winn as an audiobook. It’s been the perfect companion on my journey to define ‘home’. I’ll be sharing my thoughts on this book soon.
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