Since moving overseas I have become intrigued with the concept of home. About the ties that bind us to a place, even if that place has not been ‘home’ for years, even decades.
I have expat friends who have spent more time out of their ‘home’ country than in it, but return each year; to a house by a Canadian lake, to their family home in Lebanon. These returns are more than touching base with family and friends, they reflect a deep longing for a place. A place of attachment. I spoke to a colleague of my husbands yesterday, a Polish-Australian mining executive, and he spoke of, after moving to Australia, a physical longing for the mountains of Poland. A longing which took 15 years to get over. We chatted about plans for the summer, a trip to Australia postponed to visit his elderly mother in Poland, and to visit the mountains.
And while I too love mountains, it is the ocean I miss. More particularly, that particular stretch of coast near our ‘home’. I miss the curve of the sandstone cliffs, I miss the swell of the clear blue waves and seaweed mantled rocks submerged by the water. I miss the dive into the face of a breaking wave and the salty sting on my face. I miss how it makes me feel. And while I have swum in other, and some would say more beautiful oceans, part of my heart is in that small stretch of the Pacific.
I adored Vancouver when we lived there before children, I quite fancy the idea of Asia and I’m not finished with Africa. Bill and I routinely dream of a house in Greece.
And perhaps that is the key. That little stretch of the Pacific is part of my heart, but now, not all of it.
Last weekend we escaped the traffic and the urban sprawl of Accra to visit (as we do every second weekend), the site where my husband works in rural Ghana. Over this long weekend in Ghana (Happy Independence Day!), I was particularly struck as to how relaxed we all felt there. Two years ago, this ‘country house’ as we now call it, felt exotic and full of possibility. This was soon replaced by frustration and depression. At worst, we felt trapped by the place. But with this move to the city, it has become a haven. A place, for the time being, that our family truly calls home.
We went to the local markets for some shopping and a wander about. Down a small alley in the market place, a watchmaker with his small table strewn with watchbands, faces and tiny gears, smiled and without a trace of irony, gave us the traditional Ghanaian greeting, “Akwaaba, welcome to Ghana.” A shirtless man with gold teeth waved at us, and smiling, we picked our way past the fabric stores and the kitchen utensils. Two girls selling sachet water, seeing my camera, giggled and I asked if they would like their photo taken. And onto the butcher, whose tiny wire-screened stall was strewn with meat and the smell of blood, he too greeted us and asked for a photo. We headed to the produce section, where we were greeted by Charity had a long and very interesting discussion about her products. Tortoise shell is good for coughs, clay was good for whitening teeth, small fur covered funnels were for applying kohl to the eyes. We bought some garlic and moved on. We returned to our big, run down house, where the kids jump on a trampoline with a pet monkey. The house where they feel completely at home.
Now, I am not pretending that any of this is anything but exotic, but at the same time it felt familiar and easy, it felt comforting. There was a real sense of home about it. And while I know we will not live in Ghana forever, I also know that when we leave, part of my heart will be there too.
I’ve never been a particularly patriotic Australian. Which is not to say I am not very happy to admit I am Australian. I know the first verse of the national anthem, but not the second (something about a radiant Southern Cross?). It’s just not me. Aussie flag draped shoulders, and cries of ‘Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, oi, oi, oi’ leave me cold. I appreciate how truly fortunate I am to have been born in such a beautiful and free country. But have always recognised that the world has many beautiful places and cultures. Whether this is from my father’s immigrant Greek family, or an inherent wanderlust, I don’t know.
But a funny thing happens when you move away. The patriotism comes back. It’s more than duty free Vegemite and Tim Tams, but an inherent sense of who you are.
I am Australian, but little pockets of my heart hold other places too.
A very special thanks to everyone who shared my post, Trailing Spouse – the graveyard of ambition?, and to all of you for reading. It means the world to me.