SO, WHERE IS HOME?

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stufflearnt

I, and I assume most of you reading this have always had somewhere to go. What a blessing. I have a ceiling to wake up to and running water to cleanse my skin. I have toilet paper, a stove, clean towels, and warm socks…

Ah, finally’ I thought, exhaling into the silent, slight frigid and musky air. I walked into the living room, dumped my handbag and coat on the floor and collapsed on the couch. ‘I’m home’. Relief, exhaustion, gratitude; the all too familiar emotions of settling into/arriving at one’s ultimate comfort zone – home. But wait, didn’t I just come from home?

There’s a question anyone who’s lived far, far away from where they once came from, their original and technical ‘home’ gets used to hearing over and over again “So, are you thinking of coming back home?” “Sure, maybe, one day, we’ll see…” are some of the stock phrases I usually throw out, sometimes to appease, usually for lack of a more definitive answer, but mostly because it’s the truth. The fact that I already live in a place I consider home, granted a small 700sq ft. box of a home, but a home nonetheless, doesn’t obscure my understanding of the sentiment behind the question – ‘come back to where you are from, where you belong.’

I’ve been beyond fortunate in my life to have had many places I’ve called home. Some more shelter-like than cozy abode, the dorm rooms and bunk beds, not to forget the month spent holed up in a tiny room on a moldy mattress in New York City. Others, like my current place of refuge, are sacred spaces

I can truly call my own. Each has sheltered, protected and shaped me; within each place I’ve left dents of my presence, evidence of physical and mental existence. Yet by virtue of experiencing varying concepts of home, I’m particularly sensitive to my need for comfort, security, seclusion and inclusion – the very things that make a space feel like home.

I recently watched one of the most poignant films I’ve seen in a while, Room – the tale of a kidnapped young woman and her captive- born son, confined and eventually escaping from a tiny, squalid shed. For the mother and the audience, this prison is the ultimate nightmare. But for her five-year-old son, it’s all he knows. This ‘Room’ is his home, his entire world. Your heart breaks watching him transition into the real world, his face steeped in confusion,

wander and fear. When he asks when they’ll be returning back to ‘Room’ you want to reach out and shake him: ‘You’re free, you never have to go back there!’ but what would you and I know about calling a prison home? Did he not feel relatively comfortable and secure in this prison?

And what about those who don’t even have a place to call home? Amongst the many ‘only in NYC’ facts of life are the panhandling/ singing/yelling/shuffling homeless men (and occasionally women) drifting in and out of subway cars. The beauty and hell about living in this city is that we’re all squished together; there are few places to hide. Hence, whereas you can close your car door and escape the dirty shadows of societies’ downtrodden souls in many places including Kenya, here you will inevitably be standing next to them on the subway, holding your breath as they brush past, diligently looking up, down, sideways, anywhere but their direction.

We know they’re there, we can certainly smell their presence, but we’d prefer to pretend they don’t exist. Step over them, walk on the opposite side of the street, and maybe, just maybe throw some pennies into a cup. During the winter we may feel more compassion, but what can you do? After all, it’s the city’s problem, or they probably brought this upon themselves having mismanaged their lives or succumbed to addiction. Either way, beyond the obligated tax dollars we sacrifice, we have our own precarious shelters to worry about.

The thing is, no one really cares where you belong or where you’re from, as long as you belong somewhere. If you have no visible, tangible attachments to any one or thing, you might as well not exist. Somewhat understandably so, we’re social beings born utterly dependent to care takers and circumstances. We come into this world tethered to another being then spend our entire lives battling between our desire for independence and the vulnerability that comes with protection and dependence. Hence, being completely untethered is unnatural and potentially lethal. How can you trust someone who is disengaged to functioning in accordance to the rest of society? What do you do with someone who has nowhere to go?

I, and I assume most of you reading this have always had somewhere to go. What a blessing. I have a ceiling to wake up to and running water to cleanse my skin. I have toilet paper, a stove, clean towels, and warm socks. There’s the television, my favorite pajamas, the hot coffee, the comfortable couch. My books, my artwork, my family photos, my birthday cards, my diaries. My favorite position lying in bed, my precise morning routine, my yoga mat, and the box of paperwork I’ve been meaning to sort out. All of which I’m attached to, the stuff that in part defines me, the things I rely on to feel safe, comfortable, secure, at home.

Do I need these things to make a, my, home? Not necessarily, they are merely occupants within the space I live in. But more importantly, they’re my occupants, in my space. And I think at the end of the day that’s what really matters – a space, however large or small, to call one’s own. A little part of the universe that’s yours, carved out by fate or God, just for you. But what happens when you lose that space, or you grow out of it, or it no longer fits the way it used to? What happens when home stops feeling like home?

In the aforementioned movie, the little boy and his mother do end up visiting their former home, months after settling into their new lives in a free world. The space seems smaller than he remembered, a tragic realization of the frailty of our perception. He says goodbye to the ‘Room’, and as they walked off into the promise of new, better lives, I found myself wondering is it really as simple as just saying goodbye? Does one ever just close the door to a former home and walk away unscathed? What happens to your sense of identity during the period of leaving one home and finding another?

You’d think I’d have some answers having left and found home on numerous occasions. Instead, I find myself clinging to a sense of certainty that comes after a period of searching. A grateful knowing that for now, for however long, I don’t have to worry about having a space where all I’m required to do is just be me. What a blessing indeed!

njeri@parents.co.ke

Published in February 2016

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