When the world is your playground and you can find comfort in the unlikiest places, where is home? What is “home?”
This question was posed to me by one of my most inquisitive friends when I went back to the States a week ago. We met up in a small coffee shop on the southside of Chicago. Him sipping his iced mocha and me chugging my iced coffee. It was an unreasonably warm and sunny October day, and the sunlight streamed through the thick foliage of orange leaves and trees right outside the window. The question was so innocent yet it provocative: “where do you consider home now?”
I just looked at him. Not because this was the first time the question was posed to me, but because it was the first time I had the freedom to answer however I wanted. He was not expecting one answer over the others.
“I don’t know.” My mind was literally blank. No thoughts raced through my normally overbloated head.”Well, what do you consider home?” I finally asked I wanted to buy some time and make sure that we were using the same definition.
“You know. Home. Where you feel comfortable and totally relaxed. Is it Columbus, Ohio? Chicago? Africa?” I was getting used to Westerners juxtaposing cities to the entire continent of Africa,
At the time, I had shrugged my shoulders and replied, “Chicago I guess,” and turned the subject to a more friendly one.
The question stayed with me, like a nagging silent companion that loomed in the nooks of my shadow. It was a difficult one to answer, especially given my experience in my three-week trip in the U.S. I had lived out of a suitcase and crashed at my friends’ place- three in Chicago, one in D.C., one in San Francisco, two in New York, and my parents’ in Ohio. My friends were generous with their accommodation yet I found myself looking forward to coming back to Nairobi so that I could shut myself in my room if I wanted and I could put my clothes in my closet. At the same time, whenever my friends with whom I was crashing at the time called me and asked where I was, I answered, “I’m home,” when I was in their apartments. It just came out automatically. After I said it though, I felt weird and paused, which went unnoticed by my friends who continued talking.
At the same time, the thought that I would call Nairobi home scared me. It meant that I am becoming OK with the Kenyan culture of men first and women second and the constant harassment whenever I walk down the street. Am I becoming too soft? In addition, I did not think that home would be the place where you spend half of the time- day and night- thinking that xyz would never happen in the States/ developed countries and questioning why I chose to work abroad in the first place. I refused to accept the fact that home is where all my personal demons come out and corner me.
So what is home for me?
My business partner calls me “freakishly adaptable” and he is right. The more than 20 moves my family performed as if they were monthly and yearly rituals before I turned 14 certainly made me a lot more flexible and easily adaptable to the local culture and context. Living on four continents by the time I was 20 also gave me the skills to blend in and and assimilate. But subtly, in the constant upheaval and new friends, place, and chaos, one important thing is sacrificed: home.
I do not know what or where my home is anymore. There is no singular place that I consider home. If nowhere is my home, then everywhere is my home. The world is my home. A global citizen. I think that is the one label I am comfortable with. I belong to the world.