When I walk into my house I always feel a sigh of relief and happiness. The households my home. My families are the center of my life, a relief from my stress. They are my home far away from home. Like anyone who’s lived in exile or a foreign country, I have an ageless home that never gets old to retire.
My first home where my memories are hidden. A home that I will always treasure. A home that I fantasize. A home that I hope to renovate without destroying the foundation of its originality that remains within me. A home that I am jealous of. A home that is beyond the four walls of my house — where my family resides.
Home is my family as well as where the pieces of my life started to come together. Google tells us home is a physical location: “where you live, a place of residence.” I agree but home is much more than a four-wall structure with a warm bed and comfortable couch. Home is not a tangible material. Home is a sense of security and connection. Home is a place of comfort where the mind rests with no one to contradict you. Therefore, the meaning of home cannot be limited or minimized to just a house.
A house with a roof over our head is just a shelter. A graveyard is a house for the dead. The street or even one person’s doorway can be a house for the homeless, but not a home. A refugee camp is also a temporary house. It could also be a home for those who happen to be born there.
Home is different from a shelter or a house. Home is where your body and mind feels it belongs, protected, loved and welcomed. Home is the place where you share culture and tradition. Home is not simply where we live; it’s a state of mind where you feel most at peace.
I have lived almost half of my life outside of my home-land. Throughout my journey, those places never felt like home. That feeling taught me somebody’s home is not mine. In all the places I have lived, I shaped my new home to fit me. I took small steps adjusting myself to its environment. Making new memories and crafting a larger image for myself: A family, friends, a job with a new profession, and a routine with the unadaptable weather. I am living and creating a life for myself every day.
Yet, I cannot substitute the home that made me who I am for my place of residence. As I unsuccessfully try to form a new home in my second “home,” my first home always shines within me. Nostalgia is a constant struggle —like a chronic disease with no cure. I came to admit, this is a home for my children. They share the culture and tradition; they know my neighbors’ names and ways more than I do. I’m always at odds with my children over what to wear for the sordid weather. Unlike me, they are immune to all the seasons. This is their home that extends beyond the wall they live in. Their memories start here.
Throughout my life, in three continents, I learned that home is so much more than a physical place; so much more than a structure that opens its doors with a garage entrance. My husband once said the hardest part of traveling for work or for our kids’ activities is being forced to take part in social gatherings and having to engaged in small talk with other parents or a coworker. At such social functions people often talk about their past, the TV shows they grew up watching, the games that were popular in their youth, which you don’t even have any clue about. Sometimes you laugh along, not because you get the joke, but you laugh for unfamiliarity. Those occasions are a constant reminder of a home that you belong to.
Home is a place where I don’t feel like a stranger; no perfection is needed at my home; no adjustment required. For me, home is where I cherish my early personal milestones, my past achievements. At home, I can walk around the neighborhood with a feeling of protection. Home is where everyone knows the younger me. The place where I don’t have to spell my name — A like Apple, N like Nancy, E like Elephant, etc. My home is where my grammar is perfect and my accent is normal. Where a joke makes sense to me and social gatherings don’t induce anxiety.
My home, beyond the four walls of my house, is located thousands of miles away in the Northeast part of Africa. My home is not perfect — far from it. Yet, somehow, it is where everything feels just fine and beautiful. The noisy neighborhood with a gravel road. The dusty village with a muddy river in my grandparents’ farm is more beautiful than my quiet suburban neighborhood.
Oromia, Ethiopia is a home more real to me than anywhere else in the world. Home is where everybody knows my last name; I am somebody’s daughter. I’m “intala Abalu.”
Beyond the four walls of my house, that is my home.
Photo © Hiriya Pictures.