A bittersweet homecoming

We came home last weekend – home to our familiar, comfortable house on our familiar, comfortable street. Surrounded by people and things we have known for years: the school up the road, the park around the corner, the shops only a ten minute walk away. It always feels good to come back to this place – the house that we have owned now for nearly ten years, where we brought our first daughter when she was less than a year old and our second when she was just two days. It’s where we have become a family and holds so many dear memories. It’s the place I feel most like myself.

a corner of the house

But coming home from a holiday in Florida on Saturday morning was tinged with sadness because I knew that this time we would only be here for two months and then, with as little fanfare as possible (I am not a big fan of prolonged goodbyes), we’ll be gone. And I have no idea how long it will take until our new house will feel like home – if we manage it at all.

This led me to think – what is home? How do we, as expats, with our peripatetic life, ever feel truly at home somewhere? Can we? And why do some houses – like the one we live in at the moment – feel like home, while others never do. Is it really about owning somewhere? Knowing it’s yours forever, even if you don’t live in it all the time you own it?

I think you only really know what home is when you’ve been away. It’s the coming back that makes somewhere special. Even when you’re having the time of your life somewhere, if you think about somewhere else with longing – whether that be a country, city, house or even a person – then you know that is where you belong. Or at least, you know it “belongs” to you. Sometimes you grow out of or apart from somewhere (or someone) – I once longed for London; now, I love to visit but I wouldn’t want to live there anymore. It’s “home” in as much as it is the capital of my home country, but I don’t belong there.

For me, I can only guess that it’s having children that has made our current home feel so special. It’s also the longest place I have ever lived somewhere (four and a half years!), plus, apart from a short spell of ownership of a Victorian flat in south London, the first time I have ever owned a property. In addition, the home is in the west of England, the part of the country where both my parents were born and raised (and now live), even if I wasn’t. Perhaps this area is in my genes.

shells on shelf

All of these things combined have made our current home a very special one – but it’s more than that. It’s just something that feels “right” about where we live, as if all the elements have clicked into place. Which is why it is going to be so hard to leave it, despite the fact that I have moved so many times before. Including from this very house – this will be the third overseas move we will have made in the ten years since we bought it. We’ve just always come back again.

Looking forward, I already know where we will be living in South Africa, and can thus start to try and imagine our lives there. I know we will have a very attractive house in a pleasant neighbourhood (despite the high electric fences, guards on gates and panic buttons installed). I know that we will have comfortable furniture and a pretty garden, a real, open fireplace for the cold winter evenings and three spacious bedrooms. I have no complaints about the house at all – but will it ever feel like home?

I guess the only way to find out is to go there, live there for a while and then go somewhere else. It’s only when it’s time to return to that particular house in that particular street in that particular city will I know whether it’s my home or not. And in the meantime, I’ll make the most of the home we’ve got in the little time we’ve got left in it. Until we come home again.

Where is “home” to you? Is it where you currently live, or somewhere else completely? Can more than one place be “home”? And what makes somewhere “home”, how does a place change from simply accommodation to somewhere special?

Just adding a little edit here – there is definitely something in the air at the moment because I have suddenly realised that there are several posts around at the moment about the same thing so I thought it would be fun to link to them.

From Pasta and Patchwork – What Make’s Home Home

From Expat Chronicles – This is Not Home

And from Kaffee und Kuchen – Where’s Home?

This post is part of the My Expat Family link-up. Check out other posts about living overseas by clicking on the the link below.

My Expat Family

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Photo101 – Water

Another picture for the Photo101 workshop. This time the theme is water. It’s a shame we don’t still live in St Lucia – I coined my twitter name @strandedatsea because every time I looked out of the window all I could see was the beautiful Caribbean sea. Water, water everywhere! But sadly I am still in blustery grey England where the rain hasn’t even obliged with my quest to get a photo of water today. Instead as I walked down the road on the way into town to buy cotton wool and pink leggings for World Book Day costumes (don’t ask!), I snapped this puddle scene.

water

I love the way the bare trees are reflected in the pool – the leafless branches, the mud and the cloudy sky all sum this country up nicely. I think I am starting to see a theme in my photo101 posts – things that represent what I will leave behind when we move to South Africa. Some I will miss, some less so. I wonder if I will be able to continue with this theme through the workshop?

Home

So I have decided to join the photography 101 workshop for the month of March. Apologies in advance for some of the random pictures that may start appearing on my blog, but this is my attempt to try and improve the photos that I use here.

The first assignment was called ‘home’ which is fairly prosaic, knowing that I will soon be leaving my home and all the things I love about it. I have recently blogged about how I already know I will be homesick as soon as we leave – and some of the things I know I will miss. One of those things is the view from our kitchen window, my own window onto the world. But I’m not the only one watching out of this window, and my first photograph for the 101 workshop shows our own llittle version of someone who will forever represent this country watching and waving at the world outside.

DSC_0373

I’ve spent my whole life feeling home-sick for somewhere….

As part of a trailing spouse link-up this month we have been asked to write about home-sickness. At the moment, I am home. But that doesn’t mean I don’t get home-sick. For all my life I have been leaving places – and people – behind. And even now I still get a pang for countries that are so far in my past I can hardly remember what they feel like.

A friend of mine has recently returned from a posting in the Philippines. On her arrival back in the UK, she posted a set of photographs – set to some stirring song or another – of her time in that beautiful country. As I watched the pictures flick across the screen in front of me they not only showed me what a fabulous time my friend had had, it also brought back my own memories. And suddenly I was there again – the smell of Frangipani on a humid tropical evening; the excitement of arriving at our favourite beach resort at the start of the weekend. Diving from the top board at the Army and Navy club – and the agony when the perfect arc turned into a belly flop. Eating pizza at Shakey’s. My first sleepover, at a Korean friend’s house. Birthday parties with the rich children from school at the Country Club. Running barefoot round the corner of our gated village to my best friend’s house….

Maya maya pic

The Philippines in the 1970’s

The feelings are fleeting but they are still there. Another example: I recently met someone who is about to be posted to Venezuela. I spent some very formative years of my life in that country – we were posted there when I was 15 and left when I was 19. I was at boarding school for much of that time but spent most holidays in Caracas and then a year there between leaving school and university.

As we spoke about what Venezuela was like (sadly very different from the country I knew – so safe I was able to go out at night on my own, finding my way home via taxi’s or lifts from strangers I met in bars; now it’s all armoured cars and close protection teams), I remembered trips to the Llanos, swimming at the base of the Angel Falls, endless cinema outings to watch the latest 80’s teen movie. Terrible clothes shops. The blandness of arepas, but the wonderful beef. These memories are deep but they haven’t gone away.

Yes I get homesick all the time – for all of these countries and for more. For verdant New Zealand, with its stunning views and laid-back people. For Jamaica, where I met my husband and we spent the weekends underwater. For St Lucia, with its beaches and its pools. Even for Pakistan, a strange three-month interlude in my life where I barely touched on getting to know the country but nevertheless gained so much.

Jamaica wedding

Jamaica wedding

But all of those will still pale into insignificance when I move abroad again this summer as I know the one place I will always miss more than any other is this one.

I wasn’t born here – that honour goes to Cuba – but I have always known the UK is home. Maybe not even the UK, maybe more significantly England, or perhaps even west England, where I live now. We always had a house in this country and family. We returned here between postings and I went first to school and later to University here. I have lived and worked here – in Kent, Hertfordshire, Essex, the Midlands, the west, and of course London. I know the people, I know the humour. There is no other country that does better television. We have our radio and our music. Our culture and our history. The NHS. Marks and Spencers. Cheese rolling and Morris dancing. We have the diversity of Birmingham. We have the beauty of the Cotswolds. In my opinion, having travelled and lived in all four corners of the globe, there is no better country in the world.

The view from our kitchen window

The view from our kitchen window

So why do I keep leaving it? This is a good question – but maybe one of the reasons I love it so much is because I do keep going away. This gives me a different perspective on this place, I can see it from a different angle. And while others might see ambulance queues and GP waiting lists, I see free and universal healthcare open to all. Where others complain that our politicians are corrupt, I see freedom of speech, freedom to wear (almost) whatever we want, freedom to complain openly and voraciously about those politicians. And where others moan about immigration and foreigners taking our jobs, I see an open and generous country.

But of course I won’t just be homesick for the country as a whole, I will be homesick for the little things, the meaningful things, the things that really mean OUR home. The autumn blackberry picking. Chats with other mums on the school run. The girls running outside to play with their friends in front of our house. Being able to walk into town and buying sausages from the local butcher. Reading the Times on Saturday afternoon with a coffee. Looking out of my window at the oh-so-familiar view of the road, trees, houses and play park in front of our home.

All of these things are what I miss. All of these things are what home means to me. And all of these things will be what I most look forward to when it’s time to return.

 

Read more about other trailing spouses’ experiences with homesickness:

• Elizabeth of Secrets of a Trailing Spouse shares how homesickness wasn’t what she expected
Tala Ocampo writes about the Life that Was in the Philippines and how she would still say yes to the trailing spouse life
• Yuliya of Tiny Expats relives the sensory experience of being back home
• Jenny of My Mommyology explains why we become homesick in the first place
• Didi of D for Delicious talks about her love-hate relationship with her home country