I guess that I was lucky.
Throughout my childhood and young adulthood, the furthest that I’ve ever moved was when I changed rooms. This happened once, at the start of my university career, when I moved from my room in the house to the converted garage outside. This lack of change had fixed a very clear sense of what home meant to me and I believe that it proved to be a stabilizing factor in what was a pretty hectic childhood. Despite all the ups and downs, I knew at least where my home was and that I could always retreat to the safety of my own room.
When I decided to travel abroad, I was terribly worried that I was going to become homesick, which for my independent spirit would’ve been quite embarrassing. It came as quite a surprise then when 6 weeks passed abroad and I had still not shown any desire to return home. The freedom that I had there, the independence and the climate was intoxicating. I moved around quite a lot, and for the first two months that I was there, I didn’t spend more than 7 nights in the same bed. Then, I found a job in Milton Keynes as a Sheppard (yes, with a crook and a dog) and unexpectedly found myself able to stay in a place for more than three months. My first month and a half was trying as I worked nightshift. I rented a room from a couple called Terry and Carol, who I suspect ended up getting more than they bargained for. The thing was that, instead of providing me with a room, they provided me with a room. With kids just a few years older than I was, they saw the stress that my work put on me and the isolation (though chosen) that I was living in in the English countryside (no movies, no time, no people my age around for miles…). They went through the trouble of making me a part of their family events, took me along on their daily lives as family members would and supported me through difficult decisions. It was there that, one morning as I was lying in my bed looking up at the ceiling, I felt the strongest sense of home that I had ever had. I lay in my bed and felt content and safe and it was only when I left there that I really started feeling homesick. Not for South Africa, but for their cottage.
I moved on, travelled to Aberdeen and joined a volunteer community called Camphill but all the while, my sense of home remained there, in that room, in that house. I returned there frequently, using their house as a sort of ‘recharge’ station amidst my more turbulent times. When I returned home in November for my mother’s illness, I was left with an empty panic that I might never return ‘home’ again, not realizing at that time what the course of her illness would be and how my time would be monopolized by it. When my mother recovered and I returned to England (amidst the worse snow storms that they’ve had in decades apparently) I felt as if I had woken up as if from a bad dream and was once again where I belonged. I returned to Terry and Carol’s for a visit and discovered to my delight that it still felt like home – even more so perhaps because my security there had not been shattered as it had been in my own blood family life. Upon returning to England, I moved in with a close friend of mine – Mary who once again provided me with a secure home, friendship and chocolate hobnobs. Once again, like a security blanket settling around me, I felt and accepted her home as mine. This time living in the Welsh countryside, I felt a deep, content peace settle in me that I had never experienced before. I knew that it would have to end, but I tried to ignore it as long as I could. It was only when I returned from visiting my partner (who was at that time living in Australia) that I realized that I would have to try and cut my ties to the country and the people in order to return home happy. I went on a kind of pilgrimage to Scotland, alone with nothing save for my backpack, and tried to make peace with the fact that I was going to leave the country. I thought that I had managed, but it was only when I felt the airplane leave British soil that I realized I had left a bit of myself behind. I sat amidst a group of South Africans all returning home for July holidays or other various reasons. They were a jolly bunch (as we generally are) that talked about what they missed of “home” and what they were doing to do when they got there whereas I found myself thinking of all the things that I would miss. When the airplane touched down in Africa, the people cheered and clapped hands – some spontaneously breaking out into our national anthem – but I sat there, feeling alone and abandoned in my corner, wondering how I would ever be able to walk free under the African sun again.
I moved on, and for the past few months (4 now) I managed to lull myself into a false sense of security. Buying my horse helped a lot, but I will still dedicate a post to him so I won’t go into details and when my partner returned from Australia I thought that everything would finally settle.
Then, last night – I found myself serving a group of British diplomats who came from all the corners of England. I listened to their accents and listened to what they were talking of (and the way they were doing it) and I realized that I had missed it so much. Then, when one of them asked me how long I’ve been living in South Africa because my accent had faded quite a bit, I found myself breaking on the inside when I realized that they had thought I was one of them and not a South African. I stood there in the soft light of our courtyard and I realized that I’m homesick. That I missed Mary, and Carol and Terry. I missed my sheep, my fields, the rain and the rape fields. I missed my sheep dog Moss and I missed the public transport system that worked. My dreams last night were filled with me frustratingly struggling to reach my home in Wales and phone Mary.
What discourages me, is that I don’t believe that there is an cure for my homesickness, that travelling came with a terrible price. You see, I believe very strongly that there’s a balance in life and in payment for the way travelling enriched my life, I gave up a bit of my soul, a bit of my complete sense of security. Some days, like today I have to admit, I wonder if I should ever have done it and whether I would not have been better of just completing my Masters and carrying on with what could’ve been a content, ordinary life.
But – I don’t strive to be ordinary, I don’t strive to be normal. I have seen and done things that very few other young people my age have done and for that I’m internally grateful – for all the pain that it’s brought me.
Although I don’t know how to fix my internal struggle, I know that when this pain subsides, I will strive to reach further inside myself again and gain more experiences. Because that’s what this life is about.