Is it even a place?
I live on a western compound in Saudi Arabia, and returning there after seven weeks in India was surreal. My husband and I flew out of the steamy and decrepit Kolkata International Airport, which smells slightly of mold and sweat, and changed planes in Dubai. During our layover, we did some window shopping in the airport and saw a 24-karat gold cell phone on sale for $30,000. The Dubai airport was immaculate, echoey, modern and freezing cold. I probably wouldn’t have even noticed except that, well, I just came from Calcutta.
While I was away in India, our shipment of household goods from the United States had arrived in Saudi Arabia. So when we walked in the front door, I was greeted with all of our familiar things: a house full of the objects we have collected and lived with during our sixteen years of marriage. There was the threadbare red velvet sofa (with some dog hairs still stuck to the front of it. Oh, I miss my dog! He’s back in the States living with his best doggie friend.) There was the Art Nouveau china cabinet and the Danish modern dining room set–both second-hand finds from years ago. My ergonomic office chair! And our bed, oh yes. The most comfortable bed I have ever slept on in my whole life, yes, there it was, made up with the blue cotton sheets that are soft from many washings.
It was great to come back to all of this, and air conditioning, and my own kitchen, and the stereo, and the shower with the great water pressure and all the hot water I want. Heavenly! Even all these weeks later, I am still grateful for such luxuries. Also, I’m still aware that I can live well without them.
Back in this comfortably feathered nest, I can sit and consider my biggest question: what is home?
I am sheltered here. All my stuff is here, and (more importantly) my husband is here. Is this home? Oh no. We live in a comfortable little bubble here, but we will never be able to call Saudi Arabia home. The cultural disconnect is too vast.
So, home does not equal “where your house is.” There is a cultural component to it.
What about my hometown in Greenbelt, Maryland? Most of my family and friends live there. The farmers market I helped to start still thrives on Sunday mornings, and the yoga studio I built still holds classes there. My sister lives there, in our childhood home, down the street from some of my favorite friends. My in-laws live there, too. This friendly, tightly woven safety net awaits me. This is where my roots are. Is this home? It was. It may well be again. But right now we don’t have a house there. We don’t have a place that belongs to us, so I don’t think of it as home.
So, maybe home is where your house is plus where you feel culturally connected. This has possibilities.
Then there’s Santa Barbara. I have been yearning for California’s central coast for quite a while now. Maybe home is Santa Barbara, where my husband has family, where I went to college. The city got its hook in me, and I remain hooked. Some places have a pull of their own. They feel like home even before the real estate has been purchased, before the roots are down.
So what is home? Is home where your house is, plus where you feel culturally connected, plus where you feel some kind of magnetic attraction to the geographical place itself? Hmm….
As I spin out this Sesame Street-style exercise (to the tune of “One of these things is not like the other”), I wonder what I even mean by “home.” What am I looking for? This is not such a random exercise in navel-gazing if you consider this: If you know what you mean by “home,” then maybe you can create it. Wherever you go. What if “home” is something you can take with you? Yeah, yeah, “home is where the heart is.” Or as the Temptations said, “Papa was a rolling stone. Wherever he laid his hat was his home.” But what if that is true?
And here we are, crashing back into yoga again. One of my yoga teachers often said that during a difficult posture, “you can always come back to your breath. Just come back to your breath.” This is also good advice during challenging moments of life generally. When I’m angry: come back to my breath. When I’m afraid, or about to say something I shouldn’t: come back to my breath. Just stop whatever it is I’m about to do, and breathe. Actually feel the air filling my lungs, the breath coming and going from my body. Whether I am aware of it or not, my breath keeps cycling through me. My heart keeps beating too, of course, but my breath is something over which I have some control. I can work with it. I can let it work on me. I always carry it with me. My body is the home of my breath. What if my body is my home? Is that enough?
I am a nester. I love fussing with the furniture, choosing paint colors, hanging pictures, finding new pieces to bring into our house that are reminders of places I’ve been or have shapes or textures that I find beautiful. So it’s hard to reconcile the fact that I take such pleasure in feathering the nest, with the notion that home can be as portable as I am.
I also love cooking. The smell of good food being prepared in the kitchen is another big signpost pointing the way towards home. Almost every day, I use my grandmother’s iron skillet to fry onions, or scramble eggs, or make a batch of cornbread. Three generations of women in my family have used that skillet in their kitchens. That kind of continuity is a deep, important anchor to home.
I want to find “home” and settle there. And I am becoming ever more aware that in order to do that, I need to push a little more on the boundaries of what’s comfortable for me, what’s physically and emotionally possible. To figure out how to get back home, I need to keep venturing away from it. The road towards home continues to twist off into the trees. It’s a beautiful day for a drive.
Kim Kash is an writer and yoga teacher from the Washington, D.C. area who now lives in Saudi Arabia. She is an enthusiastic home cook and a compulsive nester. She is currently traveling around the planet to see what’s here. You can learn more about Kim by visiting her website.