A post on WordPress Freshly Pressed had a simple title: “On Homesickness”. It was posted on a successful blog called “Miss Expatria: The Internet’s Leading Enabler of Travel Addiction”. The blog is witty and informative written from the perspective of an American who is now living abroad.
As someone who spent my life in boarding school, miles from home (followed by college in a different country that was even more miles from home ) this would seem like the perfect post for me to love. And indeed her opening lines were powerful, speaking to the intense pain of homesickness and likening it to weeds in Rome that when grabbed without gloves cause intense pain. She says this:
” During those two minutes you’re running to wash your hands and then you’re washing your hands and you can’t think of anything else except the blinding pain. And then the pain subsides and it’s hard to remember how badly it hurt.
This is what homesickness feels like, except the blinding pain is inside you so there’s no washing it out; you’ve got to ride it out until it subsides. And when you’re fully ensconced in a life that’s thousands of miles from the aforementioned home, you pray it does subside because the alternative – a tailspin into abject unhappiness followed by the crash of an enormous life change – is unthinkable. In the meantime, your existence is pulled apart as you go through your life here while your heart and soul are there.” from Miss Expatria, June 28th, 2011
And I loved that part. But what I found extraordinary is that I could not relate with the home she missed. Simply put, she missed America. It makes complete sense. She was raised in America and took up expatriate life as an adult. The comments on the post were evidence that she spoke to the heart of those who were homesick for the United States. She speaks of her “Achilles heel of homesickness” as New York, her particular place of longing.
The worlds that I navigate and people I know get homesick. But their Achilles heel of homesickness is in reverse. It is for India or Pakistan; the Dominican Republic or Guatemala, Brazil or Portugal. It’s New York City or Boston or Chicago where they feel the homesickness.
When I’m homesick I long for the smells, sights and sounds of either Pakistan or Egypt. I wake up thinking that I heard the Call to Prayer and suddenly realize that this is impossible. The closest mosque is in Roxbury, several miles from my home, and because of a noise ordinance there is no way even neighbors of the mosque will hear the sound. I shut my eyes on the T and feel the rhythm of the Khyber Pass Train, winding it’s way from the Sindh region to Rawalpindi station with stops along the way for passengers and chai. I smell jasmine and immediately I am on the banks of the Nile River, a vendor attempting to sell me garlands as I laughingly refuse, only to be cajoled into the purchase minutes later. I eat a curry and am transported to the Marhaba restaurant where curry and chapattis are served and you don’t have to pay for more sauce or more chapattis. I cry as I realize how rusty my language skills are and long to be back where I am using them daily. I hear about a flood or a revolution and instead of thinking “Wow, I’m glad I’m not there!” I rush to my computer and click on Orbitz or Travelocity, or even better,Vayama, trying to find cheap tickets that will take me closer to the disaster.
But while the places,events, sights, and sounds are different, I recognize that the core feeling is the same. It’s the inability to control, the surprise with which it comes, and the intense pain that Miss Expatria talks about. Her words that “It’s always a big freaking surprise. There’s no predicting it, which means there’s no avoiding it.” are absolutely true. And that is why I, and so many I know, are caught in the center of a crowded supermarket or a train station with tears running down our cheeks unable to explain to the (sometimes) concerned observers what is going on or articulate the depth of pain that we feel.
Although her blog is amazing, I will never fully relate to Miss Expatria. It’s Amina, the woman who left a comment for me last night who represents more of my heart. She says: “I left Pakistan about three years ago for University and there are days when I’m so homesick I can hardly breathe. Today was one of those days…As I read through your post ‘Chai, Chai, Garam Chai’, I felt I could almost breathe the crisp air of the Northern Areas and smell the smell of a good cup of tea.”
It is also why I write this blog. To put into words some of the places, the people, and the events that I miss during those moments of homesickness so I can continue to function effectively right where I am.