Song of Homesickness

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“There are many more sushi bars in Santa Barbara than I ever see in Kyoto, and my friends are all talking there of giving things up, going back to the country, finding a self that my Japanese neighbors have never had a chance to lose.

It’s a song of homesickness they’re singing silently, perhaps, and sometimes it seems to rhyme with the songs of longing, or restlessness that surround me on the far side of the globe.” Pico Iyer

***

When I’m homesick, I long for the smells, sights and sounds of Pakistan or the Middle East.

When I’m homesick, I long for the rhythm of the trains of my childhood. I shut my eyes on the subway and pretend I’m on 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.

When I’m homesick, 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 trying to find cheap tickets that will take me closer to the disaster.

When I’m homesick, I sit at my desk, lost in memory, saudade gripping my heart. When I’m homesick, it’s never for places in the United States. It’s always for places far away, across oceans and continents. It comes with the surprise and might of an earthquake – unpredictable and initially paralyzing. I stumble along, ever between two worlds, never quite enough for either.

I have not been homesick for a long time, but yesterday afternoon, in an Indian store on a hot summer day, my heart felt a distant yearning and I knew what was coming. I knew that it was homesickness. Or rather, saudade – that yearning for what no longer exists. The smell of samosa frying, the pungent aroma of a myriad of colorful spices, and a store owner who was chatting in Hindi on the phone were the sounds and smells of a world I left behind.

But then, as quickly as the feelings came, they left.  I found myself alone and slightly disoriented, at home only in my yearning in the midst of a crowd on a busy, city street.

***

I wake up thinking that I heard the call to prayer and suddenly realize that this is impossible. The closest mosque is 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 sigh, and, for a moment, allow the pieces of my memory to come together, giving into a longing that is always lurking in the background.

I resolutely get up, my heart filled with profound gratitude. Gratitude that I have been able to live in, and experience, places that grab my heart and won’t let it go. 

***

“I exist where I am, always between communities, always between places. I’ve found home in the yearning.” – @i_saleem

12 thoughts on “Song of Homesickness

      1. Yes! There are two readers, but I prefer Barbara Rosenblatt, who does the later books. I’m considering purchasing all of them, I listen to them so frequently!

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  1. Saudade! What a simply exquisite word for such a poignant moment.

    I had a similar moment yesterday, while introducing my wee son to Thai food. My Beloved (who is also a TCK, thank Goddess!) pointed to a humble, but ornate, cabinet in the restaurant, and said that he’d love for our home (that we are currently buying) to be decorated with such things. I agreed, heartily, and was instantly reminded of a lovely Indian restaurant on lower State Street in Santa Barbara where one lounges on piles of pillows while eating. The back of the restaurant is a store, filled with items from India, similarly ornamented. I chuckled, because we had also discussed a low seating area for dining so that our son could participate without a highchair sooner.

    And then, as my son interrupted my memory by demanding more rice and curry, I remembered my first experience with Indian curry, our gracious and generous hostess, and how she completely changed my palette, opening my taste buds to crave curry at any time of the day or night.

    And then, my Beloved handed me a book on Thailand that the restaurant kept for its customers, and suddenly I remembered that we have a dream for our son to travel like we did…to live elsewhere, like we did, and rather than experiencing pain with these memories, I felt joy for the adventures that still await us. And I am deeply grateful.

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  2. Maybe I’m unusual among TCKs or maybe because I was ten when my parents began the global trek, but unlike the author, I did have saudades for things in the States: I missed the colors of fall while I was in Brazil, I missed thunderstorms and the smell of coffee brewing when I was in China–in fact, I sometimes dreamt the smell of coffee when I was there.

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  3. I miss hearing the sing-song calls of the vegetable and fruit vendors pushing their carts or wheel barrows through the housing district, but this is a Brazil that no longer exists! Saudades!

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    1. Once again, you put into poetic prose the feelings we have (different locations, same feelings and realities). Thank you so much. I was feeling a bit lost today (and was physically lost too, in an even older VW sans A/C…). It is helpful to have these esoteric thoughts put into concrete words.

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  4. David Bottoms, a writer said it best when he wrote: “The past and the present are walking now together; They are singing a hymn.” The past with all its memories of a multitude of experiences as you well describe, Marilyn, provide the harmony in that hymn.

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  5. Oh, Marilyn, I’m not a TCK, just a what? a TCAdult? This happened to me yesterday in RiteAid. A woman from Pakistan works there part time and yesterday we chatted with her. She knows Dad better, he goes more often and loves to chat in Urdu. I had bought a great-grandbaby birthday card and he was trying to tell her how many we have. He didn’t have the words, and they popped out of my mouth without me even thinking – 17 grandchildren and 13 great grandchildren – in Urdu. I just wished I could be back in Sindh, sitting on a charpai, drinking chai and chatting with women friends. But then as you said, I was just filled with gratitude for the life God allowed me to live, for the experiences, for knowing other languages and so getting to know and love the people who spoke them. Thank you for this, especially today.

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