I recently met a Dominican, born and raised in Santo Domingo, my age. Early on in our conversation it came up that his mother is considering selling the house he’s living in now. This in itself is not a problem… but it’s the very same house he grew up in and in which he “took his first steps”. It has a lot of sentimental value, he reasoned. I paused to state what I thought to be the obvious “You’ve lived in other places since; every home carries sentiment with it”, he looked surprised and said “No, I haven’t. All of my life I’ve lived in that house.”
You can imagine that as an immigrant and a traveller, the idea of sleeping every night of my life under the same roof is as foreign an idea to me as is a day without rice and beans to a Dominican. Thus taking a moment I began to wonder about these places I have made my home, and the sentiment…
What is the strangest place you have ever called home?
The refurbished chicken coop in Alberta, the summer of 2013, takes the prize. It’s also one of the homes I was most fond of, one of the quaintest and prettiest places I have ever lived. I was living and working on a small farm that summer, and I can remember the day that the farmer, Nolan, texted me that he had located an abandoned chicken coop on the neighbour’s lot. He sent pictures of the run down little shack with a note saying that the neighbours are aghast at the idea of my sleeping there and welcome me to their own home in case of need. I fully trusted Nolan and knew that he would transform it into something amazing. The result was a charming room, comfy bed, with sloping roof and a little desk and chair where I fancied myself a real writer and wrote down my thoughts by the golden, setting prairie sun. Read: Oh but to live in a chicken coop again.
Where was it most beautiful?
Granada, in the south of Spain. Some days it still feels like a dream to me that this beautiful city in Andalucía was my home for the 10 months, the duration of a school year that I lived there. The streets and the squares comprised my home; it was my first experience living in a southern culture where lives take place outdoors, in the cafés, in the parks and in the plazas. Weddings, families, learning, playing, everything happened in front of my eyes while taking in the warmth on Plaza Nueva or meandering through the Albaicin. My flat was special to me, and looked out on a beautiful, old style courtyard filled with sun and light. With my roommate, a Slovenian student who became a good friend, we shared so many conversations about Granada’s charm, its essence, its magic. The same magic that led many travellers to rest their backpacks for good and stay there. My flat was primarily my bedroom, my resting spot, the corner where I first tinkered on a new guitar and tried to make bits of music while the melodies of the flamenco guitareros in the streets rang in my ears. While my life played out-of-doors, as I discovered my favourite nooks, visited the Alhambra, and explored much of the big park behind the Alhambra also, so my eyes were filled with and mesmerized by the beauty of that Moorish city.
What makes a home a home?
There’s some kind of tipping point in the quantity and quality of relationships and memories made in a place that etch their mark, and thus transform a resting place into a home. I spent a memorable month in Bolivia, in 2012, volunteering at a little organic farm in Tarija where fantastic stories including “Bolivian army helps us weed our garden” and “Permaculture presentation in Tarija” came to life. But I can’t say that that dear place was a home to me. Not compared to, for example, the summer of 2009 in Montreal, Canada where I came for a four month summer internship. A beautiful stranger became my roommate and transformed into a great friend today – the most wonderful gift anyone could hope for. We spent hours that summer talking and cooking (and eating) while enjoying our first taste of independent living, our first time also in Quebec. I remember the Jazz festival so well, the surprise visits from my boyfriend, the long, very long, bike trips through and around the island city.
Something about the kitchen and cooking my own meals also makes a home, a home.
What about Haiti?
Privacy is a foreign concept to Haitians. Understandably so when you consider how many family members usually live together in close quarters. When I’m out in the street, at work, at a meeting or going for a jog, most of the town and my neighbours know where I am and what I’m doing. To them, I am another form of public property and I’m rarely left alone. They think I’m expressly there to talk to, ask questions, ask favours and generally be engaged in what ever is going on. Being a visible minority also makes me very, well, visible (“Letter to the white person in Haiti”). So my homes, my corners of Haiti that I have called my own, have been a safe haven like no other. My space where I am not the blanc, or the director, or the friend, or the anyone or anything. Just where I can rest and recharge my batteries and wake up to another hot, blazing day in the Caribbean.
So, where is home now?
Home is always where I am, although for the next few months I will be without an address. In the coming weeks I’ll be finishing up my kite surfing course here in the Dominican Rep., and move on to visits with friends and family in Europe. In September I’ll be walking part of the Camino de Santiago in Spain. My home will be my backpack, my writing, my iPhone, myself. You might say that the exciting question is, where will home be next?