Is it where the heart is? Have you found out where that is? Will you be sleeping there tonight? If you’ve answered “yes” to all three of these questions, then you’re doing it right. I’m still working on my own answers. Over the years, the quest for home became a recurring theme in many random conversions, late-night ramblings, lunchtime debates and drunk tirades at the bar. This taught me that I am not alone, and that there are many ways to be a 21st century wanderer, some of us stranded in between airports, others in a birthplace that no longer makes sense. There is also a longing to find the person who would make any place home, and those who know exactly who that is, but still have a long way to go before they’re together. So many of us are homeless, and the coping mechanisms we come up with can seem surprising. One example of this is my friend who has lived in over 10 countries, first because of her parent’s job and then to follow her own career ambitions- she told me that IKEA is her only real home. Everywhere she goes, she gets exactly the same furniture again, and again, and again. Completely psychotic behavior but that’s where she finds sanity.
Another one of my friends was born and raised in Jeddah, like so many children of parents who fled the war in Lebanon and found refuge in the then-new Eldorado that was the Arab Gulf. After completing university in Beirut, she was more than happy to return to Saudi Arabia, this time because her husband found a job there. She is now raising her children in the closed and protected environment of a Saudi residential compound, similar to her own childhood home. She loves it there, but it’s not easy to be so attached to a country where you will never become a citizen, and ultimately never be given the chance to settle down for good. Because of that, she’s force-feeding Lebanese culture to her kids, sending them to Grandma’s every chance she gets, in the hope that, unlike her, they won’t grow up feeling displaced in their ancestral land.
I also often discuss the idea of “home” with a university classmate. The daughter of an Iranian dissident who grew up watching her mother waltz in and out of jail, she once told me how important it was to make sure her mom always had her burgundy slippers with her. Knowing she had that precious piece of home made distressing moments more bearable for the whole family. The slippers would make prison less cold- perhaps both literally and metaphorically.
I guess you don’t need to travel to feel out of place. I think I felt lost and out of place to begin with, even in the familiar comfort of my grandfather’s big and dusty Beirut apartment, filled with pictures of me and of people more or less related to me. Let’s face it, at its best, Lebanon can be charming, but we’ve all had days where we felt it was telling us, “If you’re not a hardcore supporter of some delusional political leader, then what are you doing here?” I tried to fit in, to make my home feel like home by joining any community I could find: Scouts, youth service groups, artsy clubs… and then one day I just boarded a plane. It’s been a weird back and forth between Lebanon and other places ever since, any place really, because… I still don’t know where I want to grow old. I’m not done boarding planes and it’s been both fun and scary, feeling so light, so unattached.
Sometimes leaving is hard, there’s unfinished business, untold feelings lingering around, conversations I’m not done having, and people I still want to see every day. It can feel impossible to board that plane. I also know that the moment I’ll land in that new place, there will be so much to do that turning the page will come naturally, inevitably. I usually have a checklist prepared for the things I need immediately (phone number, apartment, tax number, the address of a decent Lebanese restaurant) and by the time I sort out the essentials, a month will have gone by and I will probably never hear again from half the people I had planned to stay in touch with. Everything in my life is temporary: my current employment contract (11 months), my lease (six months), and “Home”, as always, is temporary. My Facebook feed is full of people I will never see again but I’ll meet new people, and we’ll make memories together, and support each other in times of trouble, all the while knowing that it’s all temporary, that next year we might all be somewhere else.
Every time, it feels like the “permanent” in my life is getting smaller and I’m afraid that if it disappears, I’ll disappear too. If I die tomorrow, then by this time next year, only five people will remember my last name. This includes my parents, and a handful of good friends who actually matter. Even the amount of physical objects in my life is shrinking. With every move, I get more efficient in packing and leaving behind countless cool shoes and fun coats. I’m left with a purely functional wardrobe; so much so that I recently felt the urge to tell a new acquaintance, “This is not me! I have awesome bracelets and sexy tops that didn’t fit in my suitcase! Please don’t judge me before I have time to shop again.” I can’t even remember where I left those bracelets and my favorite jewelry -the kind that’s really valuable either monetarily or emotionally- is safely kept in my mother’s drawer. With me I have nothing. I never really owned furniture, what’s already in the furnished apartments I rent is usually enough, even if the curtains are inevitably horrible. When I do buy stuff, it’s always the cheap kind: second-hand coffee tables instead of the designer beauties I fantasize about, cheap silverware and the cheapest, most generic wine glasses in the store because why bother, it’s all just temporary anyway. I don’t think I have it in me to be a nomad for much longer because I really, really want a nice couch, the kind you buy to last 10 years. I’d love to decorate a house, seriously decorate, not just hang a few posters and add a table runner. I guess what I want is a home, but I still have no idea where in the world that is. Maybe it is Lebanon after all. The farther I get away from it, the more passionate I feel about this little mess of a country, this crazy unlikely dream we call Lebanon. But a place is not enough, home implies people too, and something to do, a whole life. The ideal home I dream of is somewhere in the countryside, it smells of zaatar and freshly ground coffee and the man I live with is a chef. We live in an old farm that we renovated together and transformed into one of the best restaurants in the country, a hidden destination for connoisseurs from all over the world. I’ll help greet the guests but I’ll also take time to write my novel in my office decorated with a handful of well-chosen works of art. We might or might not have kids but the house will always be full, with friends and parents and we’ll have great wine all the time, in beautiful Bohemian crystal glassware, like the ones I once saw in Prague but never bought. Nothing, absolutely nothing in the house will come from IKEA and I’ll have many beautiful couches everywhere, and anyone who sits on these couches will immediately feel… right at home. I will grow old on these couches, because they were made to last. He will grow old with me as we cook and write and drink wine together. This is my dream home, the only home I want. Well… everyone’s got to have a dream. Right?