My trip home to Vancouver was only meant to be a short-ish visit over the holidays. Three weeks tops so that my sabbatical wouldn’t lose momentum and I would avoid getting stuck in the quicksand of familiarity. I bubbled with excitement at the idea of giving my family and friends a big squeeze (sorry FaceTime you can't really compete with in-person hugs) but I didn't want not to stay so long that I became a regular fixture in my former life again. However, things didn’t exactly go as planned and a short visit stretched into six weeks.
For the first few weeks that I was home, the refrain on repeat in my head was “Get me outta here. Nothing has changed here. This is not my city anymore.” Vancouver no longer had it hooks in me the way it used too. After London, this city felt small, sleepy and unrefined. While I claimed to know Vancouver like the back of my hand, I had the surreal feeling of being lost in my own home town. The whole last year felt like a dream. Not to mention being back in my old bedroom created another a time warp sensation!
As I attempted to put words to the phenomena, I slowly came to describe this unsettling experience with a little help from C.S. Lewis. It is as if I spent the whole last year in Narnia, a wild and magical place, and now I was crouched in the dark recesses of a wooden wardrobe. People from the “grown up world” kept peeking their heads into the closet and asking “What are you doing in there, Andi?" and nudging me to come out. But with trepidation, I would rap lightly on the rear wall of the wardrobe, hoping that I could find my way back to Narnia if I believed fervently enough in its existence - just like Lucy in the classic tale. It was frustrating to know that it was there, just out of my reach, and there was no way to show everyone my Narnia.
It's impossible to take a whole year of vivid experiences and translate them into a few quick sound bites. And it’s not that my friends and family didn’t want to hear stories but no words I could find could translate the texture or the meaning that these experiences hold for me. If people knew how frequently I scrolled through my own Instagram feed the first few days I was home, they'd diagnose me with narcissistic personality disorder. I am eternally grateful to friends from the road who had witnessed the journey and whose small check-in text messages were a little talisman that I could hold to stay anchored, and remind myself that the last year actually happened.
As many of us know and have experienced, living in another country changes you forever. You will never be the same and will never see things the same way again. As Paul Theroux says," You go away for a long time and return and different person - you never come all the way back." After eleven months dragging unbearably huge suitcases, wrestling with lumpy pillows and salivating at the memory of my favourite foods, I was home.
Home is such a versatile word. To some people it means the house they were raised in, others call it wherever they lay their head that night and others again call a person "home". And with all that word means, I can’t help thinking, what does home means for me when I may not want to live there anymore?
When I volunteered in South Africa, the nurses at Tehillah gave me the nickname: the little bird. In their eyes I was someone who would happily fly all over the world, setting up a nest, a home, anywhere I went. And as my Cancer horoscope sign might predict, there is some truth to that. I carry a few mementos everywhere I go to bring the comforts of home with me. Weighing down my luggage is always a stack of old cards and photos to put up on the wall from the people who mean the most; a large bag of my favourite chai tea (thank goodness for my mom who will dotingly send me more when my supply is low) and my completely deflated down pillow (since I don’t function as a human without sleep). Last year, I even carried the keys for both my parents homes with me all year long.
So when I think about home now, I come back to the Oxford dictionary definition which states "Home is where something flourishes, is most typically found or from where it originates." But I think there can be separate places or people called "home" for each part of that definition.
Fast forward a few weeks after the hype of Christmas and my perspective on Vancouver shifted. I’d settled in. It was as if I lived there again... even more terrifying, it was as if I never left. I planned my yoga schedule around the teachers that I liked because I’d been there long enough to have sampled widely. My social calendar was full and enough time had passed that “visiting” was over and my friends and I moved to a state of just "hanging out." I tolerated the never-ending rain because of its relationship to the centimetres of snow awaiting me on my next trip to Whistler. I built forts and played with hotwheels with the greatest little munchkins who would wake up from a nap and ask, "Andi das?" But nothing says I'm in it for the long haul like having brunch plans with the gang!
As I approached the end of six weeks, what surprised me was that I no longer felt disdain toward the smallness and familiarity of Vancouver. I’d actually grown to kind of appreciate it. This city will always be my home. Dorothy was spot-on: There’s no place like it (even if we're not sure we want to live there for a while). As we journey through life – dodging the occasional wicked witch – it’s comforting to know that a cozy bed and loving arms are just across the threshold.
If I were looking into a crystal ball, I can see a point in the somewhat near future when I will be ready to put down some roots again for a couple years. In fact, on New Years Eve's I declared that 2018 would be the year that I find the city I will live in next. And while Vancouver is still a possibility, it' not a certainty that I'll be back just yet!
"You get a strange feeling when you leave a place, like you'll not only miss the people you love, but you miss the person you are at this time and place because you'll never be this way ever again."
- Azar Nafasi
Nice to meet you...
I'm Andi (hence the blog name). I'm a travel aficionado, passionate eater, tireless explorer of internet rabbit-holes, and amateur thinker. Join me as I give it all up (ok, that's a bit of an exaggeration) and go around the world on a mid-career "soul sabbatical" & year-of-learning to figure out what to be NEXT when I grow up. Won’t you grab a cup of chai and stay a while?
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