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On home and exile

Lastovo lighthouse

The idea of home and exile has been at the forefront of my thinking. I guess that happens to a footloose drifter who imposes a travel embargo on herself.

After almost three earth-bound months, I am realizing that New York is my home just as much as Lisbon is home or Zagreb or Buenos Aires or any other city that I know how to navigate with ease.

There is no home and home is everywhere.

One way of surviving exile, be it forced or self-imposed, is by nurturing that very idea of home. Immigrants in cities around the world have created enclaves where it’s all about the home they left behind.

Just go to Brighton Beach on a Sunday afternoon – all you hear on the sidewalk is Russian gossip, the street signs show Cyrillic letters and the restaurants serve home-flavored food from the former Soviet Union.

The immigrant community has managed to recreate exactly what they left behind, only in a different environment. They’ve transplanted their own cultures, and in doing so preserved the memory of home which they lost or left behind.

I’ve always slightly envied people who managed to create such communities. Like many of my Bosnian friends, who have a tight-knit world of connections that nourishes the food, music and language from back home. And even though I feel home with them, I also feel at home with my adopted Dominican mama across the hallway when we chat in Spanish about our day.

Somehow, I always end up finding myself on the fringe. On my good days, I am happy about it, feeling a sense of freedom, not being tied down by a culture, place or language.

Other times I ache for that sense of belonging, that tightness of community that nurtures you when you fall, your own herd who is there when things go awry.

For me, home is wherever I’ve dropped my suitcase for a few weeks, months or sometimes days. Home is wherever I’ve bonded with a person. I know I have one in Luanda, another in Oruro, a third in Berlin… and many more around the world.

I do feel part of a global family. Yet I also feel like a cultural chameleon who fits in everywhere, and nowhere at all.

There’s a quote I love by Eva Hoffman, from her memoir Lost in Translation: ““Because I have learned the relativity of cultural meanings on my skin, I can never take any one set of meanings as final.”

This is the bane and the blessing of my existence. How I sometimes wish I could truly stand by a place, know that it’s “my place” under the sun. And how liberating that I don’t have that place.

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