Home Is Where Your Stuff Is

I had a terrible time getting to sleep last night. And it wasn’t jet lag. No, it was more like this:

And what, pray, could make me that excited? I’m HOME. And by that I don’t mean my home-home. That’s where I’d just been. No, I was in my now-home. I’ve been away for six weeks, making the annual summer expat pilgrimage back to the home country. My Instagram feed is full of pictures of friends home in the U.S., the U.K., Finland, the Philippines, South Africa. Everyone wants to escape the heat, families use the school break to take kids back to the home country, and at the moment Ramadan aligns pretty closely with both those imperatives (along with a week-long national holiday at the end). So, yeah. Everybody splits.

(At Ramadan, Muslims fast during the daylight hours, and Saudis are up gathering, feasting, celebrating, and shopping most of the night. Daytime work hours for Saudis are reduced during the month and most sleep a lot during the day. For everybody else, it’s a rough time to be here. Shops are closed during the day, food is unavailable, no one is allowed to eat or chew gum in the sight of fasting Muslims, and traffic comes to a standstill at night when the locals come out to shop and celebrate.)

But it’s over, school’s about to start, and we’re all trickling back. Returning to Saudi Arabia after being abroad can be a shock to the system. When you’re here for a long time, you normalize to strange things, and after six weeks circulating in the free world those things tend to smack you somewhere about the region of the face. Third-world chaos at the airport, baggage delays, nervous veiled women clinging together, cars parked in the pickup lane, unbuckled children hanging out of windows, a car backing up into traffic. There’s no gentle re-entry phase.

But still. No matter where it is, no matter what’s around it, it’s a treat open your own refrigerator, eat your own food, stick your hand in a drawer and pull out your own hairbrush. I was positively giddy. I would be able to unpack EVERYTHING in the morning! Cook! Do laundry! Pick at my garden! I used to listen to performers and athletes complain about life on the road and think sheesh, those are some pretty privileged problems you got there, Kobe. But then on the flight back I was listening to a podcast interview with a comedian who said that having a tour bus had made life on the road much better. “It takes the sting out. It’s like putting my apartment on wheels.” AND I TOTALLY GOT IT. So I’ve decided to go a new direction on my next summer trip:

Cousin Eddie's RV from "Christmas Vacation"Cousin Eddie totally had it goin’ on, right? My kids are going to be over the moon when I pull in and hook up.

Cousin Eddie emptying the latrineYou see, my house and my family are all in the U.S., but the distribution looks like a dartboard if the players weren’t very good at darts. I’ve spent the last six weeks saying hello, saying goodbye, going to airports, packing, unpacking, and doing it all again. My family and friends have been wonderful, and I would wish to double every minute I’ve spent with them, but at the same time, six weeks is a long time to be a good guest. Sometimes you just want to wash your toast down with a swig of milk straight from the jug. Get ready in the normal amount of time, rather than estimate how much extra it’ll take to find everything. Go to bed early.

“Home is where the heart is” must be true in only the most figurative way. It needs to hang right next to “Do what you love” on the Wall of Fame for aphorisms with zero application in real life. (“I love to knit little stocking caps for cats. Shall I make that my work, then?”) My heart is in seven different places, only two of them less than 500 miles from each other. Under those terms, I’d never be home. Besides—hearts are expensive. As much as certain places might make them beat faster, as a practical matter they need to be fed, clothed, sheltered, employed, insured, entertained, transported… You need to be able to make them happy in the place where those things can happen.

So for me these days, I’m afraid home is where your stuff is. Home is the place where you know where to find the measuring cups. Where the only toothpaste is yours. Where you can wear your shoes or not as you please, and put your feet up on the coffee table if you feel like it. Where you still may not know where your keys are, but have no one to blame but yourself if they’re not where you swear you put them. (Cautionary note: A friend once had a toddler who would ask people for their keys. She used to tell them that she couldn’t be held responsible if you gave your keys to a two-year-old. Have a care for the keys.)

I don’t imagine I’ll ever see all the pieces of my heart reassembled in one place. No matter where I am, I will always be away from someone or some place that I love. But for every place I’ve left a piece of my heart, I’ve worked out a decent trade and taken a piece of that place with me. Treasures I’ll have forever. So if I want to keep my heart with me, I have to hang onto those things rather than respond to the pull of the pieces left behind. Perhaps instead of trying to make my home where my heart is, I need to make sure my heart is where my home is. At the moment. And it sure seems easier for my heart to be contented when I’m in the same place as my laundry detergent.

A long-time world traveler once told me that the world is a book, and those who don’t travel never open it. Maybe. I prefer to think of life as a library, and travel as just one volume on the shelves. We spend all our waking hours in the library, some just staring at the ceiling (you know who those people are, right?), but most of us drilling deeply into one topic or another. Family. Community. Finance. Art. Service. Crime, even. We don’t always get to pick what we’re going to study, but we certainly lean toward certain things when we have the option. If I’d had free run of the place, I probably would’ve chosen volumes decorated with flowering vines and wooden spoons, with titles like “Nurturing Oak Trees.” Instead I find myself speed-reading “British Vocabulary” and “How to Wear Hijab” and “Successful Transplanting.”

As strange as it is to call the little house behind a razor-wire-topped wall “home,” as little as I understand the languages spoken around me, as foreign and incomprehensible as many of the customs are to me, as little as this country wants me here and as ready as it is to slam the gate shut behind me as I leave, it’s the place where my stuff is. And therefore, the place where my heart is. It’s good to be back together.

P.S. Do an image search on “hats for cats.” There may be more opportunity in this field than I thought.

2 thoughts on “Home Is Where Your Stuff Is

  1. bonniewetherbee says:

    Having just returned from 6 weeks abroad, your thoughts chime oh so true. I’m sorry our travel paths didn’t cross. I was hoping to talk about teaching opps there and just catch up in general. Can you email me when you settle in?


    • margocatts says:

      I will! Yes, traveling is not a universal taste–there’s definitely a trouble and comfort cost, and I know a lot of people who find the cost too high for the enjoyment they can get from it. I hope your summer was a good one!


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