Sunday, 28 November 2010


I was surprised to wake up yesterday morning teary-eyed and with a familiar ache somewhere in my chest.  I am homesick, again.  I'd experienced this feeling periodically over the past two years living in Spain. It was not, at least in my experience, a sharp, specific pain.  Of course, there were cravings for Mexican food and the like, which could be exquisite, but they were only cravings.  Homesickness was more insidious.  When I was homesick I missed everything familiar: feeling like I belonged to the people and place around me.  I missed the freedom of driving my car around and of having spontaneous conversations.  I missed the way that the seasons smelled at home.  I missed the daily routines and pace of life.  Overall, it was more of a general feeling--like when you think you're waking up in your childhood bed and reality takes away that feeling of comfort and security.  Even if you realize that you are in an amazing place, that you love where you are, you don't get back that initial feeling of peace that comes from not having to question your surroundings.

Now I have that feeling again, except this time I'm not missing the United States.  We will be there in a month. While the move is long-awaited and exciting, a month is soon enough for me.  Instead I'm homesick for a place I was sure would never feel like home, Spain.

Nobody tells you this about living abroad.  Everybody talks about the discomfort of living in another country: the language barrier, the bureaucratic nightmares, the prejudices.  All these things can be true, at times, and living them is just as difficult as people say.  What they don't tell you is that at the same time, even, or maybe especially, in the greatest discomfort, you are planting a small part of yourself in the inhospitable ground.  They don't tell you that when you leave a place, even a place you were plotting to leave for almost as long as you had been there, that part of yourself--that weedy, scrappy, wide-eyed part--stays behind.  It thrives.  Months or years later you wake up feeling out of place, uncomfortable, and you know why.  You know that the only place that would feel like home at this moment is that place where you struggled and where you lost that tiny part of yourself.  You realize you are now in love with the very things you found strangest and most irritating.  The separation from them aches.

The only solution to this feeling is to go about life as usual.  Survival and happiness depends on living in the moment.  Yet, as you daydreamed once about returning home, you now plan your trip back.  Maybe not for forever, but there are minimal requirements.  You must walk down a certain street, even though it will still smell like pee.  Then there's "taking" a tiny beer in the plaza with friends.  You need to eat an almond pastry from a certain bakery and you even hope for a firecracker to be set off alongside you.  Then, with the adrenaline, you'll curse at the scoundrel, who you can no longer hate, in that colorful way that took you so long to master.  You want to feel alive, which is impossible as long as you are homesick in this new way.  Nobody tells you that when you choose to live in a foreign place, you will be homesick, not only while you are away, but also afterwards, even months and years later.    (Photo by me, taken roughly ten meters from our old front door)

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