Being homesick is like a strange spiky ache that’s both caught in your throat and deep in the pit of your stomach. You can’t breathe, you can’t eat, you can’t speak; all you want to do is go back home. Everything is a fast, tall, shiny, confusing, intimidating tangled mess. The sky is steel gray, the buildings are tall, the people are rushing everywhere. Home is warm, yellow-beige, humid, dusty, traditional laziness.
I just want to go home.
But I live in a multicultural city where I disappear in the crowds, where I’m not known as flanna-bint-altana (the wife of flan), and where there’s no index of appropriate behavior to follow or rebel against (at least that I can detect), and where I’m also a little bit lonely because the friends I grew up with are miles away living their own lives.
When I was a kid, I could be saved by my imagination. I’d imagine grape juice was wine, stick wafers were cigarettes, tictacs were ecstasy pills, and soft drink cans were beer. My imagination protected me from the reality that while being home was comfortable, it was still a little bit boring. Here was a safe way to make things just a little bit more entertaining. Now that I’m older, my imagination is more curse than salvation. I imagine that the home I’ve left 14000 miles away is still the happy carefree place that I grew up in as a child, even though the chirping of the birds that I woke up to daily is now stifled by the sound of discontented chants, exploding gas cylinders, police sirens, and helicopters overhead. The comfortable, humid air that I breathed is now laced with the stench of tear gas baking in the sun. I imagine that the weather here in Toronto is not -4 degrees celsius but 40. I imagine the greasy messy rice that I’m eating is my mother’s oven-baked fish and rice. I imagine that Skyping my best friend every few days and showing her the rain boots that I bought a few days back is the same as a weekend brunch-and-shopping trip. If you daydream long enough and often enough, it stops being a coping mechanism and you become a little delusional.
One of the worst parts about growing up is realizing that day-dreaming won’t change any of the decisions you’ve made and won’t make the decisions that you should make any easier. And the absolute worst part is the realization that you need to make those decisions so you don’t end up blaming other people for them.
I grew up relatively protected from responsibility and the harsh reality that things are sometimes as beige colored as the dust covering the houses where I grew up. Everybody chose the path of least resistance: the one dictated by your parents, your teachers, and “They”. They knew which friends you should have, what clothes you should wear, what TV shows you should watch, what books you should read, where you should go to college, and what you should major in. Not only was it easy, but it was safe, to go with the flow. There was also the added benefit of having someone else to blame when things don’t go exactly the way we wanted. If all else fails, blame fate, God, and the classic “What to do?”
But moving this far away has made me grow up. The fact is I chose to move here. I chose to follow a husband who is immersed in a career that takes up 80 percent of his time. I chose to give up the beginnings of a long career in b-level investment banks for the distant idealistic hope that I might either do something more altruistic, or more human. I chose to leave that fragile bubble of comfort that being “home” always brought me. Maybe it was the choice in and of itself that was the catalyst, or maybe it’s the distance emphasized by the 7 hour time difference, or maybe it’s the sense of freedom from knowing that nobody is watching.
This move has been a revelation to me. I’ve realized that since my mother can’t cook for me, that I can take her recipes and cook for myself. The fact that it will silence my mother-in-law’s nagging about me not feeding her poor, over-worked son is just a bonus. The results are still messy, chunky, rice, but I figure genetics will eventually kick in and help produce something edible. I’ve realized that since people here are too busy to care what I look like and how I behave, that I can hide my pajamas under my parka while going to buy groceries with no makeup on, though I might be risking my life looking like a raccoon in the middle of winter. I’ve realized that the only judge of my behavior is myself so I can leave my comfort zone and try that writing class, collapse in a heap because of joggers asphyxia at the park, have cake for lunch, wear those short shorts that would brand me a skank if I were to wear them at “home”, and maybe wait a while before I start a family and instead get a puppy. I’ve realized that I want to hold on to the friends I have because they have enough insight into my behavior to withhold their judgement when they should and be harsh when I need it.
People assume that people from my part of the world move because we want to be free of religious or political differences or for better employment opportunities. I’ve moved because, as hard as it is, I’ve never had the freedom to decide what to do with my life, and have had few opportunities to jump out of the doctor-banker-teacher-engineer box. I’ve moved because my next great adventure is not in the spanking new paperback that I bought at the bookstore where I spend most of my time, but the one where I learn to embarrass myself and take a risk.