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Defining {Home} When You’re an Expat

“Home is not where you live, but where they understand you”

~ Christian Morganstern quotes

“Every day is a journey, and the journey itself is home.”

~ Matsuo Basho

I’ve been grappling with the concept of home from the moment I stepped on the plane earlier this month. When people ask, “where are you going?” Do I say, “Oh, we’re going home!” But are we really going home? After a few days at my mom’s house MarocBaba asked how it was and I definitively told him, “this doesn’t feel like home anymore.” Then last weekend as we stayed near where I grew up I instantly found comfort in the forest. Not a single place just being surrounded by towering trees as far as I could see.

So what is it, where is it? 

Earlier this week I happened to go through some notes I have written down in a notebook I always carry. I am always writing but rarely go back to them. When I came across this entry from October of last year, I knew I’d found my answer. Here’s what I had written;

Oh, yes we’ve been to Morocco. It seemed the further south you went the more, what’s the word…restrictive it became.”

On a rainy morning as I sat at Barjas airport in Madrid an elderly American man took up the seat next to me. We started talking over the muffled announcement of an Iberia clerk. He had asked me if I was looking forward to “going home”. I had a particularly hard time answering as it became precariously real to me that where I was going wasn’t really home. I had no address. I wasn’t even a resident at that point. I was visiting. My home now was in Morocco.

“Yes, it’s true, it’s more conservative in Marrakesh in some ways.” I stammered out.

“We went to a restaurant but the only people there were a few men so we went somewhere more comfortable. You know we raised our daughters to be just as good as our sons. We thought it was so strange that women weren’t outside.”

I sat puzzled at his analysis. What was he saying? I have rarely felt restricted in Morocco – aside from the language barrier. Women were everywhere! Was he talking about a different place? I felt my re-entry to the Western world was even more strained. Had I forgotten in such a short time how people perceived the Muslim world – which my husband and I had regularly joked Morocco was far from? Hadn’t they seen the women who were running shops and businesses? Or those running their kids back and forth to school? Or the schools themselves run and staffed by women? The women driving motorcycles all over the city?

There’s a problem I realized in the West, that I think boils down to appearances. I hesitate to say West because I’ve found the attitudes of Europeans is not the same as Americans. Yes, it’s true in Morocco many women wear hijab and traditional djallabas but it has little correlation to their standing in society or opportunities. I struggled to interject this into the conversation, that I didn’t feel like I was somehow not as good as men by my experiences living in Morocco. I just couldn’t put all the pieces together fast enough to explain to them. To defend my new home.

It was on that overcast Thursday that I realized I really had created a new home. I felt that strong sense of place, the desire to defend, and to share my place. Good or bad, it was our home.

That was it.  That was my answer. 

MarocBaba told me as I struggled at the start of our stay, “Home is wherever we’re all together. Maybe it’s here now, maybe it’s there later, maybe it’s somewhere we haven’t discovered yet. The world is our home.”

Yes, I like the sound of that.

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