Monday, April 17, 2017

At home in the world...

I've sort of sometimes kind of skimmed the blogposts at "The Art of Simple," but there are a lot of posts, and many of them just aren't all that interesting to me, personally. There are several contributors to the blog, and some of them have ideas of "simple" that are way more complicated than my ideas of simple. For example, a recent blogpost about "packing light" included at least twice as much as I pack! But every once in awhile a post catches my eye and I read the whole one, and I WOULD like Tsh Oxenrider's book, which is being released tomorrow.

The newest post, in honor of the release of the book, "At Home in the World," posed several questions and challenged people to answer them. That appeals to me, partly because I'm not particularly creative but love talking (= writing), but also for the sake of the topic itself. So for those three people who sometimes read my blog, here goes. (For all I know, at least two of those people skim my occasional blogpost the way I skim most of those I "read", but that's why I like blogs...nobody is forced to listen, but I get to ramble all I want without feeling guilty for doing so, because if YOU decide to read the whole thing, it's YOUR problem.)

So finally getting to the point, here's the first question (in italics) and my response below.

1. Share about a place where you feel at home in the world.
This can be anything from a little coffee shop in an obscure back alley in a tiny village in Central Asia, all the way to your favorite armchair in the corner of your bedroom. Tell me why you love being there so much, and why it feels like home to you.

My spontaneous response to the title of the blogpost was "anywhere but in the U.S." Despite having lived in the United States for just over 19 years (not consecutive, but from birth until 20 1/2, so nearly), and that still being my only passport, I never "fit in." And the problem is that when one doesn't fit in where one is expected to fit in, the result is, at best, being ignored. Maybe that's mostly just childhood (and definitely teenagerhood) in general, but the three months I spent in the U.S. at the age of 35 weren't any different. I don't particularly "fit in" anywhere else, either, but nobody expects me to anywhere else. Outside of my passport country it's kind of that I'm given more freedom to be me, but I mostly take the freedom to be me whether it's given to me or not, so it's not even that. At the very least, outside of the U.S. people can shrug and blame my me-ness on my passport, but they don't reject me because of it. At least, that's the impression I get.

There ARE specific attitudes I enjoy in other places that I never knew I missed in the U.S. until I met them other places. In Latin America, for example, hugs and kisses are everyday life, every day, multiple times a day. I like that. When with my host family in Costa Rica (I was an exchange student there for seven weeks when I was 17, and have been back to visit ten times since), I enjoy greeting and being greeted every morning, by every member of the family. When anyone leaves or arrives, it's hugs and kisses all around, and the same when anyone goes to bed. Some people would hate that (and most U.S.ians seem to), but I love it.

In Germany, where I lived for over 17 years, it's "only" handshakes, but there's still always a connection. In some ways, Latino culture and Northern European culture are totally opposite (maybe "warm climate culture" vs. "cold climate culture" could be the topic of another post...), but I feel very at home in both.

Another aspect with both is that I KNOW where I stand. In Costa Rica and in Mexico (I lived in Mexico for one year when I was 18-19), people say, "Stop by anytime!" and they really mean it, and if you don't stop by, they'll ask you why you didn't and when you are coming. I've only been back to visit Mexico once, for one week, and at the end of that week I flew back to Germany from a city 20 hours away by bus from where I'd been staying with a friend. When my friend realized I'd be arriving at 9:00 at night and my flight was the next morning, she said I should stay with her cousin. Her cousin didn't have a phone and there was no other way for anyone to get a message through, but they gave me the cousin's address. When I arrived, I took a taxi to the address. These people who had never even HEARD of me before opened the door to a stranger, in the rain, late at night. When I said I was a friend of Carolina in Tuxtla, they welcomed me in, fed me, and put me not only in the room but in the bed with a teenage daughter, and were disappointed that I was leaving the next day.

In Germany, it's nearly the opposite in that people only invite you if they really want you, and they don't necessarily, so one doesn't get the "open invitation" of Latino culture. However, again, I'm comfortable with that because I know where I stand. If they invite me to stop by next week for coffee, they want me to do so and they expect me to do so, and if I don't do so, they'll wonder what's wrong and probably feel hurt. I don't have to wonder whether they're just being polite, because in my experience, Germans don't bother "just being polite." (And having been married to one particular German for 22 years, I do have a little bit of experience to go on.) Some U.S.ians mean it when they issue an open invitation, and some even expect to be taken up on it, but I am so utterly lacking in intuition that I can't figure out who does and who doesn't, so it's just a source of confusion for me.

And now I live in Cyprus. The friendly attitude here to large families (which we also experienced in Costa Rica, Peru, Thailand, and South Africa, but not, unfortunately, Germany) is a huge bonus, and I do very well with the laid-back attitudes about time that resemble my experiences in Latin America. And hugging and kisses (on both cheeks, as opposed to only one in Mexico and Costa Rica) are normal and people are hospitable and mean it. That's all cool. Unfortunately, we haven't gotten to be really immersed in Cypriot culture, the way I was in Costa Rica, Mexico, Germany, and even some in our short time (two months) in Thailand. There are certainly practical reasons for that, one being that virtually everyone speaks such good English that it's not been necessary to learn Greek (I'm the only member of the family who can communicate in Greek beyond greetings and set phrases), and there are so many ex-pats that it's very easy to have a very full life without encountering many Cypriots. All the children take drama classes, four are currently taking music lessons (from British teachers), we're active in an English-language church which includes activities during the week for all ages, etc.

At the end of all this rambling, though, there's still the question of how I define "home." I'm good at feeling AT home nearly anyplace (except in the U.S., where I mostly feel stressed...), and I'm good at LIVING where I am. We were only in South Africa for four months, but we had library cards within days of arriving, I joined a homeschool mothers Bible study and a mother-toddler group, the children played with the neighbors, I taught Sunday school, we took the train regularly, we knew where to go grocery shopping: we lived there. Still, "home" was in Germany, where my books were, and that's a definition I've used before. By that definition, the only homes I've had were my childhood homes (five, although three were the same neighborhood, two of those three literally in the EXACT same place, seeing as the last house was built on the site of the house that burned down when I was ten) in the United States, Germany (seven different houses in five different cities), and this house in Cyprus, where we've been for over eight years now, the longest consecutive time my books have stayed on the same shelves in my entire life.

I like my bed, too (we brought it with us from Germany), and no matter how much I enjoy traveling and how comfortable other beds were, there's definitely a moment of sighing happily, "It's so good to be home," when I get back to my own bed. And as it's 10 minutes until tomorrow, that's where I'm headed now.