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Reisverslag About making a home
3 november 2016
About making a home
Today is not that day, but I still felt the need to write about a strong emotion. It’s about coming home. I’ve always had a house, but it has been a long time since I’ve had a home. I would say it was when I lived in Nijmegen, where I moved into my second student apartment after two years and stayed for nearly four. I shared a kitchen, but other than that, I could shape it the way I wanted within a student’s limitations…with which I mean budget. I got matching Ikea furniture with a touch of red. I built a wall full of book shelves. I got my first perfect kitchen knife. I had a pet as a roommate (who left me for people who wanted to feed him more, but that’s a different story).
And after that, I became a nomad, always having a house, but never having a home. I took a job as a surgical intern, knowing it was temporary, so I unpacked about half of my boxes and left the other half at my other house, that place I grew up in. After that I moved to the United States with a suitcase and a backpack, where I unexpectedly found a different kind of home with Tony. They say that home is where the heart is and this is often true, but that does not substitute the other sort of home, the one where you’re in a place where no box is left unpacked, where you arrive after a long day, look around, and don’t want to leave.
Of course my plans changed radically after moving to the States and I had to take into account that the possibility I was going back one day was a serious one. So I moved back to what once had been my home country, to a temporary place and a temporary job that didn’t have my heart anymore, and then I got an amazing opportunity to switch careers and move to Rotterdam. For the first time in four years I felt like I was where I wanted to be, except the nagging, missing part far across the ocean. I loved Rotterdam. I loved the new career. I could happily have stayed for a long, long, time, but the truth was, I couldn’t built a home till I was complete, and the decision was that my future would not be in that thriving, beautiful Rotterdam, but in the States.
I think there is still an American dream, however fucked up this country may be. America is still a country of possibility, of work hard, play hard, of creating your life to a larger extent than you can do in Europe, as long as you’re in a good place. I was in a good place. I didn’t have to move; I wanted to. I had a degree that was able to land me a job. I did not have the crippling student debt that I would have gotten had I walked the same path here. And I decided, not for the first time, hopefully not the last, to jump into the deep end. There is something deeply satisfying of taking off into the unknown and building your life there. I had done it when I started studying; when I started my first job; when I moved to America; when I moved to Rotterdam. I had gotten somewhat experienced at it, but after travelling around for near five years I was longing for a place of my own.
I started looking for a home, together with Tony, two weeks after I moved. The second house we looked it was pretty close to our dream house. Three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a ten minute drive to downtown, with a beautifully upgraded kitchen – to the both of us the most important room in the house. Affordability wasn’t a problem, but as it turned out, getting a mortgage is. I never realized that being an immigrant is to not have any history and therefore to not be reliable. Waving around a pay check isn’t really enough. In reality the bank didn’t even expect to clear those checks and told me it would take nine days before my first income was available. I adjusted, leaving most of my moved boxes packed, moving my clothes into a closet in the shared bedroom, and prepared to abide my time till mortgages and houses were within reach.
Until a great opportunity provided itself and we were able to obtain a house close to Tampa’s bar district. I’ve learned I shouldn’t call it a house, but a condo instead; two bedrooms, two bathrooms, two thirds the size we’d been looking at, with old appliances but very well kept. We jumped at it and I bothered people relentlessly till we signed the contract in under three weeks, which was a week later than I had planned for and I had to leave for a week long work meeting an hour after we got the key. Moreover, the furniture delivery time wasn’t able to keep up with me, so I came home to an empty house. I finally unpacked all my clothes, but after I had unpacked that and more, we were out of space. It felt unfinished. I felt unfinished. Tony and I were both exhausted from shopping houses and making plans, and except for this empty condo there was nothing to show for it. We went to a Halloween party with friends, who came over to sit on the carpet, sip wine out of plastic cups and eat salami and grated cheese out of plastic bags.
We went shopping, relentlessly. I bought all the stuff I’d been saving up for and envisioned in my house: a spice rack, a knife block, a robo-vacuum cleaner, nice glasses, lots of tea. We bought stuff I didn’t envision in my house but were necessary anyway, such as not very nice glasses, a hammer, duct tape and cleaning towels. We bought stuff I didn’t really want to spend money on but had to, like detergent, all-purpose cleaner, tiles to replace some vinyl, spare light bulbs and grout. When the furniture finally came in after a week, I unpacked all the boxes I’d never unpacked until now and all of a sudden the house became a home. No one told me that finding a home is a full time job. That at the end, you feel exhausted, but fulfilled. That you plant bonsai trees even though you know they’re probably going to die because you forget you didn’t like keeping plants in the first place and you forget to water them. That you make concessions, because you want to tile the kitchen now and are willing to put up with the ugly chandelier above the dining table because the lights work.
I don’t consider myself a particularly homey person. I love being on the road. I love that I get to travel for my job. I want a world map on the wall to remember all the places I’ve been; in fact, I’ve been buying magnets in most cities and countries I’ve been to, to not forget.
Being an immigrant is to not be a whole person, maybe forever, but at least for a long, long time. I traded in my history, my family and friends, my life, for the (partly) unknown, the opportunity, the future, my heart. When I’m calling my family, I have to search for words in Dutch because they’re not top of mind anymore. When I’m speaking to colleagues, I have to search for words because I miss the nuances that I had. I’m constantly wondering whether I strike the right tone. I threw out more than half of what I owned when I came here. To cope with a new future, I needed a home, with the stuff around that I had left, items I plan on keeping around for years, new friends, furniture that wasn’t already in the place or would fall apart at the next move, and Tony there to come home to.
To have a home.
3 november 2016 08:38 | Door: Margreet
Opdat je geconfronteerd blijft met moedertaal en die nog blijft hangen, een antwoord in het Nederlands. Wat prachtig geschreven, wat herkenbaar ook en wat heerlijk dat je eindelijk weer een thuis hebt. Dat je een beetje wortel mag schieten! X