So here I am, an Irishwoman who was born in Ireland, who grew up in Ireland, who currently resides in Ireland – and I’m homesick.
Most people I say that to have great difficulty understanding it. I spent ten years – and the happiest days – of my life in Asia. India and Indonesia are the only places in the world where I have ever felt truly happy and truly at home. At home in myself and my surroundings. There, I have been physically, mentally, spiritually and emotionally at my best. I’ve looked and felt my best. And I’ve felt like I belonged. Everywhere else I’ve ever lived, I’ve felt like I was approximating happiness – striving for it and hoping I’d find it. In India and Indonesia, it didn’t feel hard to find.
A few years ago, I read ‘The Geography of Bliss‘ where home is described as where you want to die. I don’t want to die in Ireland. I don’t want to live here, either. I don’t want to bring my children up here. I want, not necessarily more for my girls, but I do want different for them.
I want to bring them up in a place where I can get the education for them that I want them to have. They won’t get that in Ireland. I want them to be raised in a place where, if they need medical care, they will get it in a timely fashion. They won’t get that in Ireland, either.
I’m not blinkered in my approach to Asia. I know that the places I crave to live are not perfect – but nowhere is! The secret is to find the place you’re happiest and make the most of it. To embrace the joy and do your best to change what chafes. Or, if you can’t change it, to accept it with serenity.
The longer I am away, the more I miss ‘home’.
I have such a list of things that I miss – from the simplest of pleasures to the greatest: I miss sari-shopping; the ritual and the ‘dance’ of the exchange. I miss the varieties of fruit I can’t get here. Where, for example, can one buy custard apples
I miss being able to pop into the Temple. I miss my favourite temple. I miss going for my daily walk and meeting people who go for their daily walk at the same time. I miss having live-in help so I don’t have to do everything for and by myself.
I even miss the things that drove me mad when I lived there – the attitudes and assumptions of a certain ‘type’ of middle-class Indian male. The preoccupation of a certain class of Indian female with one-upping you and your children with tales of the achievements of their children. (That was a game I very quickly learned to opt out of!).
I miss drivers who deliberately try to take you the long-way around, and drivers who agree a fare before you start off and then change it once you reach your destination.
I miss opening the window and hearing a variety of different languages being spoken; Marathi, Hindi, Punjabi, English, Bengali…..all in one moment.
I miss the sense of community – of being welcomed and made to feel like I belonged (conversely, when I returned to Ireland, people were suspicious and judgmental). Homesickness, then, is missing the feeling of being at home.
Homesickness is starting to cry when you’re driving on the motorway because you have a physical pain of longing to be somewhere else.
Homesickness is when – with no warning – tears splash down your face in the supermarket because this is not how you want to be buying vegetables; wrapped in clingfilm and sitting on little trays. This is not how I want my children to think that vegetables should be bought. I want to teach them to engage with produce; how it should look, smell and feel when it’s ripe.
Homesickness is dithering over whether or not to buy a jasmine plant: Part of me wants to because, if I do, then I’ll have the creamy scent I love around me all day. Part of me doesn’t because then I’d miss India even more. I’d miss handing 10 rupees to a mogra-wallah in the middle of busy traffic in exchange for jasmine flowers, strung together with thread and wrapped in sheets of newspaper. These, we’d take home and keep in the fridge, plaiting them through our hair the following morning, and using on our alter as offerings.
Homesickness is realising that you’d rather be dying there than living here.