Nomadic Homesick Blues

When you are a nomad, what does it mean to be homesick?

 I currently take Harvard Square for granted. Today, I walked into the Harvard book store and read five pages of a book that made me cry. I looked around the room and I saw this very cozy, very warm and stable room, anchored down with books. Ten years ago I sat here all the time. I would come and pull a pile of books and sit on the floor and read them. I’m not sure I was supposed to do it that way, but no one ever told me not to. Then I went away. Like I have told you before, I went to Morocco and Turkey and the UAE. From those places, I went to India, Thailand and Oman and maybe some other places that are slipping my mind for the moment. And while I was in those places, I would think about the Harvard bookstore. I even had a friend take a photo of it for me once and bring it to me when she came to Morocco. I stared at that photo and I felt homesick. I longed for Harvard Square. I missed the familiar feeling of it. I missed the people around me reading books. How those people have many different thoughts and perspectives and how it is often possible to sense that those people accept the differences among them.  I missed it being a place where I could go and disappear. In most of the countries I named above, it is incredibly difficult to disappear. Everyone stares. Americans don’t stare nearly as much as they must want to. Don’t we want to?

So now I am back here. I even work in Harvard Square. I walk past the Harvard bookstore every single day. I rarely go in, due to my grown-upfulltimejobmotherhood lack of free time. But it’s there. Here. It’s here and I am here. And today while I waited for the bus, I looked out across Harvard Square and I realized that I take it for granted. And for a moment I stopped. I looked at it and I felt the feeling of it -the lovely brick buildings, the ideology of American education that is Harvard University, the gutter punks, the tourists, the shops and the famous old newsstands, the subway station and the Unitarian church with the rainbow flag waving. I breathed it in. I am in one of the most liberal cities in the USA. I love all this.

But damn, am I homesick.

Moroccan taksheta.

I haven’t hennaed my hands since before my son was born in September 2010. My clothes have gone quite conservative – jeans and trousers, turtleneck sweaters, blazers, and clogs as I naturally begin to blend in with those around me. My Indian “suits” have slowly disappeared from my wardrobe, along with my long flowing scarves, catching the wind behind me as I glide through an Emirati mall or an Indian bazaar. Our hefty collection of oil-perfumes: musks, frankincense and amber is dwindling. My husband never wears a djelleba or a gondora here. I miss the endless cups of tea and the circles of women, gabbing or the circles of men playing drums, drinking wine. I am mashing all of my countries together. I am missing everything and also very specific things. Aren’t I from these places too? Wouldn’t it be better if…? Wouldn’t I be happier, wouldn’t I feel fulfilled, won’t things have finally all come together when we finally get back to….. Fill in the blank. I seem to say these things about every place I have lived in and then left.A Turkish engineer in Bursa once referred to me as Marco Polo. The Arabs have their own Moroccan born Marco Polo, called Ibn Battuta, travelling the globe, fitting in – finding himself everywhere he went. So the legend says.

Do the Bedouin long for the seaside in the winter while they camp in the desert? Do visions of the chilly winter desert nights tug at their heartstrings while spending their summers fishing in the Gulf? Is it possible for a nomad to ever be completely in the present? Hasn’t she left little pieces of her heart everywhere she has been?

Categories: Morocco, Nomadism, UAE, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , | 6 Comments

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6 thoughts on “Nomadic Homesick Blues

  1. As a longtime nomad, I completely understand how you feel. And somehow, I always get the most wistful and “homesick” feeling when I am the most settled. I’m not sure what that’s about, but I’ve been there. When you’ve loved many places, you’re always missing something.

    • Thanks for your message, Meg. I checked out your page and I see that we have a few things in common! Are you in Al Ain or Abu Dhabi? Teaching? how’s it going. I am so homesick for that place (wink)!

      • I am in Al Ain, doing a clinical rotation with the nurses and midwives on the Labor & Delivery floor at Tawam Hospital. I’m really enjoying it here in (one of) your old home(s)!

  2. LouisaBalata

    I was delighted to read your recent articles, and I’m not surprised they resonate with my experience … Being homesick of a bookshop is typically something I would do ( and which I did, one in Australia and one in Jordan up to now … ). And being homesick of places separated by thousands of kilometers is something I’ve been living with for more than 10 years … The only way I found not to be hurt too much by that is to fully enjoy the present, so that I will regret nothing. But still, how much I wish I could reduce the distances between places and times !

    • Hi Louisa,

      Thanks for continuing to read. You are right about learning how to live in the present. One of the great continuing human struggles seems to be just that. Where in the world are you now?

      • Hi !
        Right now I’m trying to finish my studies in France ( and still wondering which university would be best between Paris and Marseille … I’d love to study overseas but for financial reasons I have to content myself with what I have, the almost fee-free french univeristies ) … Before I expatriate myself on a more or less definite level. How weird it is that once you have traveled a lot, you can’t quite stay in your supposedly home country long enough without getting the restless itch of travel. A magnificent way of being unsatisfied ( unless yes, you manage to live fully in the present, but though I know the theory, practice is hard to get … Continuing human struggle indeed ! ).

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