Home. What is home? Living in Quito has made me question the definition of home, reworking it to encompass my experiences abroad. I have often wondered how long it must one be in a place to be able to say one lived there. For it to feel like home. Is three months enough? Is 10.5? Is 27 months?
The other night, my eyes watered when I accidentally stumbled across pictures of Yosemite on a blog I was reading. I had the most vivid vision of childhood camping trips with my sister and dad, waking up to crisp mountain airs in the early morning, welcomed to the morning by a warm fire and the scent of pine needles. These camping trips were the epitome of childhood bliss: in nature, together with some of your favorite people in the world (except mom), working up a sweat daily hiking, and coming together at the end of the day to prepare and share the most delicious food together. It dawned on me that though I never lived in Yosemite, it still feels like home. Many parts of California are home. Berkeley. Patterson. Modesto. Santa Cruz in the summer. Gold River. Some days, like last night, I miss California so much that it brings tears to my eyes. How could I possibly have abandoned such a beautiful place? A place that feels so right to me, that despite my wandering heart, I can’t imagine ever settling permanently elsewhere? California calls to me. California is home.
But as my time in Quito wanes, and the months turn into weeks and the weeks into days, I am feeling the sense of home that here, too, I have developed. Nights when after long days at work I think about the relief of coming home to my apartment and snuggling up in bed with two cups of tea brewed fresh in a blue plastic pitcher. Afternoons at Parque Carolina –spent slurping granizados de fruta while making animal impressions and lusting after every passing puppy (of which there are many)–where I could imagine this being a weekend routine for myself for the foreseeable future. Moments when I realize I know multiple ways to get home using different forms of public transit. Cooking Ecuadorian food in pajamas with a man whom I love dearly. Getting into the groove with my students because I’ve been here for three cycles already and understand my own rhythms now. Knowing the prices of taxis and strawberries and Rum San Miguel. Seeing Cotopaxi and Cayambe on a clear morning from barrio San Juan and feeling the promise of adventure as I set off on a three-day trip out of Quito. Coming back afterwards and feeling eager to return. At some point, over the past nine months, I stopped wondering if I had been here enough time for it to be home. Somehow, through the day-to-day experiences I’ve had here, Quito has become my home.
Home is a feeling. That much we know from cliches. What we don’t always hear, though, is that multiple places can feel like home. I first discovered this during my freshman year of college, where I had the strange feeling that I was “going home” when I visited my parents, but also when I was returning to Berkeley. Feeling a sense of home in multiple places actually sometimes can make a person feel lonely. This person, anyhow. Occasionally in college, it made me feel like because I had two homes, I couldn’t really ever claim one as my true home. While I might have wanted to claim Bay Area heritage (on trips abroad I sometimes maybe–okay usually–told foreigners I was from San Francisco…), I acknowledged my roots in Californian central valley small-town culture. But you see, the
problem with wonderful thing about moving and having many homes is that each place leaves its mark on you. Each place shapes you, molds you, in ways that you sometimes recognize and sometimes notice years later. Berkeley made me into a feminist, a small city lover, an intellectual, an appreciative daughter and sister, an active community member, and so much more that I’m sure I will come to understand in the years to come. Patterson fostered in me a sense of curiosity, an appreciation for the outdoors from days spent playing on my aunt’s farm, confidence to pursue my dreams, and the belief that the world is a good, safe place. Living abroad for the first extended period makes me question how I will emerge from this year and this place different from before. What mark will Quito leave on me? How will my home here come with me back to my roots in California and then to an entirely new continent in a different hemisphere?
Home is a memory, triggered by your senses. I can feel Patterson with me when I hear Paul Simon or Bruce Springsteen, the music of childhood afternoons in car rides to Sea Ranch or cleaning the house. I can feel Patterson in the sound of my parents’ voices. I can feel Patterson when I go to the market and see fresh peaches and remember my aunt’s apricots that would be ripening right around now. I can feel Patterson when I hear Debussy’s Clair de Lune or Rachmaninoff’s Prelude in C# minor. I can feel Patterson in the Golden Retrievers at the park and in the scent of jasmine along a fence line on a warm evening. I can feel Berkeley in a particularly exciting intellectual conversation about single mothers and Sociology. I feel it in a perfect creamy latte from Galleti. I feel it in late-night chats and an evening of drinking games in my apartment while listening to ratchet party music. I feel it on perfectly sunny days with a gentle breeze that are so reminiscent of Bay Area springs. I feel it in artisanal beers and beautiful parks with city views and any time I’m near water, lots of water. I carry my homes with me every day. And now, Quito is one of them.
Home is both temporary and permanent. Home is leaving and coming back. Leaving home is always sad, or at least bittersweet. Leaving Patterson for college was hard. Leaving Berkeley for Ecuador was hard. But when I get bogged down in sadness for the things I am missing from one of my homes, or in fears about what I will miss about this home, I think about how lucky I am to get to choose where I want to create a home for myself. What privilege I have to be able to experience life in different countries, merely because I speak English and have a US passport. I think about how enriching it is every single time you move to a new place, because you develop new relationships, form new memories, see new landscapes, and incomparable opportunities for learning and growth. So in the meantime, in my last precious months in Quito, I will cherish my time and make as many memories as I can, knowing that I will hold this place in my heart forever and carry it with me as my very special third home. And someday, I will return. To this home, to my other homes in California, and whatever other places await me as home in the future. Because home is more than one place. Because once somewhere is home, it always will be.
This post originally appeared on June 14, 2016 on Elizabeth’s blog, 20somethingwanderings. Click here to read more posts.