Last September I met someone who was curious how I got from small-town Wisconsin to the hot little city of Cartagena. I’ve fielded this question, oh, probably a million times. I have the short answer for taxi drivers who leer at me in their rear view mirror (I got a job here), and I have the long answer for fellow expats who have a coffee and time on their hands (it all started with a trip to Peru when I was 16…). As we sat at a cafe in Barranquilla, I began with the mid-length version since our food was going to arrive at any time (I studied abroad as Junior in college…).
He listened politely as I spun my tale of languages learned and loves (but not luggage!) lost. Seeing as this is MY story, I make sure to emphasize my innate curiosity, extreme independence, and love of adventure, all admirable characteristics, so I’ve been told. As I finished up with my well-practiced, “And here I am!”, he looked at me intensely and asked, “But what are you looking for?” I looked at him and blinked, a Wisconsin white-tail deer in the glaring headlights. “I just imagine that someone who moves around so much must be looking for something,” he continued. Before I could think, I sputtered and said the first word that popped into my head, “Home.”
I don’t really know where it came from. I had a home once. Loving parents, siblings to fight and play with, a good school. I was happy, and then I left. Like most 18 year olds from Middle America, I went to college. But I never went home again. Sure, I would go for a visit here and there, and I even lived with my parents for six months while I finished my teaching license. It’s where I’m from, it’s a beautiful house filled with my parents’ love and warmth, it’s a town filled with memories… but it’s not home.
As I sat there trying to figure out how to explain that I was searching for a home by leaving “home,” which seems counter-intuitive at best, I remembered the saying, “Home is where the heart is.” The phrase looks better stitched in needlepoint than typed on a blog, but it made me think – what if home is not a place?
I proceeded to posit that I travel because I can, because the world is too big to not be seen firsthand, and because living in another country provides a vastly different experience than that of playing tourist. I don’t need to stay in one place, in one “home” if you will, because someday someone will become my “home” physical location won’t matter because I’ll have found a shelter with someone rather than under some roof. While I might not necessarily want the stability of a mortgage, I would be lying if I said I didn’t want to come home to somebody at the end of the day; one day it might be a flat in London and the next it might be a tent in the Northwoods, but at the end of the day, it would be the same home and the same somebody.
What am I looking for? That question has stuck with me now for months. I’ve had time to ponder, and I think my answer would remain the same. While I may still be looking for someone to give shelter to my wandering heart, it feels as if my heart has split into infinite pieces. And each of these pieces has a home with a friend I’ve made or a view I’ve loved. When I leave Cartagena, a piece of my heart will stay here and call it home, chilling out on the balcony with a bottle of wine and trying not to bleed all over the place. At the risk of overextending my metaphor, I know I will always have a home here since I will have left behind a piece of my heart, beating in time with the waves.
Read more from Hillary Alayne here.
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