It has been two years and three days since Suzanne and I moved to the place we call home…
“So where’s home?” the usher asked as in the foyer of the church in Iowa. Suzanne and I had flown in early that morning and were still were bundled up like ticks against the 20 degrees and a blue northerner outside. The usher was new here (or new since I had moved away some 40 years ago), so he didn’t know Ames was my childhood home, and this was my home church.
[Steve * Suzanne outside in the snow]
Suzanne and I look at each other nervously, never certain how to answer the question our global nomad kids hate. “Maybe I should have asked, where are you guys from?” he asks, saving us.
“That’s easier,” I sound relieved. “I grew up in Ames, Suzanne is from Connecticut; we lived in Texas for 30 years, and now in Africa.”
That is our answer, however, ask a Ghanaian, and the answer will be to a nearby question.
“Where are you from?” I asked a student one day. For some reason it never occurs to ask about home.
“I am from Burkina Faso.” A French speaking country just north of Ghana. I hadn’t detected the trace of a French accent in her voice.
“Really, what is it like there?” I ask.
“Oh, I have never been to that place.” She was telling me where her family comes from.
“Your mother moved here from Burkina?”
“No, she stays in Nima.” A Muslim region of Accra; stays means grew up there too. Who knows when her family actually moved to Ghana, but that is where they are from.
“So you were raised in Nima.” I say, thinking I should remember to start with that question. It does get me thinking about the concept of home. Is it the place one grew up, or where your family came from? For me, I grew up in Iowa, but my family came from Kansas. Iowa formed my genetic dispositions into this person I became; and had it been another state, I would have grown to be a different person. That is where I’m from, but is it home?
“Home is the closest place to where you are not?”
Is it the Chinese who say “Home is the closest place to where you are not?” For example, if I say I’m going home when in a city that is not where I live, it means I’m going back to the hotel. However, if I’m at the hotel, it means Austin, but in Austin, it means Ghana or Iowa, unless the hotel is in Ghana, and then it means Ashesi. But if I’m at Ashesi, it could mean Texas, or Iowa.
Home: the place they have to take you in
Another definition: Home: the place they have to take you in. Suzanne and I learned this definition a few months ago, when our son moved back into our house in Texas, a move his mother and I had not encouraged, and yet did not prevent. It is his home, so it has to take him in.
Home: the place you take responsibility for.
Another definition: Home: the place you take responsibility for. When one takes care of the place they stay in, it becomes home. Even the animals know not to soil the place they sleep (well not chickens, but who credits them with much intelligence).
home is where you know where the silverware is kept.
Another definition: home is where you know where the silverware is kept. This came from my niece Mary Lynn. So home implies familiarity, which I understand. A few years back my father sold my childhood house and built a new one. While being filled with furniture familiar, this new house does not feel like home; it always takes a few drawers to find the silverware.
[Mary Lynn and our snow shovels]
What was weird about being back in Ames was the amount of Africa stuff I saw in the local food coop.
[so secret we don’t even know about it in Africa]
[African Black Soap (right next to Dr. Bronners)]
[Baskets for $39. We buy them for $7]
[yep, they are from Ghana and have the cool tag we don’t get for $7]
[The food co-op my mom helped start, now called Wheatsfield, then the very 70s Mutual Aid Food Association, or MAFA)]
Suzanne stayed a week longer after I returned to Ghana, giving me airplane time to think about that question of home. I should have told the usher, “Home is wherever Suzanne is.” For me, she is what makes a place, home, and her staying that extra week has me thinking about where our home is. Perhaps, home is the place that needs you most. I know we certainly felt that being back when Suzanne’s mom and our daughter’s faced major and minor surgeries respectively, and our Texas house needed some work.
home is the place that needs you most.
I’ve been thinking about home a bit because Suzzy Phonecard is homeless….(read about Suzzy). Right before we left for the States, Suzzy moved out of her home, suffice to say there were family issues, and she felt safer to be out on her own. I helped her move to an uncompleted abandoned house in the next village over. Ghana is filled with uncompleted construction, half built structures of concrete and cement blocks that look like an active worksite but truthfully, no work has been done since the money ran out. Workers just dropped their tools like it was Pompeii and the volcano just erupted.
I meet the main family
squatting staying there and the mother is quite pregnant. Suzzy shows me her room and by room I mean a windowless closet and she asks me to buy her a door. The current one is cardboard. “How much will that cost?” I ask but she doesn’t know. I leave it to her to figure out the details and get back to me. She is disappointed I won’t make the problem go away and we play this game for weeks, she telling me about needing a door, and me asking some stupid question like where do they sell doors, or how much will they cost, or what happens when you move, and finally she just figures out a different solution, and that door closes without me.
[Christmas on the Hill, we left for Texas the next morning]
Home is that place that feels like you belong. As I was waiting to board the last leg of the flight back to Ghana I see two different sets of friends from Accra and wonder if maybe home is the place where you know people on the flight back.
home is the place where you know people on the flight back.
On our first Sunday back at Asbury-Dunwell Church, Auntie Pamela greets me at the door and gives me a deep hug saying “Welcome Home,” and I almost tear up. Home is the place where the people there claim you.
there is no adventure in home; and no home in adventure
Ghana is our home now, but so is Texas, so is Iowa for me, and Connecticut for Suzanne and who is to say there can be only one home? I so appreciate what Lisa McKay wrote in her grand memoir of travel and romance Love at the Speed of Email about the relationship between home and adventure, that there is no adventure in home; and no home in adventure. Maybe that is why we like Ghana so much, because here, we really can have them all: adventure, home and each other.
[At the Zilker “Tree” in Austin, Texas, one of our many “homes”]