Expat Life

Tell me about your home

Tell me about your home.

My partner is binge-watching the new season of Orange is the New Black. Since I was on my own last night, I decided to watch something I hadn’t seen before. I started watching Outlander. Based on a series of novels, it’s about a Second World War-era English nurse named Claire Randall who travels through time to 18th century Scotland.

In episode 4 of the first season, Claire tends to a dying man on a boar hunt. This is not a significant spoiler. He’s a minor character and this scene has a greater purpose, which is later revealed. As the man, Geordie, begins to panic, unable to feel his legs and hands, Claire says, “Tell me about your home.” Geordie tells her about a wide glen that is beautiful in the spring. With warm thoughts of home, he passes away.

“Home” is complicated. It’s a place immigrants and expats contemplate and struggle to define. Some people may spend their entire lives in one place they call home. Some people may be forced to leave home. They may spend the rest of their lives thinking of it and wishing always to get back to it. People may have multiple homes. For some, home is a terrible place they long to escape and leave behind. Can home be a terrible place? Maybe that’s not their true home.

I had a home I’ve never known. I was born in Havana, Cuba, but my family left when I was two years old. I grew up in Miami, Florida. For a long time, that was home. It wasn’t about four walls and a roof. It was about family, friendships, and the place I became adapted to, a place I knew so well, intimately and instinctively. Yet, when I reached a certain age, about 16, I wanted to leave home so badly. I wanted to free myself. I didn’t go very far. I moved five hours north to attend university. Miami was always home. I travelled there often and eventually returned to it.

In 2012, I left Miami again. This time, I went much further away. I could no longer go home for every birthday, every holiday, or even every year. As time rolled by, Miami changed, like all places change, and the home I knew so thoroughly now exists only inside me.

Melbourne is home, but it is not. In our little old California bungalow, like in my Miami house, I feel safe and loved and cared for. My family is small here. It consists of a man and a dog, but Theo is a good man and Sam is a good dog. They say home is where the heart is and part of my heart is here.

When I turn on the TV, the radio, the news, social media, or go out anywhere, I am reminded that I am a foreigner. My skin is a different colour. My accent is different. I speak another language. I carry a different history and two other cultures. There is so much about Melbourne I don’t know. There are streets I’ve not walked or driven, locations I’ve not yet heard of. It is both familiar and foreign. Maybe it takes more time.

Sometimes Theo and I talk, very briefly, about funeral and death arrangements, and we come to no decisions. Will we be buried? Together in Melbourne or apart in our respective homelands? Sometimes I think I would like my ashes scattered to the sea. The Great Mother will carry me to my true and final home.

Where is home for you?