Tomorrow it will be 100 days since I have stepped off American soil and flew away from Chicago O’Hare International Airport. It’s wild, beautiful and terrifying all at the same time. Many times throughout these 99 days, I’ve thought to myself:
When I’m sad and I miss my friends, family, my boyfriend, my cat:
“I just want to go home.”
After a grueling day of sampling in the hot sun, sitting in traffic for 2 hours, then trying to fit 16L of samples into the lab fridge, and finally getting back to the house:
“It feels so good to be home!”
When I’m looking at the sunrise:
“I am my home.”
I am slowly but surely becoming more convinced that our bodies are our home. That home is a state of mind, and a feeling we create around us. And others can feel it too. Have you ever met someone and felt instantly at ease? Like your shoulders just fell three inches and all of a sudden you noticed the soles of your feet against the ground. And everything feels good, and right, even if just for a moment. That’s how I felt when I met Beatrice. She’s like the big sister I desperately needed in Uganda. She taught me the essentials: the brand of yogurt to buy, which clubs were the best for dancing, and that being proposed to by your boda driver means you should never call him again. She’s a real straight shooter. She’s also a badass mom, and can out dance anyone I know until 5:30am. Trust me. I’m the one who is convincing her to stay out, and then begging to go home.
While I’m in this house I’m trying to soak up its energy, and pay attention to everything I can to remember this place, and this feeling. A year and a half ago, I was meant to move into a studio apartment by myself for one semester until graduation. But as it happened, I met the two most wonderful girls in world, Holly and Caitlin, and I moved into a home of swirling, spinning color and bubbles, and smiles, and holding hands, and unicorns. Okay, not the unicorns, but everything else is accurate.
Ever since living at the Rainbow House I’ve felt highly sensitive to the “home dynamic” and the energy that seems to flow between the walls of different places. Rainbow House was like walking into your crazy Aunt Zelda’s home – your mother’s sister who went to Woodstock and then fled the country with her artist boyfriend, Fabian, to live in India for five years, only to rediscover her purpose in life, ditch the boyfriend and redefine her womanhood. She swears by vaginal steams, has a few cats, and tells you to go feel the soil under your feet when it’s a full moon. Tea is always brewing, and sage and incense are strewn about on record players, stuck in potted plants and tapestries dangle from the walls creating colorful shadows against your skin. There are bountiful hugs and always someone who’s in the mood for a little yoga. The chickens rustle in the leaves, and the sound of “OM” can be heard by those walking on the sidewalk, peering in the mystical, magical place that is Rainbow House. It’s a dreamland, really. The warmth of the women (and sometimes men) that live amongst that home is positively divine and contagious. The year I spent living within its walls was one of the most cherished times of my life. It showed me what it is to be a good friend, a good listener, a good human, and how to be good to myself. I found myself in that year, and I liked her. I was shown to open my heart, my truest, most pure heart, and give it to everyone I could, if only just to show them the love that we all deserve. Since living there, I never saw any point in living alone ever again, when instead I could create love and friendship, and utilize the foundation of the home to grow memories, flowers and food. I learned the meaning of nourishment.
Before leaving for Uganda, I moved into Jalehouse with Jake, Jack, Drew, Brandon, Kevin, and Kevin’s cat, Ruby. Five boys, one cat and me. And sometimes Rachael, Drew’s rad girlfriend. Seriously, that’s the best way I can describe her. It was a totally silly circus and I don’t know if I’ve ever smiled so much in my life around so many goofy boys. I lived there for three months and it was the first time I had ever lived with my partner. I remember being nervous packing my things at Rainbow House and moving down California Street, almost seven blocks away from the ladies with whom I sat on the porch and drank coffee, giggled with about boys we thought were cute, and cooked brunch with when our basement flooded and every one of our friends came and helped us pail water. Life was perfect, really. It was actually Caitlin that suggested I go live with Jake for my last three months, and I couldn’t believe I hadn’t thought of it myself. I’ve had friends live with their significant others and it often didn’t turn out pretty. Luckily, since Jake and my schedules were often the main source of strain in our relationship, living together helped us find something that I think now we will never lose – compassion. We were able to see each other go through our days and observe the ambition, stress and total insanity of two chronic workaholic overachievers. Seriously, we have a problem. We saw each other’s ups and downs and a soft spot in each of us grew and grew that we simply couldn’t comprehend while living separately. We looked out for one another – whether that meant cooking dinner, encouraging the other to “Get to bed!”, making tea for whomever had a long night of work ahead, or suggesting a date night because “Damnit, we deserve it!” Somewhere in those three months, Jake became my best friend. My rock. The other four boys were deadbeats. No, I kid! Jack, Brandon, Kevin and Drew became my cool protective brothers. They reminded me what it was like to live with my brothers and sister – playing board games, watching action TV series, being sarcastic, drinking beer, and hassling one another in the most loving way. I felt very independent and cool, like a tough chick. I was moving to Africa for goodness sake! I was one of the gang – this rambunctious, funky, playfully perfect collection of rodeo clowns.
And now here I am. On this oversized blue and brown polka dotted arm chair, sinking into another home and letting its energy carry me along. I wake up to birds at my window, and Sofie doing the dishes outside or chopping fruit for Malaika’s juce in the kitchen. I slip out from underneath my mosquito net and creak open my bedroom door that never stays closed. Bare feet, warm from sleep step across the cold tile over to the water jug. I sip on water as I look outside. Every day the sky is beautiful and I can see the treetops from our living room window. The warm breeze gently sweeps the red hammock from side to side on the porch. I love seeing people laying in it, reading or napping. This is a peaceful place, and it calms me. The other housemates start to emerge from their bedrooms – Aoife, from Ireland, and Simon from England. Aoife arrived only a few days after me, and has become my Ugandan partner in crime, my wifey, my brother. She gets it. We made our friendship pact over vodka mules and a sloppy hug. Simon arrived in mid January and has since become our favorite person these days. We lovingly abuse him by blaming everything on him. He is our baby brother and we adore him because he’s posh and uses hairspray and likes romantic comedies. Soon Noanne will be joining us in the house again – she’s on her way back to good ole UG. Beatrice always says, “no one ever comes once”. She’s our sassy Mauritius friend who ignores her problems, literally, struts around in her underwear, and isn’t afraid to call you out on bullshit, or give you a comforting hug. We miss her dearly!
Together we drag our feet around the kitchen, someone offers to make the others coffee or tea, and slowly we make our way to the breakfast table already laughing about the dogs that we heard moaning down the hill in the middle of the night. Seriously, they sound disturbingly like a human being murdered slowly, and loudly. We haven’t heard them in a while though, so we’re mostly the ones moaning about going to work. We’re a bunch of whiners. Beatrice and Malaika eventually come out, and after drooling over Malaika for a few minutes, it’s time to get on with our day. Having a baby in the house has been such a riot. I get to hold her little hand as she unsteadily walks from the living room to the kitchen giggling and speaking gibberish, and give her raspberry kisses when she crawls over to me and shows me how her teeth are coming in. Her eyes are wide and just stare in awe at everything she is seeing around her, slowly taking in the world one piece at a time. I wonder what’s going on in that teeny tiny skull of hers. And even since I’ve arrived, Malaika is getting taller, talking more and becoming the little human that she is. She walked the other day! Walked! Her little chubby leg plopped one in front of the other and her hands clapped together.
The days unfold, and pass, and each time I think about how long I’ve been here, my heart jumps a little bit. There will come a time when I leave this place, and it will be sad and wonderful and totally fulfilling. It is my home, and I am my home, and this experience further clarifies to me that one creates a home from within, and this home can be home to others too, and you can share homes. Home is whatever you need it to be.
Being in Uganda, in Kampala, in this home, I am trying to notice what might be changing within me, and what this home has to show me. Even if these changes are ever so slight – what is it in me that might be starting to feel good? I recently read a passage from the Tao Te Ching called Raw Silk and Uncut Wood. Raw silk represents simplicity and plainness, and uncut wood represents nature and honesty. The last four lines of the passage read:
Forget the rules,
I read these words and sat on the front porch of the house, digging my toes into the soil and leaning my back into the red painted staircase. The sun was rising on my right, turning the sky a pinkish blue. Perhaps this is exactly what I need. For the next 173 days, need little, want less. Forget the rules, be untroubled.