Do we ever return 'home'?

Published in Hurriyet Daily News, 14 August

During the last 10 years or so, I had the privilege and joy of living on three different continents, traveling widely in more than 25 countries, along the way learning foreign languages and undertaking in-depth academic studies on different religions, societies and cultures. I must admit one thing; I find leaving for a new place much easier than returning to where ‘I belong.’

A new country, a new language, a new cuisine, new friends and new thoughts thrill me. In those settings, I can make sense of my struggles, cultural misunderstandings and oddities. Both my hosts and I know that I am an outsider, cherish and treat me and communicate to me with that mutual understanding.

But, every journey also has a return. Adventurers might choose a solitary journey to reach where no one reached before, yet, with diaries kept and frantic pictures taken they signal their ultimate goal; to return and tell others. The same principle also applies to intellectual enquiry; although the human soul that pursues wisdom to make sense of the world around herself, ultimately she is moved to share what it discovered.

Just as those who ‘know,’ those who ‘see’ will tell, that they find communicating what they have experienced to people ‘back home’ much more difficult than the actual experiences, as they struggle to put the extraordinary into ordinary terms for those who are not aware of the reality outside their boundaries.

Those who return also face the horror of the disparity between their memories of the place they started their journey from and what they find when they eventually reach ‘home.’ Memories of intimacy, affinity and charm struggle accepting the difficulties in communication and the seeming inability of their old friends and families to ‘click’ with who they have become now.

Memories of hometowns clash with the towns as they are now. Streets look alien, cities all too small, and special hideouts extremely dull and ordinary. Even the populations seem different, as if an alien invasion took place and replaced the city overnight with some Martians.

It is not only the adventurer that has changed but also his or her audience. Time did not stop for those who stayed home, even though geographically they stayed still. They continued their existential journey full of successes, losses, disappointments and incommunicable explorations. They too struggle to make sense of the homecoming adventurer and they too face the odd disparity between then and now.

That is why the joy of seeing loved ones gives way to alienation quickly and that is why one feels more lonely and lost ‘back home’ than in foreign lands.

It is in fact true that no one can take a bath in the same river twice. Water runs, life moves on, riverbanks, cities, friends, music, food change. To expect a return to the sanitized memories of the past is impossible. To dictate relationships to be what they once were is a betrayal of the very intimacy one once cherished. To demand cities to shrink back into childhood memories that are possibly not the full picture is to demand an illusion.

For this reason, one must forget about ‘home’ if one wants to find one. The past must be laid to rest as the past, and the adventurer should do what he or she does best – learn a country all over again.

It in fact hurts to think that ‘home’ must be achieved and fought for. However, the truth is it was always so. It’s just that by losing it, we come to realize how much we take for granted.