Thursday, April 17, 2014

Arriving Home

One of the countries was Australia, where I met up with Hanna
  • 13,000 miles. 
  • 80 hours of Wilderness First Responder course time. 
  • 47 degree temperature change (Fahrenheit)
  • 32 hours crushed into airplane seats. 
  • 21 days of dragging around my life packed into a suitcase.
  • 15 hours of time zone change.
  • 13.5 hours waiting in airports.
  • 8 airports to run through (plus one more airstrip). 
  • 5 living situations. 
  • 4 countries. 
  • 2 languages....but 7 variations thereof!
  • 3 customs declarations, currency changes, and in-flight movies.
  • 1 tired but happy traveler.
After a long and adventurous journey (but not so adventurous, thankfully, such that everything remained on-time, all my luggage arrived, and I never accidentally was poisoned with gluten!), I am delighted to announce that I’m back in Papua New Guinea (PNG)! I arrived on Friday, April 4, and I’ve been busy settling myself back in at Ukarumpa, our linguistic centre.

This entails everything from figuring out what I can eat in my pantry, finding my gum boots (mud boots) so I can stay dry during our daily downpours (it’s rainy season), running the many necessary “welcome back” errands (like getting my Post Office key and finding my work permit card and making trips to the store), diving back into daily use of Tok Pisin (hooray! it all is still there), visiting the Pony Club :) as well as starting to meet with my many friends, co-workers, and directors to catch up on the past seven months and plan for the years to come.

Aren't PNG mountains crazy!?
“Welcome home” one of my friends grinned as she greeted me with a hug.

Home. Ever since arriving in PNG back in 2011, I’ve been a bit afraid of that word. I’ve avoided using it in my writing and my speaking. How am I supposed to define it? I’ve wondered. And, perhaps more concerning—will others understand my definition? Will they get offended?

Did I fly from home...or did I just arrive home? Do I walk home from our centre’s store or do I call home on skype? When I’m home, do I drive on the right side or the left? Do I pick the place that has my family? My friends? My work? The place where I have most of my possessions? The place where I grew up? The place I live the longest? The place I’m an official, legal resident? On my way to the US, I spent at least 20 minutes with 4 customs officials trying to explain the concept of official residency while living abroad.

This is too confusing, I decided. And so I got rid of the word from my vocabulary.

In the US, home is traditionally an honor bestowed upon one location a time; to give the title to two places feels like a betrayal. We say “I grew up here, but I call that place home,” and we hang pink, flowered cross-stitches proclaiming “home is where your heart is,” never wondering, what if your heart is split in pieces?
My Ukarumpa house is hidden behind that tree

On my first night back, I drank tea and laughed over rice paper wraps with friends in the house I’ve shared with my roommates, and the familiarity, the rightness, poured over me, much like it did when I stepped back into my parent’s house this past August. I was home.

And I realized, I wasn’t afraid of the word anymore. Because before, I had no home.

And now? Now I have two.