“Huis, paleis, pandok, varkhok…” is an Afrikaans saying or game that we used to play to determine where we would one day end up living during preschool. This very first notion of ‘home’ has recently been milling in my subconscious as we’ve spent much more time at home. Subsequently, I decided to go on an exploration of what exactly this idea or notion of ‘home’ means.
Now that I think about it, I’ve actually been fascinated by the idea of ‘home’ for quite a few years. It started way back in the early 2010s with series like The Walking Dead, Banshee or Breaking Bad where the story’s main drive is this longing for or protection of the concept of home.
I used to get so frustrated by especially The Walking Dead, because it seemed that every season just methodically went through the same recipe; search for home, find home, threat to the home, defense of home and eventually the loss thereof. End of season. Except for the fact that it became very repetitive, it was quite draining going through that loss of home with these characters over and over again, solidifying a theme of “nothing good ever lasts”.
Close to home
It was during this same period that I was experiencing my own rehoming. It was that extremely confusing time where you kind of move out during varsity but actually just sleep elsewhere and still eat your parents’ food. That first little bit of independence was such a gain at that stage, that I never really stopped to reflect on that little bit of loss of home that you actually experience.
It wasn’t until I decided to leave my hometown and move elsewhere that I very acutely felt and experienced that loss of home and started on my own Walking Dead-esque journey to once again find a new space to call home. Granted, my mother passed away during that same time which definitely amplified this experience of loss to someone as adverse to change as I still remain to this day.
A home truth
A therapist once explained to me that once you evolve into adulthood, you experience a much-needed rupture with your parents and their way of doing and thinking, only to spend the rest of your life trying to replicate the intimacy of that relationship with a future partner or offspring.
When she told me that, I was knee-deep into my ‘parents suck’ phase and probably scoffed at her, but looking back on the journey that has been my twenties, it does seem that I spent a significant amount of time destroying my idea of home just to rebuild it. But this time, to rebuild it on my terms.
In a pretty cool article, published in 2011 in The Atlantic, Julie Beck positions the Western notion of home against the Eastern notion of home. In the Western scheme of things we are quite set on the idea that even though the location changes, the individual remains the same. Although we do feel a connection to the places we’ve lived in, often sentimental or nostalgic, we do see it as separate from our inner lives.
To illustrate the Eastern side, she references the Hindu pilgrimage by William S. Sax, “People and the places where they reside are engaged in a continuing set of exchanges; they have determinate, mutual effects upon each other because they are part of a single, interactive system.” It seems that in Asian communities, home is not just the place where you reside, it is in essence who you are.
On just a plain capitalist level, Westerners often feel, fuelled by the dream of having a house, dog and kids, that a house is their home because plainly stated they are the one paying for it, not their parents or a bursary, just them. She concludes by saying that whether we are aware of it or not, a home blurs the line between the self and surroundings, “and challenges the line we try to draw between who we are and where we are”.
Driving it home
During this lockdown period, my home has gone from being a secondary space to a primary space. I’ve moved nearly every year since 2015 and that kind of teaches you to not do permanent things; like buy a table that fits a certain space, or unpack all your books. Now that I am spending every waking second at home, I’ve needed to make a few much-needed improvements to make this someplace where I will be spending most of my time. To actually make it, dare I say it, a home.
The very first thing I had to figure out was an office-like setup. I quickly realised that someplace with a door gives your cohabitants much more freedom and makes for much more harmonious living. My job requires long hours on a computer, so I also loved the distinction between a chill space and a workspace.
I’ve always been a fan of convenient food and even though I own all the fancy food processing equipment, I have never used it. My home has become a space for collaboration and creativity, especially in the kitchen. When you cannot really go anywhere, you find joy in the weirdest things and setting up my house to accommodate these have been a challenge, as well as very rewarding.
My house has also become my gym. Either in the morning or the afternoon, I log onto Zoom for class. Equipped with a yoga mat, 2kg weights, exercise bands and bare feet (if you haven’t tried this, treat yo’self) I spend 45 minutes in my living room doing exercises in what previously seemed like a space that’s way too small.
My husband also moved in with me. We got married in early February and since then we’ve lived on the farm for a while, moving back to the apartment in May. I can only describe the process as erosion. It feels like at first you are both two hard rocks and as the mundane banality of everyday life (especially in this time of crisis) rolls over you, it erodes the hard edges and the incompatibilities and you find yourself in a country of compromise. Which at first feels like a war-stricken Iraq, ends up being neutral Switzerland, ready and willing to grow.
My house is now my home. What a weird concept. It has cracks and imperfections and nooks that I adore. It is warm on the one side, and cold on the other. I sometimes hear my neighbour’s vacuum and often I am quite sure they hate our Afrikaans music addiction.
My home has evolved into an extension of who I am. With no clear line as to where I end and it begins. It’s an osmotic process, where the space both frees and traps you. It brings you joy now permeating into anxiety later. It’s a give and take. It’s me, I am home.