I began to think about the idea of home after listening to writers at Ake Festival talk about what home meant to them. Is the idea of home tied to a physical place? Is home the people we love the most, or is home something abstract and intangible that we (can) carry with us wherever we go? Is it neither? Is it all?
Whenever I go away from home for a while (‘home’ here meaning the house where I live with my family), I’m often a little sad to return. As a child, the places I visited outside home often held more appeal – the friends’ houses where I visited and slept over were always a little better: better bathrooms, or better toys, or seemingly more liberal parents, or cable TV. The only times I imagine I was ecstatic to be going home was when the place where I’d been was horrible – like boarding school. Of course, each time I was home on holiday and someone annoyed me, I’d think, ugh I can’t wait to go back to school. Still, home always trumped school. By university this had mostly changed, maybe because of the independence that came with university life; maybe because after six years of having lived away from home for months I had become just as comfortable away. Maybe because I had a boyfriend who lived in Port Harcourt where I went to school.
So as I returned home after four nights in Abeokuta, I wondered again at this sadness linked with returning home. Am I sad at the idea of returning to ordinary, to normal? If so, does this mean I am dissatisfied with my normal? Am I sad at the change; and if so why am I never sad on my way out? Or am I sad because my ‘home’, the house where I live with my family, is not really home?
What, then, is home? Everyone has their own answer. I think the definition of home that ties it to a house, a place, is probably the most simplistic. It is an easy definition that sometimes ignores the core of homeness – belonging, the feeling of being in a ‘place’ that you know, that knows you. For some people, this place could be the place where they live, with (or without) their family. For others it is not. For others, home is the people that matter the most to them, which may or may not be family. For yet others, home is wherever they find themselves, and it is these people who I think carry their homes with them on the inside, and whatever space they occupy they populate with little invisible pieces of them that remind them of who they are, who they’ve been. I wonder if people like them ever feel lost.