When I returned to the U.S back in August from my four months of travels, landing in JFK New York City, I stood there with my checked bag, dressed in my African attire, passport in one hand, while holding my grandmother’s prayer beads in the other, waiting for the bus to take me home. I took a deep inhale allowing the city’s air find its way back into my lungs just enough to remind me the feeling of being home. At that moment home felt like a foreign concept. I thought four months in Africa were just long enough to make me homesick. But as I stood there, waiting for the bus, a part of me felt empty.
On the bus from New York City heading home to DC, my mind replays images from the past four months: reading Sylvia Plath on a train in London, meeting strangers for coffee; attempting to sound competent while ordering food in kiswahili (ninaomba wali na mbogamboga, na maji mdogo baridi, tafadhali) in the university's cafeteria; exploring zanzibar on a bike; learning to trust strangers because we are only human; searching for prayer rooms in Airports just in time before my departure; watching futbol in local bars in Tanzania with people who became the only sense of home in a different country; sitting on the clinic’s floor for hours with severe pain, thinking I had malaria; standing awkwardly at my childhood best friend's wedding in Sudan, unsure about what to say when elderly women hug me and ask if I have found the one yet; visiting my grandfather’s grave while watching my mother strip years of toughness at the mention of his name; feeling my arm slightly numb that first morning waking up in Kenya; and remembering that moment in the airport when I had to walk away from it all. The people, the memories. And what was once unfamiliar, in four months, became a part of my identity.
Ending my journey and heading home brought me back to the night I watched my father kiss my mother goodbye at the airport, when I was only five. I remember feeling a sense of pain that was hard to seal. For the most part, I have made my skin thick enough to endure the difficulty of leaving, living alone and knowing hardly anyone. My entire life I have moved cities and countries more often than I would have liked. Every time my family moved to a new place, I try to make it less homely than the one before, just to make leaving less painful, because I knew we would have to move again. And to think my experiences have made me tough, this past summer debilitated any progress I had made in dealing with leaving. I found myself terrified of walking away from all that I have made of myself during this journey.
I step down from the bus platform and watch my father and brother stand at a distance. I pick my bag and sidled up to them. I felt my brother’s longing arms around me, “it has been too long,” he whispers. I felt a tear fall from my eye and it suddenly hit me, that I have been home all along – that home is truly where the heart is.