On one hand, I found the constant moving and traveling romantic and exciting; everything was new. On the other hand, there also came a point when nothing seemed to be familiar anymore. I got to know places and meet people along the way, but only for a moment until the next move came. And so the mobile life made me think more closely about the notion of home.
It all started with the summer rain. I was sitting by the window and watching the rain when it struck me that what had been missing all along about the rain in Copenhagen was that it did not have a sound. So I started reminiscing about home, where I would lie down in my favorite part of the house and listen to the tip-tapping sound on the rooftop. It always lulled me into sleep. Or I would sit by the window and watch the raindrops fall from one leaf to the next on the tree just in front of our house. It always amazed me how a single raindrop became a flow when it joined the others and how freely they found their way. I would go up to the terrace after the rain and see the village below, the river, the rice fields by the riverbanks and the mountain facing the village, and the world seemed much keener because the rain made the colors deeper and fresher.
I started reminiscing about home, about senses so familiar even my body has acquired a memory of them. Like knowing exactly which part of the floor creaks or which corner of the house is the warmest when it gets cold and the coolest when it’s a hot day. Home has a particular smell, sound, feeling, taste, and sight that are embedded in me and provide memories of home when triggered. I was sitting in my hostel room in Venice when a church bell sounded in the early evening, and I felt for a moment that I was in Sabangan and it’s 6 p.m., because they ring the bells in my hometown’s Catholic Church at that time every day. I think of home and my grandmother’s house every time I smell leaves burning, and the smell always transport me back to that afternoon when my mother and I visited my grandmother in her place and Mama spent the afternoon raking the fallen leaves that had accumulated in the backyard and then burned them. I think of home every time I see sunlight penetrating the windows and touching the floor.
I started reminiscing about the comfortably constant and the intimately familiar. I don’t associate goodbyes to home even though we leave home. Home is always the place you return to, which is waiting for you. Neither do I associate introductions to home; home knows you. Home about continuing conversations and not starting over.
I posted a picture taken in my hometown on Facebook with the caption, “One sad thing about the rain in Copenhagen is that I don’t hear the raindrops tip-tapping on the rooftop. So I’m thinking of home on this rainy day. I’m thinking of the sound... Of the sight... Of how, when it comes to the senses (among other things), there are so many things home offers which the rest of the world could not.”
Just a few minutes after I posted the picture, my friend Mercedes popped-out online, and we started chatting. Somewhere in the conversation she said: “You know, every time I pack I think of you.” Just like that, I started reminiscing about the people I’ve met while here in Europe. My Couchsurfing and WWOOF hosts, who opened their homes to me and from whom I’ve received so much kindness and hospitality. My surfers whom I welcomed into my place and shared stories. Fellow travelers I’ve met along the way. People I’ve met throughout my stay in Denmark and Spain. Many of these people I’ve interacted with for a short time, but somehow have had an impact on me and perhaps I on them. With some of them the communication continued. Some of them I visited again or they visited me again and re-established the relationship. Some of them I’ve never heard from again.
I started reminiscing about a life of packing and unpacking, backpacks and luggage, train stations and flight tickets, meeting people and saying goodbye and maybe never seeing each other again. I’ve been with my MALLL classmates for more or less two years, and even those two years seem to be momentary. All of us share the experience of leaving our home countries and starting a new life in Copenhagen. Then we all packed our bags to spend a semester in Spain. By the time things had become familiar to us, we packed our bags again to come back to Copenhagen. We’ve shared the same Copenhagen weather, the same professors, the same thesis-writing complaints, the same fears and hopes of what career awaits us after finishing the program, etc. By the time we have become so comfortable with each other, we must go our separate ways again.
Now, I’m becoming at home with the idea that home is very much about these fleeting moments as well. These fleeting moments so different from the comfortably constant and the intimately familiar now define what is home for me during my stay in Europe.
Dayyuman Marie Ngoddo works with an NGO during the day and writes at the night. She hopes for a time when the situation is the reverse.