21 March 2011

Life in Boxes

Upon my arrival to the UK, I was excited and nervous and just so happy to be "home". Until I filled out the customs form. At that point, I was struck with a fact. When the customs form asked me what my country of residence was, I realised that at that point I was "homeless". None of the normal options for a home fit. Let me consider them:

1) Haiti: You see, as I did not have a signed contract in Haiti, I had to pack as if I was leaving. So I brought everything with me. As I was not confirmed to return, I could not consider Haiti to be my home, even though once my contract is signed, then it can be. However, because of this uncertainty, Haiti could not be considered my home.

2) London: London was my home once. And I still consider it a place I love. However, I do not live there any more, even though I have friends to call family and a house to call home. According to my visa, which allowed me to live and work in London before, I am no longer eligible for that. While there are visa options that I can pursue, at this point, calling London home is not an option. 

3) Los Angeles: While LA will always be a 'home' because my parents live there, I have no desire to have the city be my permanent abode. So, even though my 'permanent address' is there, I do not feel right calling it my home, since I do not live there, have not been there in over a year and will not be living there in any sort of long-term capacity in the near future (or perhaps ever). 

For me, my home has to be wherever I am. I know I will never be 'homeless' but when I actually had to think about what my country of residence was (I ended up putting the US), I realised how compartmentalised the life of an expat aid worker can be. 

Life exists in 2 places for us. Where we are physically and then everywhere else. Relationships develop in the country we are working with, dramas happen, stress exists, fun and friendship takes place. But then there are all the relationships that existed before we moved that need cultivating, stories that will be with us forever, skype dates that need to take place. 

One of the things I have realised through all this is that what exists in one "box" should not become the be all and end all of life. Responses will end, job contracts will finish, people will move. But its the relationships that are kept up-to-date that will be the saving grace through all this.

I have been particularly terrible at cultivating my friendships outside of wherever I am physically. This is something I know I need to work on, and is something that I hope I will change over the coming weeks once I return to Haiti. The life of an expat does consist of boxes - and I need to make sure that all of my boxes are full :)

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