Home is a place of security and comfort. It’s a cushion against the backdrop of a chaotic world, far away from the hustle and bustle and stings of life.
Going home at the end of my second year studying at UR, I realized I had lost touch with the humble abode which, if it hadn’t shaped my entire upbringing, at least framed most of my formative experiences. Home seemed even more foreign than the foreign country where I was continuing my higher education.
The first couple of weeks back home were the most challenging. I couldn’t help but realize that something was different, even if I didn’t have the words to describe exactly how. At first, I attributed this feeling to my rapidly changing accent, evolving worldviews, and newly found preferences. But these weren’t enough to explain my strange new feeling towards my home.
Struggling to grapple with this difference, I set out to find mementos — pictures, journals, old scratched CDs — searching through the puzzle to see where I could fit in, and find a sense of belonging. I needed to convince myself that home hadn’t reached a stage of irreversible strangeness to my eyes. I needed to find what had been missing to validate my claim to the place where I grew up. After all, this was my Pride Rock, in whose ground I found my roar and whose dark places I found bravery.
A few things had changed at home. My favorite restaurant had been swallowed up by various upcoming competitors, diminishing its popularity and distorting its prestige to many loyal customers. The public library which took years of construction had finally been built and was running. And many houses in my neighborhood had been renovated with extra rooms, surrounded by the latest design of brick wall and electric fences, and wore a different color paint.
But nothing significant had changed.
People still woke up early hoping to get the first few spots in the minibus taxi station to go to work. Hustlers still plotted daily schemes to take advantage of unnoticing eyes; waiting to yank off carelessly placed wallets or phones hanging from back pockets. Religious people still woke up every Sunday to go to church attempting to forget the previous day’s versions of themselves. Teenage pregnancies were still as much a norm among girls as drugs and crime were among teenage boys. And walking down the street at night was still as uncomfortable and scary as ever.
Whenever you call a place home, a sense of entitlement usually accompanies it. You feel you have the right to define its parameters and limitations.
Against the backdrop of an evolving home, suddenly it hit me. I finally realized that it was the things that had remained the same that bothered me more than what had changed. It was the smell of the familiar evening red dust and sweat which characterized the ongoing life in the hood. It was the layer of unbothered air hovering in the atmosphere — the contentedness that overshadowed curiosity, the people too satisfied with the smallness of their lives — that got to me.
It was the realization that as soon as I left home, the pieces of the puzzle had somehow managed to rearrange themselves and command a new harmony regardless.
It is the smell of betrayal from a city you love dearly. That everything somehow managed to stay in place and survive without you.
The clogged water pipe had been unclogged. The abused street dog was still alive. The service delivery strikes decrying electricity shortages, and high electricity bills, was still a regular complaint.
I had become the stranger, and home was a foreign place of familiar roaming strangers.
I realized that I could no longer call this place home. It was a place where I grew up, that had generously supplied me with countless firsts. But we could no longer claim each other.
It became clear that whenever I returned, I would no longer be “going back home” because despite all that had stayed constant, home wasn’t the same anymore.