(Posted by Jane)
“Home changes often these days / (The concept is on my back)”
A poem written by my friend Tom Burgess has been stuck in my head like a song recently, the words subconsciously tumbling through my mind. Home does indeed change often these days, with frequent packing and unpacking every few months it seems, and even a short stint of literally carrying my home on my back when we were venturing through the mountains in Nepal in June.
Just before we left Uganda in May someone said to us, ‘you probably don’t know where home is at the moment.’ He was right, but it didn’t take me long to figure out. I stood on an English hillside a month later, and I was home. As Tom goes on to say in his poem,
“I’m still bound by the essential landscape of my youth… / the primacy of soil where I first connected / belonging with place”
There is something about England. A connection. An understanding. This summer it didn’t seem to matter where I was: on the Surrey hills where I grew up, watching the sun set over my favourite coastline in Wales, exploring new mountainsides in Cumbria or discovering the wild blackberries of the Cotswolds… whether paths and views I knew by heart or unknown places ripe for discovery, it was all home to me. More than a comforting familiarity but a heart-soaring connection.
Since moving to Uganda 18 months ago I’ve been in no doubt about how much I miss people (confirmed by the joy of being in the presence of all whom I’ve missed this summer), but I didn’t realise how much I missed a place too. I was surprised to discover that home is more than where certain people are: it’s a land, a soil, a country.
In early September we returned to Uganda and moved back to Kampala. So much familiarity: the welcome of friends who have become our family here, the smell of charcoal, the chaos of the roads, the orange soil, the lilt of Luganda, the tea fields, the colourful markets. And with familiarity comes comfort: the comfort of understanding what’s going on, the comfort of connecting to this ‘home from home’. But there is an awkwardness too, an awkwardness that stops me fully ‘fitting in’, that leaves me confused. I felt a pressure when we first arrived, a self-imposed pressure to call Uganda home, and I expected to find it natural. I expected to be engulfed with a sense of homecoming almost as soon as I stepped off the plane, as I had done arriving in Kenya ten years ago. But that wasn’t my experience on first arrival in Uganda last year, and months later I stood on a hillside and looked across the Ugandan plains, soaking in their beauty, but wondering why the view didn’t make my heart soar like the Surrey hills do.
Uganda is a home from home, a place I live in and yet don’t fully belong in. Somehow, in acknowledging this I have found peace and new energy. In accepting and submitting to the ties I have to my homeland I can turn to this country and accept and submit to the fact that it is familiar yet foreign. I can learn the Ugandan way and partake in the culture, I can attempt to speak the language and discover new ways of communication, I can celebrate our similarities and take joy in the discovery of why some things are done differently. But I wont be surprised when I become unstuck, when I don’t understand, when I peel back one cultural complexity only to discover another. I will find freedom in this, embracing perplexity as I grow in love for a foreign land.
And I will rejoice that I can return to that place where I first connected and belonged, when so many people can’t. There are many in my homeland right now who must know the same awkwardness of living that I sometimes feel here, the confusion and uncertainty of a foreign land. But for them they were compelled to leave, whereas I chose to leave. They fled in fear, whereas I calmly set off with hope and excitement. They may long to return one day when war is over, but wonder when that day will come, and in the meantime they fight for a place to live and work in a new land. My home, their foreign place.
The poem I have quoted here is taken from Tom Burgess’ recent book of poetry, ‘Paint Yourself’, available from Arkbound, Amazon (e-book), and Waterstones. It is a beautiful book of sixteen poems about sunsets and journeys.