A Post Exchange Reflection
On August 4th, 2021, I departed my home country, Lebanon, for an exchange year in rural Iowa. In my mind, I thought that I knew the world inside out. However, as soon as I was on the plane and watched the city of Beirut shrink towards the limit, I realized I didn’t. Among other things, I had to redefine home for myself.
Home and House are Not Synonyms
The concept of synonyms was introduced to me in 4th grade. ‘Synonyms are words that are interchangeable.’ Home and house were one of the examples we were taught. The two words are similar, so I suppose it wasn’t incorrect. As I grew and began emerging into my almost-adult self, I realized they weren’t completely accurate.
When you are born, you are entitled to certain basic human rights, like food to eat, clothes to wear, and a roof over your head — a house. But, the right to a home cannot be guaranteed when you come into this world. A home is not just a house. A house can be a mansion, apartment, or even just a room; with four floors, maybe painted white with a popcorn ceiling, covered with yellow flower-print wallpaper, and a pretty ceiling frame. The walls may be barren or filled with intricate wooden frames painted gold. However it may look, it is a house. A home, on the other hand, is a different story. If you were fortunate enough to be born into a place of love and appreciation, you may have considered that your home. A home does not necessarily consist of walls, ceilings, and pretty paintings hung on the walls. Before I left, I thought my home was the house I grew up in, a humble, middle-class apartment in Aley, a small suburb of Beirut. I thought, surely, I had found my forever home.
I am in Fragments
During my exchange year, I met so many different people, from the United States and other countries as well (Australia, India, Russia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Bangladesh, Jordan, Palestine, Turkey, Tunisia, Kosovo, Bulgaria, Mali, and several other countries), but I also met myself again. Never did I imagine I would meet so many new aspects of myself when I did. As humans, we are collections of what we’ve been over and through, who we meet and interact with, and the experiences that allowed us to leave parts of ourselves there. My exchange allowed me to pin fragments of myself on walls of cities and towns, trees of parks, and with those that I came to love.
If Home is where the Heart is…
If home is where the heart is, then I found mine in the ashes of the bonfires we danced around. My home is filled with the laughter of my chosen family, and its echoes linger till dawn. Its eyes close shut to the lullabies of their laughs, as do I. My home is in the hugs of those who took me in as their own and sits in the backseat of car rides and sings along to Castle On The Hill by Ed Sheeran. My home is the gas station coffee walks with the girl whose heart is the kindest I’ve met. My home is in the smiles of the people that made sure I never felt alone. It is in pieces all over the town as landmarks of firsts and lasts, and chapters upon chapters of a story I didn’t want to finish reading. If home is where the heart is, my home is not bound by any painted walls or wooden picture frames; it has no ceiling. My home now knows no bounds.
Home, to me, now has no limits. It is not exclusively a collection of rooms with furniture and some doors. My home shape shifts and transforms. It is like liquid matter and takes the shape of whatever I’ve been through, gotten over, and left a footprint in. It is in the people whose eyes were windows to the world and in the winter that didn’t seem to end. My home is in the families I’m grateful to have been a part of, and of the friends and best of friends that I made and will get to keep in my heart and take with me wherever I go. I live in the streets I walked through, and the conversations I held. I live in the memories I and other people have and in the stories I learnt and taught. I no longer only have one home, as I now have countless.
I return to my first home, the place I thought the world of, with a new perspective. Instead of a world familiar like the back of my hand, I have another home that I simply can not hold. It is too big, too vast, and too complex to grasp. It is many different understandings of the universe we live in. It is a compilation of people, places, and things. I forever cherish the fragments of people I was gifted with. I come back having lost pieces of me, as well, as I gave them away to people I found at home. So now, I live in fragments all over the Earth. I hope I remind these people of their home, and I hope they found theirs as beautiful as I found mine. I hope they continue to sing our songs with a smile on their face and memories of home in their mind. I hold fragments of people in my heart forever, and every piece has some home, so I know I am never lost.