I was chatting with our flight attendant for a few minutes—about the flights, the layovers, and which bathroom on the plane had the best baby changing table. Clearly I pronounced some of the words funny cause then he asked me “So, is this your first time in the USA?”
Nah mate, quit taking the piss! I’m a full-on Seppo!
Ok, it’s official: I talk funny. After 5 year in ’straya I now have a mutt of an accent that belongs to a fictional country: Aus-merica. Or Ameri-stralia. It’s an accent that’s just slightly… off. To the Aussies, I’m clearly a Yankee, to the American’s I sound like Crocodile Dundee. My vocabulary is mixed up too: our stroller is a pram, but a petrol station is still a gas station. Cilantro is coriander, but capsicum’s are peppers. Diapers and nappies are interchangeable, and so are most Z’s and S’s.
“Home”, or at least my mailing address, has changed a lot since I went off to college. I’ve had something like 15 addresses in the past decade. Recently I had to make changes to an old banking account, and one of the security questions she asked for was my previous address.
Me: Hmm… ok, Is it a US or Australian address you’re looking for?
Bank Lady: I’m sorry sir, I can’t disclose that information
Me: Ok, No worries… Is it Spencer Street, Melbourne?
Glenferrie Road, Hawthorn?
Elgin Street, Carlton?
No, not that one either.
Maynard Ave, Seattle?
Lake Street, Chicago?
Somewhere in Michigan?
Sir, let’s try a different question. Mother’s maiden name?
For the first couple of years in Melbourne, every time I boarded on a flight to the USA, I was flying “home”. Back the familiar. Unlimited refills, attentive customer service, and driving on the right side of the road. But yesterday, thinking the passenger sits on the left, I almost climbed into the Taxi driver’s seat. Now the familiar is Australia.
Living abroad and traveling around, I often get asked where I’m from. There’s different answers depending on the situation. Last night when the taxi driver asked us, I said “Australia”, mostly cause it was easiest, and 2/3 of our team are Aussie. It’s “The US” if I’m in a hurry, and don’t want to continue the conversation,“Detroit” if I’m trying to be tough, “Michigan” if I’m feeling more friendly, and “Metro-Detroit originally, but I spent some time in Chicago and Seattle before this” if I want to tick all the boxes. But I feel like there should be an easier answer to such a simple question. That being said, “Where are you from?” isn’t as good of a question as “What feels like home?”. Now that’s a real question. And that’s the question that’s been my mind lately.
As fun and adventurous as moving around the world is, it’s also bittersweet and occasionally guilt-inducing. In a marriage between two people from opposite sides of the world, no matter where we choose to live, some of our family will always be a long way away. Every time I get an email about a family reunion, or a thanksgiving dinner, I feel a twinge of guilt knowing we’ll miss out on it again.
But moving around has its perks, too.
I have no junk. Everything I own has been repeatedly pruned. It’s easier to resist buying things now because I’ve had to say goodbye to furniture, clothes, and wall decorations over and over again. The things I own no longer define me, not my plates, or dinner table, or my desk (all Ikea). Living a life with less stuff means focusing more on relationships, and life, and saving for trips like this.
At the moment we’re in Chile, a country where I’ve never been, and barely speak enough Spanish to get by. Our phones don’t work, I only have enough clothes to last about a week, and I’m still not sure how to get home from the grocery store. And yet, this quirky little Airbnb in the middle of Santiago is starting to feel like home.
I guess home isn’t really a place anymore. It’s people. It’s a venn diagram with Richenda and Ashna in the middle, and a bunch of circles that include the Vermeulens and Ibrahims and Miralles and Al-Jawads and lifelong friends in New York, Seattle, Chicago and London. It’s eating prawns on the Gold Coast at Christmas, and watching the Lions lose in Detroit. It’s little moments, here and there, with different combinations of siblings, parents, relatives, and friends. The reunions are beautiful. The goodbyes suck. But no matter where I wake up, as long as Richenda is by my side, and Ash is close enough for me to hear her cry, that’s home. I love that. And I wouldn’t trade it for the world.