“Everyone of us is losing something precious to us. Lost opportunities, lost possibilities, feelings we can never get back again. That’s part of what it means to be alive. But inside our heads—at least that’s where I imagine it—there’s a little room where we store those memories. A room like the stacks in this library. And to understand the workings of our own heart we have to keep on making new reference cards. We have to dust things off every once in a while, let in fresh air, change the water in the flower vases. In other words, you’ll live forever in your own little private library.” – Haruki Murakami
“Welcome back, Ms. Krystalli,” pronounced the US Border Patrol official at LAX, after sniffing the Guatemalan coffee I was carrying and questioning me about my Middle Eastern meanderings. And thus commenced 48 hours of disorientation.
I know how to bucket shower and spot a spider in the dark in the Amazon, but I apparently fail at existing within the United States. One of the starkest differences to my lifestyle in conflict and post-conflict zones is that in the United States there is an abundance of choice – and it mutes my ability to choose. It takes me two minutes to order coffee: tall, venti, non-fat, extra sprinkles, cinnamon on top? It takes me another two minutes to pay for anything: debit? credit? donate a dollar to the children’s hospital? cash back? confirm your purchase? Even the bank was baffled by my new patterns, blocking my card when I bought the same bottle of wine that nursed my friends and me through college. Apparently, Bank of America is more accustomed to my purchasing cholera medication than rose wine.
On the road, people have often asked me if I am homesick. The truth is, I miss every home. When I am at a salsa bar in Los Angeles, I miss dancing on tables in Guatemala, or flamenco night in Colombia, or blackening my lungs one sheesha puff at a time in Cairo. It is almost as though the nostalgia has neutralized homesickness for any particular home. Thus, returning to the United States may mean that I have been eating like a 13-year-old hormonal boy with growing pains, but there has been no associated sense of relief, no sense that I am “back where I belong.”
A friend recently shared with me his obsession with the Spanish verb ‘volver’, which means to return, to go back. Returns are glorified. The Greek concept of ‘nostos’, the root of the word nostalgia, implies that there is a yearning for home bases, a romanticization of the return. Homer did not devote as much ink to the disorientation after the journey, or the danger that the voyager has fallen in love with other ports, other homes, others along the way. There is a profound disorientation to being back. It does not necessarily rob the return of its charm or its joys, but it makes me wonder if I will miss every place I have lived and loved like a home, if I will always be some kind of nostalgic, if I will always be reminiscing, looking forward and thinking of the homes that would have been.