Home is my four-letter word.
A bicultural life will do that to a person. Born in America and married to a Burundian, my life exists on two continents. I juggle two passports per family member when we travel, own more than a dozen suitcases stuffed in closets both here and there, even my library’s split between shelves thousands of miles apart.
You might think bicultural living to be exotic and exciting, providing adventure at every turn. But I’m not now, nor ever have been, possessed by wanderlust. I don’t crave cultural intrigue as much as the simple comfort of home – a good book, good meal with my good man across the table.
I’m not what you’d call a ‘natural expat’ by any stretch. When I’m in Burundi during the summer I wear wedges and jeans unlike the missionaries in flats and flowing skirts. I can be found holed up in our apartment for days reading commentaries and such instead of climbing into a jeep in my khakis and boots to go up-country like the NGO workers. And since I’m not credentialed by the Foreign Service I don’t run with the diplomatic crowd, either. I am wife to a Burundian social entrepreneur. I know while connected to this place I am not fully at home in it.
Sometimes Claude travels to the US with us, other times he stays behind to continue the community development work we do among our Batwa friends. My daughter’s special needs require a school stateside so I spend the academic year in Arizona functioning as a single mom. I love returning to America; I hate leaving him behind.
I exhale each time I land in the States again, wonderfully repatriated. I regain mobility as I grab the keys and get in the car. I can understand the language, the culture and the nuances of it all – this place is mine. I’m home.
But home’s something less when Claude’s not present for the shared meals, tandem parenting and impromptu kitchen waltzes. Thankfully skype allows daily chats so each story gets told, each laugh rings in the ear, ‘I love you’s echoing across the vast distance. But nothing replaces nearness. My homeland, minus home, feels like mere land without him.
Living apart for months at a time hurts. A life split between two places stretches us taut and sometimes pops a seam or two. Back and forth, sometimes together but sometimes apart, holidays here but summers there… the constant motion and changing configurations of our family life force flexibility usually reserved for nomads or itinerant preachers. But it’s not what aches most.
Home is a four-letter word because it is a place Claude and I cannot inhabit fully together.
His home is Burundi. On the red soil and among the rolling hills of green tea fields, through knotted traffic jams in Bujumbura and in cafes with his fast-speaking friends he is the fullest version of himself. He’s utterly breath taking.
I watch him walk with our Batwa friends. They trust him with their dreams and he shares in their dances and together they are restoring neighborhoods with God drenched hope. His friends might be poor, but together they’re so rich. He’s doing what he’s meant to do, he’s where he belongs. This is home for Claude. I can see it – even celebrate it.
I just cannot say it’s my home. I cannot pretend. He knows as well as I do that my home is America. I can navigate here – in language, on roads, with schoolteachers. This is where I feel most me.
So it is an annual cry for me, tears over a sense of home that we don’t share. We’ve built this amazing life together. Our work brims with significance. Our children are deeply loved. Our connection – undeniable. I weep with a sense of guilt – I should be at home in Burundi, too. But despite my affinity for the shore of Lake Tanganyika, it is not my home. It’s not our home – but his.
I long for a place in this world, a plot of land where we can both be at home. I want a great place for our great life. My broken hallelujah is a bittersweet sense of home.