The reality of coming back home after being a solo female nomad
Before I set about to return to my home country, the island on which I was born, I had to prepare myself psychologically. While being nomadic is fascinating and exhilarating, the return to your home country entails a good dose of feeling misunderstood and suffering from post-trip depression.
The first time I returned home after three years of living overseas, I came back to a shock – I had lost my most secure foundation in life (my parents were getting a divorce!). I had to brush aside the fact that the timing was not appropriate to show my desert safari pictures nor tell them about my funny observations as an expat or even my new allergy. I felt invisible, as if I was coming back home to a family that cannot see me. If this is what being a ghost feels like, then I’ve had my share of being one. Mind you, they were not trying to exclude me or make me feel like an outsider. It’s just how it is after returning home from a period of travel or living overseas.
Being nomadic and growth
To give you a bit of context, I was an expat as well as a slow traveller in over ten different countries (and think that number is too low). When I left my home country (Mauritius), I was a sheltered, spoiled princess. I did not know how to make my bed, boil an egg or make toast. I frankly had everything done for me by my parents. Did I need washing done? They’d do it. Did I need my dress ironed before a party? Here’s Mum to the rescue. Did I need some extra cash because I just blew my entire salary on a pair of Giorgio Armani sunglasses? No problem, just ask Dad.
Over the years of being away from home, I grew in many areas. My lack of doing household chores when I was little was suddenly filled with domestic goddess skills. Your dishes can only pile up so much before you decide to get into a habit of doing them immediately after you’ve cooked your meal. Same can be said about craving your parent’s home-cooking. I learned to make every single dish I enjoyed eating, especially a really delicious lasagna.
Being away from your home – as does travelling solo – makes you grow in such a short space of time. It enables you to see things from different perspectives as you mingle with people from other cultures, nationalities, beliefs and language. Things get lost in translation, or you realize how offensive you can sound like, you begin to pay more attention to social etiquette and being more courteous than usual in foreign places. You learn to fend for yourself and grow into an independent person. You start to consider yourself more as a global citizen as you begin to deepen your understanding of humankind. We all have the same basic needs. We love, we get hurt, we are scared, we laugh and we bleed, just the same no matter where we’re born.
Coming back home after being a solo female nomad
When I return home, I carry with me pieces of different other countries I consider ‘home’ too. These pieces are deeply etched within me and have made me who I am today. Maybe I cut my fruits like the French, love pasta all day like the Italians and have got moves like Latinas. Various cultural traits have been picked up along the way to shape my own culture. That of being a nomad.
Coming back home, I realize these things:
- I come back to one nation. There’s one community where everything is described as being “Mauritian”. Mauritian time, Mauritian food, Mauritian girls, Mauritian boys…
- My family doesn’t ask much about my nomadic journey. They don’t ask how many square meters my apartment is, what colour my kettle was or where I buy my kitchen utensils. They don’t know what art I had in my living room. It’s not that they don’t care, it simply doesn’t come to mind I guess. They ask for the big picture of my life, not the details, not what makes up my day-to-day living.
- The ‘honeymoon’ only lasts for a few days. When I first arrive, everyone texts and calls to see me and make plans with me. And then the spark dies down, and they all go back to their routine, to their usual habits, they have a life to get back to.
- You feel forgotten by friends. The friends you’ve left in other parts of the world will do their best to keep in touch and slowly, their emails and calls wane, leaving you with memories to cling to. The old friend you have (from your home country) will also have the enthusiasm of seeing you and spending time with you decrease after reaching a peak. You’ll find yourself wishing they’d include you when they go see their granny, when they go to that new restaurant or this open day festival or whatever event they are attending. Sometimes, you find yourself going to that very same event alone while they are there with their (other) friends. They don’t choose to ignore you – I guess you’ve been so long outside of their circle, that you don’t immediately come to mind or perhaps they don’t know if you’d be keen to join them. Besides, remember that part I mentioned above about people’s routine?
- You don’t want to share too many stories about your life. How can you speak of the food you ate in those other countries and the things you’ve done without sounding like a brag? How do you say it in such a way that it doesn’t feel you’re dissing your home country? (that’s not your intention at all). Caught up in not wanting to sound like a pretentious person nor a secretive person, where’s the balance? How much do you say and how much do you omit? Also, talking to people who’ve never left their country is trickier as they can’t compare to anywhere else. Talking to other travellers, nomads at least gives them some other points of references which they can draw from.
- You miss home even though you are (technically) home. Because home to you means here and everywhere else you’ve lived, stayed, made friends in. Home is a feeling or emotion, not always a physical space.
- You feel like a foreigner in your home country. No matter how many times you’ve walked down Royal Road in Port-Louis before, you still somehow get lost and have to stop to ask for directions. (Or maybe I’m bad at reading maps).
- People don’t know what you know or don’t know and can be awkward around you. At times, I’ll be with another one of my Mauritian peeps, and he will start explaining something about the population of the country, then realize mid-sentence that of course she must know that, she’s from here too. And then the conversation will die right here, unless I pick it up again and steer in another topic. The reverse can be true, for someone asking me to do something simple (like buy gas) and then I find myself asking 20 questions before doing so, only to finally explain “I’ve never had to do this before, so how exactly does this work?”.
- Homesickness doesn’t stop when you’re back in your home country. Your heart longs for other countries you’ve lived in and locals you’ve spent time with. Your heart aches for communities you’ve been part of (and still consider yourself part of, for you will return someday). You miss your flat, your home, your road, your grocery store (yes, ALL of the ones you’ve occupied, been to, that means the one in Switzerland, the one in Turkey, the one in South Africa and so on).
- It will take time. Time to cure your homesickness. Time to make new friends. Tme to find your feet again. Time to get used to your new surroundings. Time to get familiar with what used to be so familiar in the past and yet feels so strange now. Time to get accustomed with your old habits and routine. Time to remember what you used to be before you left.
Have you ever returned to your home country after a period of travelling or living overseas? What was your experience like? How did you cope? Feel free to share with me below!