I have been home for the last five months. The longest I have been at home over the last decade. I use the term home rather pensively and maybe even a little awkwardly. Home to me has always been a a transient concept and is an ambiguous place most times. Most people identify home as the place that they were born and most likely grew up. This is usually one particular place. So what do you call home if your upbringing has been a nomadic one? If all your life you have never lived in one place for an extended period of time. Lately I have been musing on this rather incessantly. I have asked myself “What does home mean?” Where is home?” For most people these are simple questions. For me?, not so simple.
One thing I can definitely identify with is as a Zimbabwean. I was fortunate due to my father’s career as a hotelier to have lived in many different parts of the country. Albeit mostly in hotels. By the time I was eighteen which was the time I left Zimbabwe to go and study in Australia for my university education I had already called Harare,Victoria Falls, Troutbeck, Bulawayo, Hwange, Kariba, Masvingo, , Mutare, and Juliasdale home. I lived in all those places for at least a year at a time. I had a rich Zimbabwean experience growing up. Home for me has never been one particular physical address, but instead it has always been a transient place. The only constant being my family. Home is where my family is.
My parents now live in the Eastern Highlands town of Mutare in Zimbabwe. Mutare is also referred to as ‘Kuma komo yo’ in the manyika dialect of the Shona language which loosely translates to ‘in the mountains’. It is a small town where it often seems like everyone knows each. I don’t know anyone. Which is why I sometimes feel awkward calling it home. The reason being I only lived here during my gap year between high school and university. But it is the place that my parents have called home for the last decade. This place I have hardly lived is home. Home is where my family is.
Whilst some might look at all the moving around as a source of instability for my young mind I look at It differently. It was as an enriching experience and a big factor in cultivating my open mindedness. It has allowed me to adapt to different environments relatively smoothly. It might also explain my commitment issues, but let’s not get into that. That’s a whole different blog. What I know is that the man I am today is a product of all the experiences I had growing up in different places all over Zimbabwe and the ideologies I carved out for myself as an adult.
I spent a major part of my twenties living in Australia. A period I slowly came into my own as a man. Australia is where I spent all my university years, the place where I got my first job, paid my first bill and experienced my first heartbreak. Just about everyone I call a friend I met in Australia. Australia is the place that, when my parents visited for my graduation they finally told me the story of how they met. It is the place I saw them go on dates and first viewed them as lovers and not just parents. It is the place I first bought my Dad a six pack of beer. Most of my adult memories are safely tucked away down under. So if home is a place filled with some of your best memories then ‘I still call Australia home’.
I haven’t lived in Australia since the end of 2010. I briefly moved back to Zimbabwe for a few months before packing up and moving to Cape Town, South Africa for work. I have called the Mother City home for the last two years. With Cape Town it was love at first sight. This is because as a place and for the struggling culture vulture in me Cape Town has many similarities to Melbourne. There also happens to be a lot of Zimbabweans living in Cape Town. Nine times out of ten, if I am in bar or I take a cab I can get away with ordering a drink or chatting to the cab driver in my mother tongue Shona. Cape Town is also the place that has nurtured the writer in me. Most Capetonians fancy themselves creative’s at heart. So I guess for me it was a case of when in Cape Town, you do what the Capetonians do.
Whilst it might seem like I struggle with a sense of belonging and I do ask myself “Where do I belong?” I still consider myself fortunate to not only just visit, but to have called so many places home. I have had the privilege to have had my primary and secondary education in Zimbabwe, which at the time had the best education system in Africa by far. My world view has greatly been enhanced by the opportunity to study and work in the Diaspora (especially when juxtaposed with the perilous state of my beloved Zimbabwe for most of the naughties)
The politics and complexities of what home means aside, I’ve found ‘belonging’ and being familiar with different places has made my life richer. I‘ve had a deep insight into different cultures. I’m aware of their points of tension and area of overlap. My perspectives and experiences have a width and depth they would otherwise lack. Ultimately growing up in different places has taught me the lesson that all people have more in common than they believe. We all seek the same things, love, acceptance and security. We simply have different methods of pursuing our aims. If a person is good (or bad) it is not because of their culture or nation of origin, it is in spite of it.
I remember growing up and cringing at some of my parents idiosyncrasies. Exhibit A; my parents named a cow I inherited from my late grandmother Bendigo, after the university town I initially studied in. Exhibit B; our family dog is called Toorak, after the Melbourne suburb I was living in when my parents visited. I had no say in the naming of either. When I m not cringing at such trivialities I often look back and marvel at why my parents have achieved. These are two individuals who came from broken and disadvantaged homes but have still managed to build a respectable life. Both my parents grew up in the then Rhodesia and never went to university. Still they made great sacrifices to send me to a world class university at a time when it was easier not to. They did this through hustle, determination, tenacity, belief and vision. My parents have not only given me a better life. They have given me many homes that are and mean many things to me.
So that question again. Where is home? … Home is where my family is. Home is where some of my best memories are. Home is every place I have lived.
I am a Zimbabwean, but I still call Australia home.