Tag Archives Homesickness

Feeling ill in a foreign country (and generally being tired and irritable)

Un animal.
Un animal.
(Honestly, no idea what.) Prevost’s Squirrel.

I remember the night when I was first homesick. It was a summer evening, reasonably warm but not hot. I was nine-years-old and for whatever reason I had decided that I did not want to hang out with my close friend and tent companion who was, for whatever reason, that night annoying me. We hadn’t fallen out exactly. I’m so anti-confrontation it has always been rare for me to fall out with anyone. However, that evening I just wanted to be left alone. In fact, I wanted to be at home and alone, not in a huge field of hundreds of kids supposedly having a jolly good time.

It sucked.

What’s more, I felt like I couldn’t really tell anyone as it didn’t fit the image I had of myself. I’d already decided that I wasn’t the sort of person who was homesick, and yet I felt that deep longing for being wrapped up in my own duvet. Being nine, I didn’t have to worry much about what I was going to fill my remaining hours with. There was a stage show that evening, and I sat quietly and picked at the grass waiting for it to end. But it did end. We went to bed, and the next moment I awoke hungry for breakfast and eager to enjoy the day, safe in the knowledge that I would soon be home and I had survived the dreaded weakness that is homesickness.

Perhaps homesickness is an inevitable part of travelling

It happens, I think, when the demands of your environment bringyour base line stress above a certain point. For some people it happens soonerthan others. Mostly I think, depending on how much you rely on your environment for comfort.

I’ve had a busy few weeks

Last weekend I went out to a concert, then played pool with a friend and her friends in a local bar, drank tequila with slices of orange, sprinkled with cinnamon and gummy sweets (because that is what one does here apparently) and collapsed into bed at five in the morning. In England this might be considered a wild night out, here in Spain it’s early. The next day was an alternative paella (pasta instead of rice but cooked in the traditional paella fashion) to celebrate a birthday. The next day was a pre-lunch drink, which turned into a rather extended cheese and wine tasting afternoon.

It’s autumn, the weather is changing, and I work at a school in a foreign country. Unsurprisingly, I’m now tired, grumpy and have a streaming cold which is developing into an aggravating cough. My nose glows.

Meanwhile, life goes on

I’m battling the need for clean clothes, multiple meals a day and am still chasing Spanish bureaucracy. Understandably, I crave my own feather duvet. There’s something comparatively dissatisfying about layers of sheets and blankets. Even if they are your own sheets. I also crave the vocabulary to whinge about this cold, as my Spanish hasn’t yet developed as far as illnesses.

Whilst I’m being grumpy at myself, I’m wondering if it’s appropriate to ask one’s parents to vacuum pack one’s duvet and bring it in a plane, and I’m craving custard.

My highly analytical brain believes this to be ridiculous

There is a part of me, which having had quite so much therapy, points out that custard and duvets, like shopping and chocolate, aren’t really the solutions that they might initially feel like. What I need is some self-soothing. I need to come to terms with the reality that I’m tired and ill and living in a far-off land which means my body’s stress level is uncomfortably high.

I buy a cork board and pin pictures of people from home on it, entwining my little lights around the coloured pins.

But that ever so English taste of custard…

I buy eggs, the ones with a picture of a hen surrounded by grass in the hope that this means that they are free-range. And then I proceed to make custard. You can, I discover, make a chocolate cake in a mug using only the egg whites. It takes less than two minutes of microwave time. I mix up the batter whilst the lactose-free full-fat milk comes to a simmer, filling the kitchen with the scent of vanilla. What I’m going to do with the rest of the carton of milk I have no idea, I haven’t planned that far ahead. I couldn’t find cornflour in the little local supermarket, and so I beat self-raising flour into my bright orange egg yolks. At least, I think it’s self-raising because there’s a picture of a cake on the packet, although it reads as ‘biscuit flour’.

I measure nothing, and yet, miraculously, it all comes together

Curled up on the sofa, I eat chocolate sponge and home-made custard, nose still dripping, but feeling reasonably content with myself. I am, I know, feeling a little homesick. However, I also know that it’s okay to feel this way, and soon, I’ll be back to learning more about this crazy, wonderful life I’m living.

A story of homesickness

homesick

I was reminded of this story when I noticed that the kitchen table in Modena was the twin of the one I ‘borrowed’ from my sister and temporarily used in my bedroom in Yorkshire as a desk.

Grand-mère, from France, told the story to me in her kitchen as she was cooking dinner. I am lucky that here, in Italy, I suffer from very little homesickness. Skype and instant messaging help. But there are many times where I’ve sat in a crowded room and felt the odd one out.

Once upon a time…

Once, when she was younger, she met a young African man at a party. She’d seen him before and noted how cheerful and optimistic he appeared, but this time was different. He seemed visibly upset. Grand-mère asks to how he was. Lost and homesick came the response. Everyone else seemed to belong to the environment, but to him it felt unusual. The party mood had swept everyone else up, but he’d somehow been left behind. He felt the ache of disconnection. These people had different houses to what he was used to, their clothes were different, the way they touched was different. They spoke of experiences to which he couldn’t relate.

It was a big house. So Grand-mère suggested the man take himself away for a moment. There was plenty of space to go and take a moment of privacy to deal with the torment he was feeling inside him. Maybe a little quiet would help with the acute overwhelm.

A little while later he reappeared amid the party with a broad smile. He sought Grand-mère out and she was delighted to see his face glowing, but intrigued as to what had cause his transformation?

He explained that he’d begun to explore the house, and had come across the kitchen. It was here he’d realised that despite many things being different in France, not all were. In a pot on the kitchen side he’d found home, it took the shape of a simple wooden spoon. And it was this simple wooden tool that would have been just as in place in his mother’s kitchen as it was in this alien French chateau that had brought a smile to his face.

My tiny moments of familiarity

When I heard the story for the first time, I thought it was funny. None-the-less, in my life, I’m continually amazed at how such tiny moments of familiarity can bridge the gap between this unusual environment and the one that I traditionally call home. Here near Naples, in the room in which I now sit, there’s a print in a simple white frame hanging on the wall. I have a postcard in my bedroom at home of the same picture. Behind me, on the windowsill, there’s a plant pot I know from IKEA.

Let’s hope that the next time you’re homesick, you’ll find your wooden spoon.