I’ve lately been wondering what determines whether one lives in a particular place. Is it official status and whether or not you have a residence permit? Is it a name on a lease? Your own bed? Keys? Is it the length of time spent there so far? If so, is it how long you’ve already spent there or how much longer you plan to be there? Is it the ease with which you can give directions or navigate the area? Is it employment status? Paying taxes? Having friends? Food? Language?

In terms of length of time, I’ve only been in Pune for eight weeks out of the last three and a half months. Yet we live there for all intents and purposes. All of our paperwork says so. But if we go by paperwork, we are also technically living in a tiny, tiny village in the Black Forest of Germany at the moment, since we’re registered with the local municipality. It’s only for a few weeks, but since it’s for a little bit more than tourism, there are such formalities like this that need to be taken care of in Germany.

If we talk about the visceral feelings of knowing you’re “at home”, there are a few things I can think of that contribute to this. In New York, I would always be paranoid about making sure that I always kept the following items on me when leaving the house: phone, wallet, keys. In that order. Ritually chanting to myself as I put on my shoes and head out the door: “phone, wallet, keys”. In my mind, if you had at least one of these, then you could at least be that much closer to accessing the others. (If I even came out of the house with any single one of these, my phone for example, then I could either call TA and tell him I forgot my keys or wallet and coordinate the day accordingly. Or if I only had my wallet and forgot my phone or keys, I could still get to work with my MetroCard without too much hassle. But all three was golden.) Phone, wallet, keys. One might think of them as a form of security, or even call it one’s “life”. So yes, these items are pretty important and such a pain in the butt to lose and then to replace. So, phone, wallet, keys.

Yet after landing in a different country, these things instantly become obsolete. Your phone loses connection. Your money is no good. Your keys are useless.

And so you walk around with nothing on you.

I used to work in a shelter for homeless young moms, where keys were power. The fact was, the person who held the keys was the one in charge. In charge of being able to let someone into their bedroom, the private place where the rest their head at night. It sounds twisted and disturbing, and it is. You don’t want to be on either side of that. So imagine the sense of security one has once she has her own keys to her own space in her own hands. A place to call one’s own.

This is not at all the same situation, but the point is that the physical things that signal that you have your own place actually make a difference in how secure you feel in that place. In Germany, we had luckily found an apartment before arriving, so keys were immediately in our hand once we got there. But to pay the landlord we needed euros. But to access euros we needed a bank account, plus a residence permit. But to open a bank account we also needed euros, plus a phone number, plus a residence permit. To get a phone number we also needed euros, etc. (We decided not to get a mobile phone and instead used TA’s office phone for things that really needed one.) Do you see what I’m getting at?

In India, it was (and still is) so much more convoluted. A headache and a half, and it’s still far from over. In fact, I don’t think it’ll ever really be over. But we’re there! And we live there, even if we’re not there. And slowly, one by one you acquire these things: the phone (which is needed for virtually everything), the wallet (started out with just a few rupees), the keys.

So in one sense, Pune is home. But it’s not where we’re from or where we’re going. It’s being foreign anywhere and making friends everywhere. It’s being able to laugh at yourself and others in any universally ridiculous situation. So I guess home is really where you feel comfortable. (Getting used to constant discomfort and change counts, too.) If you’re lucky, it’s where you don’t need to explain yourself. In this crazy journey of always being on the move, we’ve gotten to make good friends, and the way this is set up, we’re never in any one place long very long. So life is a lot of things right now, but it’s mostly missing people.

 

P.S. I’ve recently started an Instagram (@abenteuerpig) so you might see some different photos there, too!

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