An hour ago I was fresh and clean.
This scenario plays out about twice a month. I travel a lot for work. Every chance I get, I travel for pleasure as well. Sometimes I like to combine the two. I probably travel too much but who’s to say what’s too much. Last month it was Sierra Leone, now it is Canada, later this month it will be Lebanon and Jordan (but that one’s for pleasure!), and then the day we get back, we’re on a plane to Nigeria.
Whenever I am in transit I find myself considering my identity, my place, my cultural constructs of the world. Where do I belong?
I’m looking down at myself. My t-shirt was bought in Houston while at an Oil & Gas exhibition. My jeans were bought last year on the trip to the PDAC show in Toronto. My shoes were bought when down in South Africa last year for a wedding. We got my watch in Los Angeles on Rodeo Drive (which was a bit surreal). My laptop from a mall in Germany, my phone on a trip through Dubai.
Living in Ghana, where adventures with local salons have led to disaster*, I even have a hairdresser in Dubai! Go to her every time I’m passing through. I think that might be an indication that I travel too much.
This trip is taking me via Heathrow, back ‘home’ to Canada. The term ‘home’ doesn’t really fit into my reality. Though Toronto is my birthplace and I grew up in the surrounding suburbs, I have lived in a completely different world for close to 15 years. I’ve spent 14 of the 22 years of my adult life (that’s 63%), on another continent in a world so far away on so many levels. My concerns are not the concerns of anyone I know in Canada. My day to day reality, something so different, so removed. And now that has become the norm for me.
I think the day I first realized the extent of my alienation was when I arrived at Pearson International some years ago, carried along by the drowsy crowds of arriving passengers, and noticed acutely the accents of the immigration officers. I picked up the certain nuances that characterize a Canadian accent - something I didn’t realize existed before I left her shores.
In the expat world of Ghana, I spend time amongst Ghanaians, Nigerians, British, Germans, Jordanians, Polish, Lebanese, South Africans, Americans, Spanish, Italians, French - and the odd Canadian.
For now, that life is home. Our house, a 70’s monstrosity, was once the Libyan Embassy. With company furniture and a few local nick nacks, we have no sentimental connection. Our next home will be a boat, and we will take it where our whims carry us.
Over past few years, whenever I arrive back in Toronto I find that I’ve lost the connection to the city. It has become like so many others – arrive one week, notice the new buildings, smell the unfamiliar air, off to another destination the next week.
With an outsider’s eye, the city no longer feels comfortable. It has no spark, no recognizable beauty. It is a suburb. Life goes on here, mothers take their kids to school in their 4x4s, each neighborhood has it’s chain store mall, the sidewalks are straight and the grass is cut. There are laws and rules and things work. Elevators go up and down, water comes from the taps. In winter a grey hue descends and covers everything. It wills people to hibernate against it’s grizzly embrace. In summer it is peeled away and people live more each day for those few ‘thawed’ months, when the sun visits.
All of this is a foreign world to me. At ‘home’ in Accra I dodge potholes in the road, look away at traffic lights, as the beggars push their thin babies to the car window. I argue with the house cleaner/cook about putting mint instead of basil in the spaghetti sauce and for forgetting that bleach isn’t to be used on the coloured clothes… I worry about the generator not starting or the water supply being cut off for weeks. I worry about the malaria spreading mosquitos every night when we’re out past 6pm. I consider 26 degrees celcius a cold day and 38 degrees a hot day – and I can expect the average temperature all year to be 30 to 34…
11 hours have passed and I’m in another airport. I’m surrounded by a whirlwind of colour and sound – undecipherable chatter and coats and bags and parcels and the swoosh of late passengers dashing toward gates.
I sit quietly and am very aware of myself as one among the many. Just another passenger headed to another destination.
But my trip is not like any other. I happen to be heading to Toronto. Though I don’t live there anymore, it is my family that draws me back. I am lulled by their welcoming arms at the airport. The delight and excitement in my mother’s eyes when she first catches sight of me among the crowd. I am attracted to the nostalgia, to the din of the family’s chatter on a Sunday afternoon, while my sister cooks up a gourmet meal. There is a tenderness and a level of comfort that has no equal. When I am back in Ghana I keep the memories of these visits in a place deep within me. Mementos. They remind me what the term home actually means.