Undoubtedly, one of the best parts of living in a different country is the newness of everything. A step around a corner leads to an undiscovered building, a new vista, or some beautiful landmark unseen with your eyes. A plate ordered at a restaurant unlocks flavors unbeknownst to your taste buds, a trip to the verdulería presents mysterious fruits. Trips around the block still require a map and pieces of conversations become humorous mistranslations as your new language develops. The wandering street dogs, the noisy buses, the distinct smell of the grocery store, the television shows, the wacky fashion, and even the models of cars add to your sense that things are different. You have a new house, a new job, new friends, new customs, a new life.
But what happens when the novelty starts to become reality, when your new life starts to feel less like a vacation and more like the routines you left? Nostalgia for something comforting from your old life kicks in: homesickness.
Everyone is bound to be homesick at some point. It might last for an hour or hang around for a few days, and it might be a subtle frustration or a debilitating depression. I’m fortunate that I haven’t (yet) suffered much sadness nor longing; I like to believe that my sense of adventure and open-mindedness has made my transition fairly easy. It may help that I can be like a sugar-infused six-year-old and be easily distracted by fun and wondrous things. Traveling provides both. I haven’t been completely immune to a bit of homesickness, though.
I miss the obvious things, like friends and family, my favorite restaurants, and a lot of the things that made my house feel like home (my dear couch, how I wish you were sitting in my living room right now- I’m tired of watching movies in bed). I miss the familiarity of the Pacific Northwest weather systems. Out of everything I left when moving, there is but a handful of unique things that I often find myself pining for:
- My backyard. It might have triggered my hay-fever and was sometimes a festering mess of pernicious blackberry runners, but I loved having that huge buffer between my house and the neighbors’. It was a refuge in the summer, large enough to play frisbee or toss a tennis ball for the dogs. The mature apple trees made for a lovely, shady thicket perfect for a hammock while the lilac and mint scented the spring and summer breezes. I particularly miss the cherry tree with the droopy branch that provided yummy fruits. I sometimes can’t help but think it would be a welcome change to my current “backyard” of the massive Avenida 9 de Julio.
But only sometimes. I will be the first to admit that I hated mowing that lawn, and I need to take an allergy pill just thinking about all the pollen. I now take advantage of the parks and open spaces in Buenos Aires when I crave more space than my balcony provides.
- My bicycles. OK, I really only had one working bike by the time I moved (what, you don’t have four partially disassembled bikes in your place?). I not only miss the bikes themselves, but I also miss the act of riding. I was able to head out with only a lock and my wallet for a day of carefree riding, or to clip on my rear panniers and lug home 30 or 40 pounds of groceries. I commuted in the spring hail, the summer heatwaves, the fall winds, and the winter rain. I even rode when it snowed. Maybe you, too, can attest to the freedom a bicycle indulges.
I used to complain about the traffic and terrible drivers in Eugene; I can’t tell you how many times I was almost hit by a car (or a camper, once). Now I am a little scared of walking and considerably terrified of riding in Buenos Aires. Vehicles, motorcycles, and bicycles weave and accelerate in a mind-blowing, chaotic way. Traffic flows must have a special way of communicating that I have not yet deciphered, much like bees in a hive. Someday I will be brave (or stupid) and put my butt back in my favorite Brooks saddle.
I sacrificed some space in my three bags of earthly belongings for some homesickness-busting artifacts. I managed to bring a largish framed picture, a few trinkets and even a couple of my favorite coffee mugs. Yes, I hauled three mugs eight thousand miles andthey survived. On my second trip to Argentina, a few months before I made the big move, I even crammed a full-sized quilt into my carry-on backpack (and the only bag I brought, other than my laptop case). There is, however, one item that remains on my list, and it’s not even an item- it’s a creature:
- My dog Daphne, a two-year old Boxer mix full of spunk. She was a perfect cuddle buddy, unless in bed, where she had no sense of personal space; and an amazing running partner, able to beautifully heel in place and turn on command. She was very intelligent, frequently hilarious, and always ornery. Daphne was a 45-pound, booger-eyed hellion. I swear that she would look at me and see into my soul. Sadly, though not regretfully, I had to find her a new home in the States rather than bring her with me. A small, sixth-floor apartment on the edge of Microcentrois not a suitable home for a dog of her cleverness and energy level.
While a backyard is something I can do without and a favorite bike is substitutable, a cherished furry companion is never merely replaceable (I also gave up fat-cat Zeke and midget-hamster Gouda). Nothing makes me feel homesick quite like petting an urban street-dog waiting at an intersection or seeing a couple on a walk with their four-legged family member. I often dream of Daphne’s spindly legs poking me in the back while napping, and I get lost in memories of coming home to a mess of destruction, like the times she shredded the couch or pulled everything (bread, a bag of sugar, a knife, a pan of roast chicken drippings) off the kitchen counters. I inevitably come out of my revere and look around wistfully, waiting for my beloved and absent wet-nosed nuzzle.
There are still plenty of new things for me to experience here and elsewhere; there always will be, no matter how long I live in one place or how many places I travel to. Nothing, though, will be able to replace the homesickness in my heart for Daphne, my first dog loved and lost.