Where the heart is
Posted by Yacoob on August 29, 2010
They say that home is where the heart is; and in my case, the saying certainly rings true. You see, this weekend, I’ll be moving homes, insha-Allah – and the impending move has inspired reflections on the homes I’ve had throughout my life.
As I think about the places I’ve lived, I realise that – for the most part – each home has really been where my heart is. I’m a “home body” – someone who loves their home and stays in it a lot. I’ve never been the kind of person to go out a lot; and given the choice, I’d rather be at home. It’s comfortable, relaxing, and I can enjoy myself just as much – most of the time – as I would by being ‘out’ (although going out also has its perks).
I’ve lived in 8 different homes over the course of my life, and each has a special place in my heart.
My first memories of ‘home’ are set in a small, one-bedroom flat in Durban. I think it was my parents’ first home away from their own parents (i.e. once they moved out on their own). The memories are vague and unclear – from climbing out of my cot in the middle of the night (into my parents’ bed – which was right next to the cot); to the TV shows we’d watch on a Monday night (such as The A-Team and Knight Rider); to having to be bribed with sweets in order to get eat my porridge or get my nails cut. (Which may explain why I grew up as a sweet addict ;).
Next up, probably before I started school, we built this huge house in the same area – which was filled with hills and valleys, and what seemed like never-ending sunshine. The house was massive to me, and the way it was structured made it somewhat exciting yet at the same time scary (especially at night). Those were probably my favourite childhood years – whose memories are overwhelmingly filled with peace, warmth, and a feeling of safety. We had a big garden in the back, and someone had told me that under one of the paved parts, there was an Anaconda. (Probably my older brother – he liked to scare me). I was always scared of that area – worried that the massive snake would awake one day. It never did (obviously – since it wasn’t even real!), but we did have a snake come up a plumbing pipe once – into the bathroom. That was scary – and I’ve always been terrified of snakes and reptiles. But that fear didn’t stop my cousin and I, who, one time, threw stones at a chameleon that was on the wall between our house and the neighbour. (We had massive lizards in and around that house). We didn’t realise that the stones were hitting the neighbours’ roof / wall – and we said nothing when she came out wondering what was going on.
A few years before High School, we moved again – to a house in a formerly white neighbourhood It was classified as such under Apartheid, and when the seller found out our race, I think he tried to pull out of the deal or something (I don’t know the details).
The place was very convenient in terms of schools, shopping, and facilities in the area. For me, the best part of that period and home was the outside activities. We’d spend hours and hours playing in the yard – cricket, soccer, and even tennis (though the space wasn’t big enough). And there was a field near by – which we played cricket matches on; as well as tennis courts, which we spent many, many hours on. One time, we played until after sunset – we tried to squeeze as much game time as we could before we couldn’t see anymore. I knew it was time to go when I was chased by a bat (there were fruit bats, I think, in the trees around there). I ran so hard from that thing, and decided if it got near my, I was going to swot it with my tennis racquet. Thankfully, I never had to deal with that eventuality.
It was also the house that I became a victim of crime in. My father and I were nearly hijacked in our garage one afternoon – but the hijackers failed in their attempt, though they did manage to fire a few shots (one of which hit the window directly above me). It was a life-changing experience for my father, and for me, one which should have been deeply traumatic – but I don’t think the trauma lasted very long. It did bring about a home visit from my school headmaster, and as he was leaving, my dog bit his bum…which was the most amusing part for me (though it probably wasn’t pleasant for him).
Even though I only lived there 8 years (followed by another 4 visiting in the holidays), that home left the biggest impression on me. To this day, in my sleep, most of my dreams that involve a home are set in that house.
I didn’t want to let it go – I thought we’d always keep it, and I’d live there as an adult too.
4. Moving away
After school, I moved to Cape Town – and lived with my brother, who was also studying here. The flat we stayed in was right next to the railway line; and it was small – yet big enough for me. The bathroom wasn’t my favourite place, though – it was kind of gross, and I was glad when – a year later – my mother decided to renovate it.
That first year at varsity was intense. I had independence, yet I was also terribly home sick. And my brother and I didn’t have the most stable relationship at the time – so we fought a lot (as one of the neighbours would attest to).
For that year, and a few that followed, I was adamant that I would not remain in Cape Town after varsity. It was not my home – and I didn’t want to stay there.
The flat was also near my university, so I’d walk to and from varsity each day. And when I had tests or exams in the late afternoon, I’d walk home in the dark – alongside a canal at one point; scared that someone was going to jump out and murder me.
But the place was fine, and I had fun there.
5. The view
In third year, we moved to a bigger flat – still in the area, but nearer the university. It was physically higher up – closer to the mountain – so the view was awesome. If you’ve seen some of my pictures from the earlier years of this blog, you’ll get an idea of it. We had the mountain on one side, and on the other side, a vast lookout of suburbs and another mountain range in the distance. The latter side was also the position the sun rose from, and I was inspired by many a sunrise in those peaceful, beautiful mornings.
This was the home that played host to the biggest changes in my life; and the place I spent so much time in – growing from the child I was (since I still considered myself a child – even in varsity) to the adult I became. While the biggest changes were happening, I decided to remain in Cape Town after varsity was over. Durban no longer held much for me – even though I was (and still am) very attached to it. My life was different now, and I wanted to stay where I was – physically – because it felt like the right place to be.
This home was a place that was incredibly peaceful outside, yet the place where I had some of my most inwardly turbulent moments. I learnt so much in my time there, and I still treasure the place – because it’s an integral part of my history – through all the ups and downs that I experienced in those 6 plus years.
6. An even better view
Right after I finished varsity, my beloved Durban home – the house which I was so attached to – was sold, and the replacement home was a flat with an incredible view of the city and ocean. I was there when we moved over to the flat, and even though I liked the place – I was yearning to come back home, to Cape Town. This Durban flat, however, had a familiarity to it. It felt like our very first house (number 2 on the list, above) – both in its look and feel.
I’d periodically go back to visit Durban, and stay there – marvelling, every time, at the sheer awesomeness of that view. I spent precious moments alone, at the window at night, looking out over the city – pondering, praying, and enjoying being so close to the sky; close enough that the birds were up on that level; close enough that helicopters were probably only 20 metres away when they came past; and close enough that – when I looked at the night sky on an overcast kind of night – I was struck with both terror at the thought of flying (kind of like Peter Pan) alone up there, and awe at how magnificent that big canvas above our planet really is.
The year after varsity, I had an internship with a company based in Pretoria. I had to spend a few months at their headquarters – studying / training in the field I was specialising in. The area was a suburban – a very white, Afrikaner kind of place; where pretty much the only non-white people I saw were gardeners and domestic workers.
I stayed in a guest house for those 4 and a bit months, and it was incredibly difficult at first – being so alone. But it strengthened my relationship with my Creator; and I grew to love the solitude of being totally alone – away from parents and family and anyone I knew. I had a little balcony that looked out over some of the other suburbs; and at night, there seemed to be so many more stars above than any other place I’d lived before.
At some points, I worked harder than I’ve ever worked in my life – doing my assignments on weekends, and studying in the afternoons when I got home. I don’t think I’ve ever worked that intensely – for a sustained period – up till now. It helped me discover my capabilities in terms of what I can do when I’m driven to get things done.
I also indulged myself in those days and nights – planning to stay up to watch a TV show on a certain night of the week, together with my ice cream (I discovered Cookies n Cream flavour over there…I love it J) – yet I’d be so tired that most weeks I’d just fall asleep while the show was on.
I was sad to leave that place – but also happy to get back to my real home, and my real life.
8. The here and now
All of this brings me to my present home – which I dearly love. I’ve detailed how I came to live here in another post – so I won’t dwell on that part of the story here.
Some might consider this place small, but it’s never felt small to me. It’s always been spacious enough – I never felt cramped or confined. And I never felt this was a step down compared to any of the places I’ve lived before.
I had the huge realisation just now is that I’ll never have this again – this first home with my wife. This place is tremendously special because it was our first real home (i.e. after moving out from my parents’ place) – the one that was all our own; where we adjusted to living independently, to doing things as a couple in our own space – free of parents and family members. Where we could do things the way we wanted – have our home and habits exactly as we pleased, for the first time (though the ‘habits’ bit isn’t all good – because we’re rather untidy).
I think of old couples who sit and reminisce about their early days. Their first homes. Their struggles in the early months and years of marriage.
And for us, this home has been the setting for all of that. When we look back, years or decades from now insha-Allah, this place – this home – will be the one that we remember as our starting point. We had our fun here; and we also had our fights here too. We grew closer together as a couple here. We bonded over things worldly and spiritual here – including our first Ramadan together. We found out about our precious little one here – that Sunday morning before Fajr, when the 2 lines on the pregnancy test changed our lies forever. She grew, in this home, from being a tiny bean to a foetus, to a newborn, to the toddler that she is now.
I could go on and on – such is the vastness of precious memories we have in this home – but I’ll have to stop myself, both due to time constraints, and because I don’t want to bore you, the reader.
I think it’ll be a sad day, when we finally leave. When we say goodbye to our precious, first home.
But they say that change is the only constant in life, and we must move forward – which is why we’re set to move to the new place this weekend, insha-Allah. (Maybe I’ll write about that separately – if anyone’s still interested in the “Accommodating Adventures” series).
From all of these thoughts – all of these memories of homes past and present – I derive a great deal of thankfulness. Thankful that I’ve always had good homes –in terms of physical structures, the environments they’ve been in, and the way I’ve felt about them. So many people are forced to live in homes that, psychologically, are harmful to them. Whether they have to deal with unsafe neighbourhoods outside, or abusive relationships within their homes, or whatever else that makes their homes places of anxiety – rather than places of rest. They don’t have peace. They probably don’t find comfort in their homes. And they probably wish they could be someplace else.
I’m thankful to my parents for all they’ve done to give me these homes. And I’m thankful to my wife, for all she’s done to make my home one of love, comfort, and goodness. But most of all, I’m thankful to Allah – for blessing me with all of this (both homes and the people who shaped them); for making sure that, wherever I’ve lived, home really has been where my heart is.