A week ago, eight of us sat down on beanbags in a warmly lit house and began a ‘roda de conversa’ (‘conversation circle’). The directions were simple: someone would ask a question, and everyone in the circle would take turns answering it. The only ‘rule’ was that one could not interrupt the current speaker, who would command all attention and respect during their minute or so of speech.
Normally, the questions we tend to ask others are the ones we want to answer for ourselves. This instance was no exception. When it was time to offer a second question (after the philosophical first query ‘do you believe in souls?’) I couldn’t help but blurt out: ‘what is the one thing you want but you’ll never have?’
In a roomful of teenagers, I somewhat expected to hear (from myself included) a long, tragic tale of love lost, unrequited, undiscovered, etc. Yet before any of the above came to mind, the first thing I thought of was something I’d never really considered before.
The one thing I want — but I’ll never have — is this: a place to call home.
Three months into my time here in Brazil, I’ll be the first to confess that I don’t miss ‘home’. Not in the way that I thought I would. I’ve settled in surprisingly faster than I thought, which leads to the exhilarating thought that, as someone who can root herself in many different cultural contexts, maybe this means the whole world has the capacity to become my home.
But the realization comes with the knowledge that my ease of assimilation stems from my inherent rootlessness. Without any place to hinge my notion of ‘home’, a place to which we always see ourselves returning, there’s little I can actually miss.
(Maybe I’m being a bit unfair — of course I love my family, and vice versa. But in terms of locations, which are integral in forming an image of ‘home’: Hong Kong is but my adopted city, Korea my estranged country, and the rest of the world places I have yet to fully experience.)
Candeal, my Brazilian neighborhood, constantly reminds me — for better or for worse — of my rootlessness. The community of Candeal is incredibly intimate. Everyone seems to be related somehow: when I take a walk with my mom and the dog in the evenings, we always pass by a family member who I’ve never seen. Later this month, I’ll be attending a wedding at my mom’s church between her friend and the son of my Capoeira mestre. On my way home the other day I ran into a lady sitting in a lawn chair by my house, who said she saw me at the special youth mass at her church in Upper Candeal (which, incidentally, is run by Alejandro’s homestay family).
When the Chapecoense plane crash occurred on Monday morning, I returned from the gym at 7.30AM to find my sister unexpectedly up early, lying on the couch, staring at the TV. Aside from the facts that a) football is a very big deal in Brazil and b) the accident was incredibly tragic, I didn’t really know why she was so concerned. It was only later on that day that I found out that the woman who lives in the green-tiled house down the street has a son who plays for Chapecoense. (Thankfully he is safe — he didn’t go to Colombia due to a recent knee injury.)
Both my homestay siblings were born in Candeal, so they have known this neighborhood their entire lives. Almost their entire paternal extended family lives right around the corner. My brother works at a used furniture store right beside my mom’s cosmetic / clothing store, both of which are also located on the next street. Their entire lives can be found here in the neighborhood, which they have seen develop for the past twenty-odd years.
There is no place on earth I know half as well as my siblings know Candeal. No place on earth that is so obviously, clearly, viscerally ‘home’. Parts of me are scattered all across the globe, in places so culturally and geographically disparate that there is no way of pulling them all together. I don’t deeply and personally know most of my extended family, and I don’t know if I’ll ever return to a place in the future and think: ‘I’m here. I’m back. I’m home.’
And I guess this is something I’ll never know.