Leaving “home,” going “home”

In long-range planning for a trip, I think there is a private conviction that it won’t happen. As the day approached, my warm bed and comfortable house grew increasingly desirable and my dear wife incalculably precious. To give these up (…) for the terrors of the uncomfortable and unknown seemed crazy.
 John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley in Search of America

As the day of our departure grows nearer, I find myself sorry to be leaving. I’m already nostalgic for Salvador’s perpetual summer and awesome capoeira scene. Intellectually and emotionally, I’m committed to the dicision – and there’s lots to look forward to in the U.S. – but there’s a lot I will miss.

Doing the math, seven of the past ten years have been spent in Brazil – that’s the lion’s share of my adult life. So now it’s not like I’m returning home after an extended vacation; I’m leaving the home we’ve built here and the place where we’ve spent our entire marriage.

And going… where exactly?

It’s my parents’ home, my childhood home, with which I’m intimately familiar, but it can’t really be called home for me and Christian. We, jointly, own nothing there. We’ll have no routine and no shared social network. My parents have many friends who know me and who know of me/us, but that’s not the same as us having our own friends.

I can already tell it’s going to take months to adjust. Christian will struggle with the language, I’ll struggle to stay focused on work, there are tons of practicalities to be worked out, and we’ll both get frustrated with how long it’ll all take.

For the two of us, it’s not going home, it’s moving to a completely new place.

And yet we haven’t planted roots too deeply in Salvador, either. We don’t have a vehicle to sell, neither of us have careers that tie us to here, and we have precious few possessions. The latter is partly because we were strapped for cash at the beginning of our marriage and we still maintain a default frugality, even though we could afford to upgrade. But I wonder if subconsciously I’ve avoided investing very much in planting roots here because I secretly hoped Salvador wouldn’t be forever.

A friend and fellow digital nomad recently asked me if I feel at home in Brazil. It’s such a tough question to answer.

On one hand, yes – Brazil no longer feels “foreign” to me; there’s no language barrier, and I can navigate easily and confidently through the society and culture here. On the other hand, there are some fundamental things that are missing from life in Salvador, or that chafe unpleasantly even though I know to expect them.

Salvador, with its vibe of “relaaaaax, don’t work too hard, and party party party” isn’t really a cultural fit for me. I don’t feel like I’ve been able to develop deep friendships here. Holiday celebrations are nonexistent in Christian’s family. I crave more contact with nature. And no matter how much I know how rampant lateness and general inefficiency are, it still irks me every time.

I honestly don’t know if the U.S. will be any better of a fit, though. It probably won’t take long for me to start being annoyed at the mindless consumerism, political dogmatism, and EXAGGERATED EVERYTHING!!!

Another friend who splits time between the States, Brazil, and elsewhere said she thought the U.S. had changed quite a bit in the four years since she’d left, and warned me that it might take longer than I expect to get used to things… and that I still might end up not liking it.

Is the price for the lifestyle I’ve chosen never quite feeling like I fully belong anywhere?

Perhaps a valuable question would be: where and when do I feel most “at home,” anyway?

Five contexts spring to mind:

  • Celebrating holidays with my family
  • Being with my international entrepreneur friends
  • In a capoeira class or roda
  • When surrounded by nature
  • Hanging out at my house, alone or with friends, when the house is comfortable and enjoyable (our current place definitely does not fit the bill)

No wonder I don’t quite feel settled here. Salvador only ticks one of those boxes.

I realize that I’m not likely to find a single place that has everything in a complete package. But maybe if I consciously organize my life to ensure that I can experience these “at home” contexts regularly, the actual spot on the globe doesn’t matter so much.

In any case, life in Salvador has become routine. Too comfortable, in a way. We’re used to it. So it’s time for a change; time for a challenge. Here’s to the beginning of a new chapter!