Introduced By Holly King
Continuing our theme of ‘Home’, for this Monday Moments we’re looking at how we bring home with us wherever we go. Whether we’re travelling abroad, moving to a new house or leaving our family one, our past homes remain with us and can be brought out in our writing.
First, Write On! regular Juneha Chowdhury reminisces about her childhood:
Are You Home?
Forever a daddy’s girl, my parents’ home is filled with memories of my dad. His banter, his hospitality, his ‘can be heard a mile away’ voice.
I often think about the questions he’d ask: What’s happened? Have you eaten? Are you home?
The relief on my dad’s face to know nothing had happened to me, when I casually walked home half an hour later than expected, was huge. Given that you could see the school gates from my bedroom window, half an hour must have seemed forever for him. It did.
I couldn’t understand it at the time. His worries. I don’t think anyone does. The magnitude of a parent’s love is such that you only truly appreciate the scale when you become a parent yourself. It’s funny how your perception changes, like mine has, and what I saw as nagging then, I perceive with great warmth now.
When I find myself asking the same questions to my own kids as he did to me, worrying about the same things, I get it. I get him.
I left my childhood home years ago, but I carry these memories of him wherever I go. And whenever I visit my parents’ house, especially on celebratory occasions such as Ramadan or Eid, Dad’s words hit me every time.
I think about the answers I’d give now: Nothing’s happened, Dad (please don’t worry). Yes, I’ve eaten (so you can eat too). I’m home.
Such a shame he isn’t.
© Juneha Chowdhury, 2022
Connect with Juneha at her website junehachowdhury.com
Next is a poem by another Write On! regular Palak Tewary:
I Carry You With Me
It’s not a place for me
It’s not a sight that I see
It’s not the possessions that I possess
And it’s most definitely not an address
It’s not a smell that I smell
It’s not a word that I spell
It’s not the sounds that I hear
And it’s most definitely not how I appear
It is buried deep inside
It is always along for the ride
It is what sets me free
Home is what I carry within me
© Palak Tewary, 2022
Connect with Palak on her website at palaktewary.com and on Twitter + Instagram @palaktewary
Now, we have an extract from Sarah Tinsley’s memoir In Search Of Motherhood, about a woman who travelled the world for six months with her partner and three-month-old baby.
Home Is A Distant Country
We were in volcano country. Halfway through a six-month trip around the world with our baby, we were in the Lake District of Chile. After snow in New Zealand and the sunny climes of Australia, the weather in the central region of Chile was at least familiar, if not welcome. For the past few days we’d been on Chiloe island, our spirits dampened along with our sensible trousers. We were under a blanket of what I like to call ‘sog’ – rain that doesn’t so much fall as hang in the air, making everything damp and grey. Something I was more than familiar with having grown up in the South-West of the UK.
The day before we’d driven our battered hire car up to the region of lakes and mountains, hoping for a break from the rain and some hiking time. We were not disappointed. All reminders of home drifted away as we drove towards our intended hike, the strident white of the nearest volcano sharp in the squint-blue sky. Mount Osorno is one of six volcanoes in the region, looming over the landscape for miles around. We were headed for The Paths of Desolation – a challenging hike that could take you all the way up to the peak. We were planning on keeping to the lowlands and nearby Lake Llanquihue. Perhaps we should have paid more attention to the ominous naming of the road before heading out.
The walk started off beautifully – the savage green of plant life showed how the old lava flows had enriched the earth. But you could also see the devastation. There were huge swathes of black, crumbling earth. They were like abandoned river beds, cutting a line down towards the lake.
I’d already walked many terrains wearing my baby in a sling, but it wasn’t easy going. Sometimes I had to hold onto trees or banks, one arm around her back as I clambered up and down the lava beds. Still, I felt capable and strong. Edie was only six months old and I was volcano trekking with her. She’d wiggled on the wooden floor of our apartment that morning, chewing on her plastic keys. Maybe her first tooth was about to come through.
Out on the paths, it was cold and bright. Edie was in her usual fluffy all-in-one and I had made sure I was prepared that morning. To save on packing space I wore a different number of layers under my walking trousers. It was a two-leggings day.
When we were about to head back we found a lookout post built on wooden stilts. We scaled the wobbly ladder and sat there, munching on carrots and cucumbers. My partner, Leo, split them into sticks and passed them to me as I fed her. Afterwards she gummed on a banana and squashed it down her front. I took a ham sandwich and flipped it open, sighing at the contents. Dry bread and meat, nothing more. There was something naked about its lack of butter.
We were moving on every couple of nights, so transporting food between locations was tricky. I’d been hoarding a half-open packet of butter under the car seat to try and save it from the sun, but our most recent journey had resulted in a greasy puddle stuck to the rucksack. Reminding myself that we were in the middle of a glorious adventure, I forced the claggy bread down with gulps of water. This constant shifting around was starting to grate, especially when I had to say goodbye to basic comforts.
I tried to shake off my gloom and enjoy our time in the sun. When we got nearer to the lake we used the tiny pair of binoculars we’d brought with us to see the distant bobbing of a cormorant. Closer to the volcano, we could just make out the blue of the glaciers that clung to its side. It was wonderful, but my stomach nagged at me. My mind kept drifting back to simpler things – sitting on our sofa, the Ikea chair in the corner that made feeding Edie so much easier. We hadn’t had a toaster and kettle the whole time we’d been in Chile.
Walking by the lake back to the car, my feet sank into the softer ground. There were tumorous lumps of black and red rocks scattered along the shore. I picked up two small ones, thinking of when we would look at these lava shards and remember our time here once we were back in London. With a fully-stocked fridge.
That evening, we started the laborious process of packing. Again. We’d be moving on the following morning, and we still hadn’t booked anywhere to stay. While we’d been more organised to begin with, keeping up with our forward planning had slipped, leaving me even more insecure. I knew that food, a constant to me in my shifting past, would make me feel better. With the memory of our sad picnic still sharp, I was adamant that the evening would be different.
“Why can’t we go to the restaurant downstairs,” I asked, plopping her down to sit on the floor.
“It’s a waste. We’ve got plenty of food.” Leo waved his hands at the assortment he’d scavenged together from our luggage.
“I don’t want to eat that again. We don’t even have any salt.” Cold courgette, a glut of stale rice and a tin of sweetcorn was not my idea of a meal. Even if we did have plenty of the Alfajore biscuits I’d grown to love since we’d arrived – like a wagon wheel with a caramel centre.
“It’s just food.” He looked at me, exasperated.
I felt a chasm between our understanding of what cooking and eating entailed. As a child we’d moved around a lot, so I didn’t have one house that I’d grown up in, where I could go back and sift through memories in every room. Instead, the kitchen had become a sort of shifting home. Toast with butter (cut into rectangles for normal days, triangles on special occasions) was one thing that made me feel centred. Sitting on the work surface and sipping tea was where I felt most comfortable. These shifting kitchens with their unpredictable contents left me unsettled in what was already a transient experience.
By the time I’d convinced Leo that a proper meal was what we needed after our scant lunch, the place downstairs had stopped taking orders. I sulked through our mismatched dinner, muttering about breastfeeding and protein, while he scrolled through destinations for our last week in Chile.
That night was a difficult one. Perhaps I was right and Edie’s first tooth was on the way. I spent hours rocking and soothing, watching the moon move over the volcano as the night went on. Before we’d left, I thought this was going to be my chance to escape expectations. Motherhood didn’t have to mean being trapped in your house, attending a boring repetition of baby classes. Instead, I could hold onto who I used to be, keep my adventurous self, with her clinging on beside me.
The problem was, all the new challenges placed on me as a new mother were confusing and difficult, and without the fixed anchor of a home, it was hard to feel stable. My early mother-self was barely formed. I already felt disorientated from days that revolved around feeding, changing and sleeping routines.
And I hadn’t realised how solitary parental travel would be. We tended to eat out in the day, so we could keep to her evening routine. The times when I’d met people on my other adventures – hanging around coffee shops, bars and restaurants – were missing from our journey. We were untethered from our roots and from other people. In the dark hours of the night I wondered if it had been a mistake to come at all.
The following morning, I went back to bed. All we had to do was drive to wherever we were staying, and my body wouldn’t stay upright any longer.
When I woke up, shards of light were falling through the curtains. My little family were sat in the kitchen, Edie bashing a soup ladle on the floor.
“Toast?” Leo said, sliding a plate towards me. He’d even cut it into triangles. Next to it was a full, glorious, yellow packet of butter.
As I munched, he told me of our new plans. Rather than stick to our solitary route, he’d booked us into Aguas Calientas – a resort by one of the many hot springs in the area. It would allow us to interact with other people, eat hot food, let the weight of our adventure lessen through comfort. With another three months and three new countries before we headed back to London, we needed to find small anchors where we could.
© Sarah Tinsley, 2022
Connect with Sarah on her website sarahtinsley.com and on Twitter: @sarahtinsleyuk
Lastly, Write On! page editor Eithne Cullen was inspired after reading about the Dagenham Girls’ Pipers trips abroad.
Pipers, Puppets And Pierrots
What was it like for you –
lace at your throats and jaunty hats –
eighteen years old and far from home –
kilts swing above your knees and Argyll socks
piping, twirling, dancing, drumming
across a war-torn continent?
Posing on peaceful beaches
and exotic Eastern towns.
Concert party, puppets and Pierrots –
moving from place to place
by flying boat and sailing up the Nile.
Catching sight of a herd of elephants
for the first time, scared of the
crocodiles along the Nile;
huge footprints outside your rooms
from the hippos’ night stampede.
Playing for villagers in some remote place
they reply with music from their drums;
bagpipe music tempts the lions
out of their melancholy
and restores their appetites.
Your looks and fair East London skin
drawing offers of romantic love.
Proposals in fifteen lands.
© Eithne Cullen, 2020
Connect with Eithne on Twitter: @eithne_cullen
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