The H Word: when there’s no place like home

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My heart is warm with friends I make, 
And better friends I’ll not be knowing; 
Yet there isn’t a train I wouldn’t take, 
No matter where it’s going. 

Edna St Vincent Millay, Travel

NOSTALGIA, pining (for the fjords?) – call it what you want, I think that homesickness is something that nowadays everyone expects you to have grown out of at some point before the age of seven. Up to that point, it’s perfectly OK to demand to go home from a sleepover because you’re scared of the shadow in the corner and you are missing your Snoopy duvet cover. After that, suck it up.

That’s not always been the case, however. According to a book I haven’t read  (isn’t Google grand?), homesickness used to be seen as a legitimate killer. In 1865, the book notes, 40 soldiers in the American Civil War died of it. They called it ‘nostalgia’, but it seems to be the same thing.

Meanwhile, Dieu Donne Hack Polay, at the Centre for International Business Studies, states in his paper on Expatriates and Homesickness, that sufferers can experience “gastric and intestinal pains, lack of sleep, headache, feeling of tiredness and some eating disorders”.

So it’s science, folks, and nothing to do with my duvet cover (which doesn’t have Snoopy on it anyway, for the record). And now I’ve got academic backing, though thankfully none of the above symptoms, I don’t mind admitting that, at the moment, home feels very far away.

We’re nearly three quarters of the way through our trip and two weeks into our stay in our last casa in San Cristobal. Which is lovely, by the way – bags of space, loads of light, a great view and still only ten minutes from the girls’ school. The weather’s great (spring has sprung), and the girls are loving their days at Semillas; playdates, school trips and all.

So what have I got to whinge about? Absolutely nothing, except that I miss you all. This week I’ve been thinking of old-style missionaries, sent off with their coffins into the Congo and not expected to return, and of settlers in the US (because Daisy is reading Little House on the Prairie) making home as they go. Unlike them, I can keep in touch with my friends and family with the swipe of a touchscreen. What’s more, we chose this trip – and it’s a wonderful privilege. This kind of cogitation makes me feel guilty because I’d really quite like a night out with my UK friends right about now, when I should be making the most of the wonder that is San C.

The girls get homesick too, as does Paul – though he won’t admit it. He would like you to know that he’s mainly pining for Brockley’s Rock – which is our local chippy, and the London Beer Dispensary. I don’t mind telling you that there’s a little bit of bravado there though. He’s missing everyone at home as well.

With Daisy, homesickness takes the very specific form of ‘missing my cousin Izzy’, who she adores and who stands for England, bunk beds, baths, schoolfriends and everything she wants to have from home. When she’s tearful about Iz, I know she needs something familiar on Netflix and fishfingers for tea – or perhaps a special trip out with mummy or daddy for hot chocolate.

Clover gets clingy. She’s never far from my lap when she’s missing home. She’s really too big to curl up on me now – legs and elbows everywhere, but lots of cuddles and a story usually sort her out, thankfully.

Fortunately homesickness isn’t particularly contagious. We don’t all get it at the same time. The girls have it less at the moment because they’re loving their new school, while I think I’m more isolated working in our new house because it’s a little further out of town, which may explain why I’m feeling it now.

How do we beat homesickness? The one thing that doesn’t work for me is ‘counting my blessings’ as my Mum used to put it. I’m not Pollyanna. Telling myself how lucky I am and how I must make the most of each day is just a recipe for a guilt trip.

Instead, I’m trying getting out a bit more and (terrible phrase, this) reaching out a bit too. I’ve made more plans this week, and written more emails. I’ve been running three times, been to three Pilates classes and baked a lemon drizzle cake – so the house smells like home. Small things like that work, so that I think that I’m nearly back to my usual bouncy self.

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So why am I telling you this now? Partly I suppose, because I don’t want people to think that a year on the road doesn’t have its drawbacks. They are massively outweighed by the positives in our case, but anyone who tries this needs to be prepared. Also, this blog isn’t just a great big show off about what a wonderful time we’re having. This is real life on a family gap year – warts (well, verrucae anyway), dogbites, regrets and all.

But mainly, I wanted to thank so many, many people for keeping in touch. It’s fantastic when you Skype and FaceTime us, and brilliant when you send emails and contact us on Facebook. When you don’t, we know it’s because you’re busy, and we totally understand that too. But a million thanks for when you can and do. In the absence of any ruby slippers, every bit of contact really matters. Because there’s no place like home.

 

 

 

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