WHERE IS HOME ?

PSX_20180903_202138.jpgI often ask my almost five-year-old son Roberto where he thinks home is. He was born in Italy, but has lived in Cambodia, the Philippines, and countless hotels we’ve found ourselves in through the years.

It can be tricky especially for us expat families to define home because we tend to relocate a lot. Every three to four years, we pack our bags and start all over again in a new country. It’s even trickier for young couples like us who became parents while on the road because our children don’t easily get a sense where home is.

I’m Kenyan, born and raised In Nairobi. I was brought up by a single mother—one who was strong and hardworking and who raised three girls on a minimal income but managed to do an amazing job at it. While growing up, home was always where my mother and sisters were. That was all I knew. That was where I felt safest. I was attached to them, and to this day, our beautiful bond remains.

Even when I started working and finally bought my own place, I didn’t experience the urge to completely move out and consider my own space home, as adults often do. After all, I already had a home with my mother and sisters—a roof and walls that had held so many of our tears, laughter, and memories. I guess at that time I just wasn’t ready to leave the nest yet.

Until one day, Prince Charming came along and swept me off my feet. All of a sudden, I found myself going on a month-long sleepover all the way to Khartoum, Sudan, to be with a man I had just met in a taxi. A man a barely knew. But my heart immediately felt at home with him, and so I went.

We both wanted to try this thing called life together so a couple of months later, I took the leap. I quit my job, rented out my apartment, packed my bags, and moved with him to Sri Lanka. I was finally ready to spread my wings and fly—to a different continent at that. I followed my heart and did not let the fear of what may happen hold me back.

One year later, he proposed. Two years later, we got married in Mount Lavinia, Sri Lanka. We found a home in each other’s hearts. And at that time, I already knew: it didn’t matter where we were, geographically, as long as we were together.

Our son was conceived in Sri Lanka; morning sickness kicked in while we were in Jakarta, after our honeymoon in Bali. I didn’t know then that I was already on the throes of morning sickness. I just thought I had drank way too much beer and eaten way too much beef rendang and seafood that made me way too sleepy like I had been bitten by a tsetse fly.

I married my Italian husband and their Italian coffee. I love coffee. On our last day in Jakarta, as we were preparing to fly back to Colombo, for some weird reason, the aroma of coffee in the air just made me want to throw up. My period was late. I had weird rashes on my face. It could not have been caused by a tsetse fly.

While in transit in Bangkok, I took a pregnancy test. Honeymoon baby was onboard, it confirmed. We were going to be parents! It was surreal. We were in shock. We were happy because we both wanted to have a baby and grow our family.

I nested for seven months in Sri Lanka, and even relocated houses in preparation for our baby’s arrival. One evening, my husband came home with a brand-new bag and a beautiful pair of pink sapphire earrings that I had been dying to have. I knew something big was happening. It wasn’t my birthday or our anniversary but he was being way too generous. At the end of the night, I finally found out why: we were moving to Cambodia.

I had to repack the house, move to Phnom Penh, find a house, find a hospital, find a doctor, and prepare for our baby’s delivery. Our plan was for me to stay with my mother in law in Italy for two months as we wait for the baby’s arrival, then my husband would join me there later.

On those days, I was convinced that I was going to pop our son on an airplane aisle and call him “Nanjira”, an African name given to babies born on the road. Thankfully, that didn’t happen.

Roberto was born on November 14, 2013, in a small medieval town in Tuscany called Pescia. I labored for 36 hours—enough time for my husband to fly in from Cambodia. I needed him to be present. My wish was for both us to welcome our son in this world together.

At 10:29 a.m., Roberto was placed in our arms—his first home. At that moment, it truly didn’t matter to me where we were. It didn’t matter what life had in store for the future or had in the past. We were now a family. We were home.

Roberto had his first passport photo taken when he was just a week old. Because he was one of those babies that slept throughout the day and cried throughout the night, it was a disaster trying to keep his eyes open in front of the camera. But a couple of hours later, we got out of the studio with a lucky shot.

Six weeks later, we were on an airplane back to Cambodia. Phnom Penh was home for two years.

In 2016, we moved to Manila, Philippines. It’s home—for now. In between all these homes away from our real homes, we make it point to take trips back to both Kenya and Italy because it’s important for us to keep our families ties and for Roberto to experience both cultures as he grows up.

While we were in Cambodia, my husband stumbled upon a house for sale in Tuscany. An old English couple had bought land and constructed a house where they often came during summer. Unfortunately, the wife got sick and they had to urgently sell the house and move back to the UK. The price was unbeatable. They were not looking to make any money out of the sale but to just get back what they put in. My husband bought it.

We have had the house for almost four years now. It is tucked away in the rolling hills of Uzzano, in the middle of nature. It’s quite literally a house in the woods.

This year has been tough. So much has happened. We all needed this break. I am happy to see my husband relaxed. Still going through work emails, but relaxed. More than anyone else, he needs the breaks. He works so hard every day for us.

After 24 hours of travel from Manila to Pisa, it feels good to sit and enjoy a glass of Chianti Classico while taking in our first sunset. As the sky changed colors and darkness fell, lights started to turn on one by one. It’s always a magical sight, especially against my favorite view that never grows old: that of the small town with hills as its backdrop.

One day, I finally pointed out the small town and asked my husband for its name. I know it’s something I should have asked ages ago but somehow never did. He shrugs and says, “Pescia, of course!” My heart is moved. My body erupted in goosebumps. I smiled and thought to myself, “What are the odds that our house overlooks the little town where Roberto was born?” I felt a surge of gratitude in my heart. And at that moment, I felt truly at home.

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