Friday, November 27, 2015

"Going Home" and Still Being a Foreigner

So many people, myself included, asked me if moving here would be like coming home. I did, after all, grow up here.

I have always liked Miranda Lambert's song "The House That Built Me." Makes me teary. That longing for home, search for identity, restless heart... they are symptomatic of the classic tck struggle. Now it's especially poignant, since... here I am.

I know they say you can't go home again.
I just had to come back one last time.
Ma'am I know you don't know me from Adam.
But these handprints on the front steps are mine.
And up those stairs, in that little back bedroom
is where I did my homework and I learned to play guitar.
And I bet you didn't know under that live oak
my favorite dog is buried in the yard.

I thought if I could touch this place or feel it
this brokenness inside me might start healing.
Out here its like I'm someone else,
I thought that maybe I could find myself
if I could just come in I swear I'll leave.
Won't take nothing but a memory
from the house that built me. 

I, like her, am coming back to a place that has a hold on me but that I have had no claim on. It's the house where she was raised, formed, but it's someone else's home, she is a stranger there. That's what it's like for us tcks too, often. We deeply love the places we have grown up in. Last night, for instance, I walked out of the building where we had a little Thanksgiving dinner and I saw the moon reflecting on Manokwari Bay and I caught my breath and was transported to being 18 and watching the moon over this same Pacific and never wanting to leave. This place was nearly my whole childhood, and yet I am not Indonesian, I am just a hair away from being viewed the same as any other new foreigner.  I did grow up here, yet I am not from here.

It's an odd thing, really, having so much of this place and culture so completely familiar because it was my world for my entire childhood. Here I am, an American and new and yet when we talk about current events with people here, oh, actually I remember the last drought and the aid efforts. I remember the last time this place erupted into political riots, and in fact our car was burned. As new people learn the history of this country, well, I remember when the economy crashed and the president was kicked out of office, allowed for reformation to finally begin. The remnants of WWII tanks and guns and grenades used here were left in a rusting dump by my grade school home. The taste of chiki balls and silver queens, having kecap manis on my rice all.the.time, the kind of grass in our yard, banana and papaya and coconut trees, the social classes of this society, the way everyone prays aloud at once at home Bible studies, the feel of a tropical rainstorm, the ubiquitous batik formal wear, etc, etc. Those are all part of my childhood, my own history.

I grew up with these things and so yes, it is like coming home to a small town after years away, shockingly familiar, and yet so foreign because it's all utterly and completely different than everything about the culture I was immersed in in America for the last 15 years. Half my life here, and then half my life living as and viewed as a native in a completely different and separate culture. There was virtually no intersection between those cultures – in those 15 years I found a genuine Indonesian restaurant to eat at once. Once. And so, after so long away, all of these things are contradictorily so familiar and so foreign and new all at once.

It is hard to explain. I may know the format of an Indonesian church service and have been attending them for much of my life, but when I enter here I am still totally unknown to people and am still (often to my chagrin) a white foreign face in a sea of various shades of brown. When they hear I grew up here they are surprised, and realize I have some connection to this place, but I am still a foreigner, still new, and pretty much no different than any other new foreigner when you get down to how I am perceived. What is different is my heart, how I feel about this place, how I cherish it.  What I am truly coming "back home" to is the culture of being an expatriate, a Western foreigner living in Indonesia. I know that position very well. I know the expatriate circles here, I know the school across the island, I know the work that many people have done here for generations. In that way, I am definitely "back".

I am just like anyone else moving to a new culture in terms of Indonesia, though, in that I have to very slowly eke my way into the culture because I can know it all I want and still not be a part of it. I want to be a part of it, that's what truly different about coming here as an adult. I am determined not just to do work here but to become, in some way, a part of this place and culture. You never become a native if you begin as foreign, but you can become more a part of things, and that's what I never did as a child.

I think sometimes that those who knew how much I missed and longed for Papua see me post something about how I miss Fall in the US and wonder, “she missed Papua all those years and now she misses here? Will she never be satisfied?”  Don't get me wrong. You can miss something so deeply that you wish to go back to what you miss, that you would give up your now to get back to that longed for place or thing or time. But there's also simply missing. You went on vacation someplace you loved and you miss it later. You miss your favorite restaurant when it's no longer available. That is how I miss things. I miss things about our life in the US that I liked or loved. But I am not discontent, I would not go back. I wouldn't trade this life and all of its discomforts. It is not that I am deeply at home or utterly fit here, I am not. But what IS true I that I do love it here, and I believe that there is work for us to do here and that it is meaningful, important work, and in that I am content. I marvel and am amazed that that work happens to be in the place I grew up in that I already love, and provides me an opportunity to make an adult home here.

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