Monday, September 28, 2015

A pocketful of homes

Where we live, the home or dwelling that we are sheltered in, should give us comfort, identity, and an outlet for creativity. I believe everyone has that right and need to have a home, not only to be shielded from tempestuous weather, but to be cradled in a haven or refuge. No matter how old we are, we grow up there--hopefully learning what we are supposed to understand in the span of time we live within its walls. To feel a sense of place is vital and transforming--to know that you belong somewhere and it belongs to you. To love a place, a home, and the walls that built you, is a hard thing to leave or shed. We all need a sanctuary to grow and love in. As Laura Ingalls Wilder says in the Little House Series, "I have discovered that home is the nicest word there is."

These pictures, by one of my favorite contemporary artists, Brian Kershisnik, show how I feel sometimes. Since I am a vagabond these days, the top picture shows two women  (if I can read their expressions), trying to trade houses. One woman seems willing, and the other one appears to be rethinking or pondering the costs/stipulations of the exchange. I am not sure I see a swap in the making. Do you? Will the other be willing to encounter a new place that can create needed change--even a reinvention of a new self? For some people, it is the obligation or choice to grow in the same place, to stretch and grow, without the physical change of place. But for others it is the duty, and perhaps desire, to periodically rearrange oneself. Different chapters and stages of our lives necessitate the need to trade homes, and even discard them.

Another of Kershisnik's paintings shows a woman with a kick of glee and satisfaction. It looks like this woman has found a home--a place she can call and make into her own.

   Since I lived and worked in refugee camps in the 1980's in Southeast Asia, I am painfully aware of the terror and exploits of some who must escape from their beloved homes. Their faces, struck with fear and helplessness, live with me, haunt me, because I remember their sense of homelessness. All their familiarities had been snatched from them, and their only home was their loved ones. I remember the hammocks that swayed breezily and the crowded bamboo mats on the three-sided cement structures of their temporary, makeshift homes. I know that not everyone has a home, a sanctuary. I have been a roamer this summer, and it has evoked memories of people who endlessly wait for a home to call their own.

   When I came back to the Middle East from my roamings this summer, I counted that I had slept in 20 beds since I left Doha in June--in Airbnbs, college dorm rooms, cabins, family and friends' homes, hotels, and on the ground. I do not count the many plane rides. Each time I was treated with the utmost graciousness, all while knowing I would eventually be settled in in my new home in Doha. 
   This new chapter of being an expat, after 19 years in the same abode, sometimes still has me a little bewildered. I was very accustomed to the cozy, comfortable, customary walls that sheltered me for so long. But when I entered into my expat home here in Doha a few nights ago, I felt a sense of relief and comfort. I am home: where I awaken to the call of prayer, embrace women who wear burqas, and listen very carefully to dozens of accents as we strive to communicate in English. After being one year in the Middle East, I have learned that I can do more than just adapt or adjust, I can be joyfully happy--living among unfamiliarities. I can be friends with strangers whom I do not know yet. Last year's post about my old "homestead."
   Here is the poem I wrote this summer in a grove of aspen trees in the Tetons, one of my favorite places or homes. I wrote it in my search to understand how to interlock and connect all the homes that I feel that are inside me--the places, languages, and most of all, the people. For some reason, it was not my call to live in the same town that my grandmother lived in almost her entire 93 years of life. It has been my task and joy to learn how to build many kinds of homes: in a skyscraper in NYC, foreign student housing in China, inner city LA, suburban Baltimore and St. Louis, refugee camps in Asia, a kibbutz in Israel, and so many others. One of my personal favorites was to be able to live across from the ocean on the Jersey Shore for a few months, and to hear the rumbling waves every night as I was lulled to sleep. Now that is a memory....

                 A Gatherer of Homes
            I am a gatherer,
            a collector of treasured homes,
            carrying them, safely tucked in my pocket--
            to be warmed on arctic nights and desert wanderings.
            I clutch and grasp them in my roamings,
            cupping, cradling each in
            my slippery hands.
            I eye my colorful assortment--
            each an old friend,
            reminding me that all
            pieces in the collage make one.
            Each place, unraveling who I am--
            a patchwork showcase,
            in my bulging pocket.

In my quest to reconcile how to cherish all the homes and peoples that created me, I will continue to tuck all the memories of other refuges in my pocket. I cannot let them go, for they are as a part of me as my eyes or ears. However, I now know after living here in the Middle East for one year, I can enlarge the pocket--to include a whole array of additional homes in my collection. For you see, I am a gatherer....  But if I could choose my most favorite "home", I would tell my husband what Jane Eyre said to Mr. Rochester, "Wherever you are is my home--my only home." He is my most treasured home of all in the collection.

Here a few snippets in my Doha neighborhood, our immediate home--a place of endless fascination and intrigue:

This is the local barber shop where I took my dad when he came to visit. My sons also come here too since it is just in the neighborhood. This is a Nepalese barber who speaks no English. His partner is in the background. You just go in, and somehow they figure out how to cut your hair. Everybody comes out happy so I guess you don't always have to speak the same language when you get your hair cut (not sure if I would want to do the same with my hair. Ha!)
Kids in my neighborhood handing out Eid treats. The girl on the left, in her abaya, on a hot day, is one of my tennis students. Love her....
A common sight at this particular mosque in the neighborhood is a pick up soccer game.

My new home, to the left. My dear neighbors from Jordan live next door. My neighbor told me we are "sisters," and I completely agree.
This is Ala, my seven year old next door neighbor, from Jordan. She is the ball girl for our tennis class. Love her too. She always, without fails, knocks on my door to see me, and calls out that she loves me from the street. Who would not want to live next to a neighbor like her? 



  1. Maryan, this is beautiful. Thank you.

  2. As I look back on our years at CHS, you were one of the best things about our "home." Your legend of teaching AP World History lives on in all my children. Thanks to YOU!

  3. Maryan, you are opening my eyes to other parts of the world I can only see thru your eyes and words !!
    Thank you, love you, your Cali. cousin,
    me....another Haymond

  4. Beautiful blog and poem. So true about our need for a home, a space to grow. Thank you for sharing so much of yourself. I look up to you lots!

  5. This beautiful post really resonates with me right now as I am about to leave the home I have loved in Seattle for the past seven years and try to build a new home in Minneapolis -- under very unique and exciting circumstances. I can't wait to tell you all about it! Love you.

  6. Yes, I have heard a thread of news, something like a A Sound of Music movie.... xoxoxo

  7. Thanks Maryan, your poem and thoughts resonate for me! Before I graduated from college I created a map for my cartography senior synthesis project of all of my homes, and Josephs' since we were born. I had lived in 21 homes when I was 21 years old, and three years of college I lived in the same apartment. While we lived in Boston (previous to STL) I was blessed with the feeling of belonging, something that I had always longed after, and it has carried with me. I belong here right now, with the people around me because I am here! I have always thought of looking for where I belong, but I love your imagery of gathering homes, expanding your pockets. All of my past homes hold a special place in my heart, but I live here now, this is my home, this is where I belong.

  8. You are amazing--always have been, always will be!

  9. Your insight, beautiful writing style, thought style make me happy and inspire me. Thanks

  10. We share a common experience of trading homes.... Right?