HOME: a concept that commonly refers to one’s place of origin, a place of familiarity and comfort, one that you can call your own. Each month, we explore the stories of nomads around the world as they share their definitions of what home means to them. Today, we share the story of Micheline Ntiru, a true global visionary whose life has taken her from Uganda to Kenya, the UK, South Africa and now Brazil.
I decided years ago, when I started working in international development that I had two choices: to either see my work location as a transit stop to a life that was somewhere else, or to embrace each place as home. While Sao Paulo, Brazil is where I rest my head, I consider home to be a mix between Sao Paulo, Uganda, New York and South Africa. In the recent past, it has also included Cambridge, Abidjan, Antananarivo and Nairobi.
I have been in Sao Paulo for nearly two years now, and every time I come back from a trip, I get that warm tingling feeling that I’m dying to get home. I have friends who can just pass by my apartment without an appointment. I’m invited to birthday parties, baptisms and holiday homes. My friends’ parents have become “Tia and Tio” (Uncle and Auntie) and I can now “skip skip shake shake” in samba, as if I was born into the dance.
Once home, my apartment reminds me of all my previous homes and travels, as I have been able to ship the memories, from the Malian door I bought just before curfew one humid evening in Abidjan to the Ndebele pots from South Africa and the Maasai batiks from Kenya. They’re just things, one might say, but for me, they are memories of moments, friends, and experiences.
Friends say that when I say I am going “home”, they are never sure what I mean. New York is where I am going for Christmas, specifically, Roosevelt Island. The tram that leaves from 59th St. and 2nd Ave. provides me with breathtaking views over the East River as I make my way to the apartment where my family migrated in the 90s. This is where I spent endless sticky summers with my American, Antiguan, Congolese, Gambian, Haitian and Malian friends—all Roosevelt Islanders, mostly kids of UN parents—third culture kids, contributing effortlessly to that melting pot that is quintessentially New York City.
Mom will be there, little sis will be there. We will probably head across the bridge to the ethnic food store in Queens to buy matooke, the fluffy banana mash that is our traditional Ugandan food then head home to cook it with peanut sauce, samosas, sweet potatoes, plantains, roast chicken, pork chops, rice pilau, beans and chapatis as if we are cooking for an entire village.
When I speak, I don’t sound like I am from any of the places I’ve called home. My accent is neither here nor there—mostly neutral, as I have been told, with hints of many places. I’d say it’s a mix of colonial British (from British School in Kenya, reflecting Mrs. Fenge or Mrs. Taylor who insisted that we speak like proper young girls), American and East African (either mirroring my parents or reflecting my childhood in Kenya). Right now, my frequent-exclaimed expression of shock/amazement/wonder is “nossa!” said with great exaggeration, like a bona fide Brazilian. Two years ago, I said ‘Eish’ in amazement or wonder, as is the norm in South Africa.
In a few years, who knows what new words or expressions will be added to my vocabulary. But one thing that I don’t think will change is the feeling that home is like a long, warm, close hug from a loved one. It can be where I have grown up, or where I am for now; where I have a community; where my career has taken me; or where I have built strong ties. For me, home is a beautiful, multi-faceted word, and world made up of a kaleidoscope of memories, experiences, friendships, family and places that reflect who I am.
We’d love for you to be a part of the conversation! Are you a nomad who has created your own definition of “home”? We would like to hear from you. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and share your story.