The country I come from is a place far away, as far as yours Iris. I do not mean just the geographic distance, we are just 10,000 kilometres away from Eindhoven. I mean, in many other ways.
I grew up in a country where coconuts grow like weeds; where temperatures range between 25 to 35 degrees Celsius. There are no cold winters, and our trees are never bare from leaves.
Most families build homes close to their parents and siblings. We watch over each other, and watch over each other’s children, until the latter years, our parents are under the care of close relatives. The idea of childcare is different where I am from, and there are also no homes for the elderly. It has a lot to do with our economic landscape, and culturally this is what we are used to. Privacy has never been an issue.
Where I am from, breakfast is a warm, savoury, steamy bowl of rice with fish, pork, or chicken and vegetables. Or garlic fried rice and sausages.
And for most people, every meal is blessed with a bowing of heads to give gratitude and thanks.
In my mother’s home, coffee is brewing all day on Sundays. It is a reason to stay long after breakfast, as stories that chain one after the other reach a crescendo of interest and depth.
Our children play in the garden in a paddle pool, with water pistols and the garden hose.
The shrieking, teasing and crying toddlers amongst grown-up chatter and laughter around a table of ten are a usual Sunday morning scene. And then from my mother’s kitchen, comes a whiff of what might be lunch. Garlic and onions frying wildly on a wok, a promise of the lunch to come! After enjoying a tasty feast and coffee is served, we then beg for a ‘siesta’ (an afternoon nap) after all the food and stories. Usually there is never any urgency to get anywhere but to retreat to our own corners, or own homes to read a book; most of the week in my big, big, city called Chaos, we all deserve to take it slow.
This is a typical Sunday in my mother’s home.
When one leaves home for a foreign land, it is for a good reason. For many, it is for ‘greener pastures’, where income is seemingly better. For some it is for love, to be with someone who is from a different country.
I find my story in the latter.
With just the bare essentials, it is time to bring out the suitcase and pack for a big and long adventure. Not more than a toothbrush, moisturiser, a pair of trousers, t-shirts, a borrowed winter jacket (‘borrowed’ because there is no such thing as winter in the tropics), sneakers, a few books and a few important photographs. And then that one last embrace with mum and dad who with age have matured, wrinkled, eyes filled with hope for your return not too far away. No, you can’t take family and friends in suitcases.
Now, perhaps this is me being sentimental. No room is big enough to fit in friends and my Sunday coffee-loving family with the dogs, the orchestra of cats and palm trees. But they come along anyway, anywhere you go.
My feet are swollen from the salt in the bags of crisps and nuts I’d had in the plane, my eyes are dewy and red from exhaustion of goodbye parties, packing and, oh you know the story. Now they are screaming for a good night’s sleep. Then the pilot’s bass voice through the speaker tell us ‘it is 13 degrees in Amsterdam, please set your time to local time. It is 6:30 in the morning. On behalf of KLM and its crew, we wish you a pleasant stay and we hope to see you again in one of our future flights…’
Clutching a cart with a mountain of suitcases on it, I exit the hall of eager passengers and as though we were going to take a bow on a musical recital, the flowers are plenty in the hands of the waiting. The cheering takes my exhaustion away. An oma calls out to her grandchildren handing them a Nijntje plastic balloon each, and there is laughter everywhere. "You have been away too long!! Did you enjoy your trip, schatje?" one opa asks his grandchild.
I have reached my destination when a wave of something so undeniably warm and sweet embraces me. It is the smell of freshly-brewed coffee, and it tells me, I am home. Let’s have many coffees (or soup) together Iris to share our experiences. I am looking forward to that!