The dreaded Lockdown or the beginning of my existential crisis
Even though we all saw it coming the dreaded eight letters still caught all of us by ‘surprise’:
L O C K D O W N. The sudden realisation that everything we love would have to close: schools, bars, restaurants, gyms… borders. Suddenly, I felt helpless. Now, let’s get this straight. “Lockdown” is not a bad word. It is a necessity. I get it. But its announcement triggered something I had been fostering for a long time now, or rather refused to deal with. Until these eight letters.
It all started with what appeared to be an innocent conversation. My gallant colleague opened the door to let me through. And then, he dropped the dreaded two Cs (aka Corona-Conversation):
“awful time, right?”
“Yeah, very stressful indeed”
“Are you going back home?”
And it hit me. He could have punched me in the face. Same result. Was I going back home?
“Home” is an interesting concept when thinking about it. Home is comforting. Home is what you miss when you travel. What you yearn to go back to after a long day. Home is what you leave to build a new one. Four letters, so common, but they shape our lives. Both good and bad.
Should I go back home? A simple question but it was enough to conjure massive anxiety, 2 bottles of gin, insomnia, over-exercising and a severe penchant for anything crunchy (RIP my stock of crisps, you indeed have been loved).
Until it had to stop one day and I had to think.
I’ve always known I was not quite fitting in. Anywhere. But it’s only recently that I’ve been able to name this feeling: Home-lessness (I inserted the tilde in order to differentiate it from the other and sadly very real issue). But yes, I am indeed talking about home-lessness, or what I would define as “the feeling of not having a home despite the actual ceiling above your head.” Very millennial. Always complaining. Never happy. I know. But, hear me out.
When Bless-him-colleague innocently asked me if I was going back home, in a way, he had asked me where I came from, or rather where do I really come from. Same question, different wording. A question to which I have no [please insert your preferred swear word] clue and that usually embarks me on an unwanted journey which usually ends up in awkward silence. It usually goes this way:
“So, I was born in Mauritius…”
“Mauritius? But you’re white. I know many Mauritians and they’re all more … Indian like” (smooth Karen)
“Yes, that’s because my parents are French, well not exactly cause, see, my dad’s half French on his mother’s side, and Creole on his dad’s. My mom comes from Reunion island, which is a French oversea territory but they’re from white descent. So they both have French nationality even though they’ve never set a foot on the Mainland.”
“and how come you’re French?”
“Well, I have the nationality because of the right of blood, but then again I was born and raised in Mauritius. Until I decided to go and study in France”
“So you never actually grew up in France?” (this is usually accompanied by a raising eyebrow and the word “impostor” behind the tone)
“Well, I lived there for a few years, but no: born and raised by the sea”
- Searching for “home”
Now, I can say that I kind of like being from a mixed background. Having grown up on an island that screams “diversity” I can understand a variety of customs: I feel like I’m more open-minded and accepting and I can tell pretty easily where a person comes from based on their facial features. Nonetheless, I’ve never felt at home in Mauritius, or anywhere for what it’s worth. So, let’s dig into that, shall we? I promise, it won’t be too painful.
I looked for the definition of “home” in the dictionary, and then on JSTOR (for the Uni students, you know what I’m talking about) and stumbled upon Mavis Reimer’s contribution to Keywords for Children Literature (I like quoting unconventional works, #sorrynotsorry). For Reimer, ‘home’ primarily means ‘the seat of domestic life and interests’. It is, first and foremost, the bricks and the walls that surround you and protect you from immediate danger (such as wolves, meteorites, or boring people). But that’s not it. Home is also, on a psychological level, closely linked to the figure of the mother. It is this soothing, reassuring place you dwell in, the extension of the maternal body, of the womb. Witold Rybczynski (now try to repeat it three times as quickly as possible) goes even further and links it with, “the appearance of the internal world of the individual, of the self, and of the family.”
“Home” can therefore be interpreted as a place and/or a feeling. It is at the very centre of our lives and kind of mirrors our society. The term “homelessness” appears in 19th century Europe and is defined as the “state of having no home” (OED). “Home” is thus a condition of plenty but also a sort of border between inclusion and exclusion, between staying and leaving. Nowadays, in a world where countries are not limits anymore but mere pathways, it remains a central notion. Indeed, as we all travel, study abroad, migrate… who has never ever said once “the world is my home”? “Home” fluctuates, it is permeable, it is moving. But how can we reconciliate it to our desire to dwell in there?
- Colonising home
The OED closely links “home” to the British Empire. It was first used by British subjects abroad and defined as being “one’s own country, one’s native land. Let’s be controversial: could we understand the British Empire (or any Empire as it matters) as a “large-scale homemaking project” (Reimer)? The consequence of which being “displacement” for the “colonized inhabitants”. To summarise, the homemaking endeavour (aka colonisation) has as a consequence the “loss of home for the inhabitants of [please insert your preferred colonised country]”.
Now, where am I going with this you might ask?
Well, my point is, growing up in Mauritius and being from a mixed family I always felt estranged, awkward, and not fitting in. As a matter of fact, I would reject my Mauritian heritage until very recently. Because, unconsciously I was still very much imbued with the ideas that what I had was not “real culture”. The ‘Real’ being what was shown on the TV and at school. Oh yes, I went to a French school, listened to French music and would spend my weekends going to the French Institute, learning about how great a country France is. And it is! But that’s another debate.
I refused to learn Creole; well, I can still swear, but that doesn’t really count. Sadly, I had only associated the language to swearing, fighting and the debasement of the French language (using strong wordings here, my apologies to any Mauritian fellas). To sums things up, I felt ashamed growing up there, felt like I was in essence lesser than my French friends, and I couldn’t wait to build a home in France. Then, I went to Uni there thinking that I could finally express my “Frenchness” and… nothing changed. Well, I did notice that my whiteness was blending in more easily. But still, even with the dozens of friends and well-known places, still this feeling was eating me up slowly:
YOU DON’T BELONG HERE.
That’s when I decided to study English. I hated English before because… well, old rivalries, I guess. Maybe that was my Mauritian soul speaking. Anyway, I ended liking the language so much I moved there, to England. Because I felt more ‘British’ than French or Mauritian. Even used to tell my friends that that was my ‘chosen’ identity. And in a way, half of my family lives there, so why couldn’t I claim a piece of the former British Empire?
[please insert your preferred god] I was so wrong.
I love England and the people I met. But still, no “home”. Or, is it?
I will now answer the question dear-colleague asked me. No, I didn’t “go back home”. Because “home” is a concept I’m estranged from. And because I came to the realisation that my heart doesn’t need to dwell in one place in particular. As a matter of fact, I feel mostly at home in an airport, or on the road, because this is what I’ve known best. My heart lies with my Mauritian and sunny youth as much as it smiles at my French Uni-years filled with coffee and meeting deadlines. It also rainbows with my grown-up British rain and the Bless-them-parks. To quote Rabindranath Tagore, “The time that my journey takes is so long and the way of it long”. But I like this journey and I am more than happy to build my home on the go.
Nel, Philip, and Lissa Paul, editors. Keywords for Childrens Literature. NYU Press, 2011. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt9qg46g. Accessed 15 Apr. 2020.
Rabindranath Tagore, “Journey Home”.