14 July 2011
Returning to a house in the elusive search for a home
Home is a messy concept, an amalgam of personalized shelter and refuge from the world that is typically tied to a family (broadly defined), serves as a network of support, and is rooted to a specific place or places with a shared meaning over time. The relative and shifting importance of these elements vary by person, family, and circumstances as I discovered after 15 years of studying systemic poverty, much of it by working with agencies providing services to homeless persons. Homeless shelter operators know that a warm cot, a roof overhead, and meals does not constitute a home. Many shelter residents have, for a wide variety of reasons, lost or exhausted the ties that once bound them to a family, loved ones and a community.
By the time I decided to work overseas in 2006, oligarchic rule had effectively triumphed in the United States, key constitutional guarantees like the separation of powers had been trashed, and I felt like a stranger in the land in which I was raised. I am reluctant to pinpoint a specific date or event to signify the start of any historical shift, especially one of this magnitude, but the re-election of George W. Bush in 2004 eliminated doubt for many of my most stubborn friends.
While working overseas in Kyrgyzstan, I thought I found a reasonable shot at a key element of home, a household united by love, with a woman I met in Bishkek, the Kyrgyz capital. We sustained a long-distance relationship for the next three years, during which I relocated to Afghanistan. At the start of this year, I expected to be married by this summer. Where we lived wasn’t particularly important to me because I knew on a visceral level that being together was more important to me than any particular place. But as my Buddha-self likes to remind me every so often, nothing in this world endures: the relationship ended and I was forced to re-evaluate my hope for home.
During my stay in Kabul, the security threats that terrorize the lives of ordinary Afghans and limit international workers’ movements got progressively worse, so in March I gave my notice, unsure what I would do next, but certain it was time for me to pull up stakes. I didn’t particularly want to return to the States, despite the presence of some family members and friends, but I still owned a house in Albuquerque and whether I sold it, rented it out again, or moved back into it, I needed to tend to its upkeep.
My last renter left at the end of April and the house was empty when I returned two weeks ago, which gave me the opportunity to refinish the battered and bruised wood floors. The desiccated yard also needed attention as did a handful of other improvements I had put off for too long. But it was evident I didn’t really want to be here because whenever I returned to my property my first week and calculated the work I needed to do, I soon figured out a way to avoid it.
I am starting to feel a bit more settled in the house, even though I know employment may take me overseas again. Maybe I just needed a little more time for my psycho-social transition from a war-ravaged corner of the developing world. I have some good friends here and my family is more accessible. In spite of the region’s drought, which stoked fears that I had returned to the frontlines of the ecological end times, the modest rainfall of the last couple of days have unleashed the smells of the earth, grasses, sage of the high desert and reminded me why I once settled here.
Photo: View from the front yard into the back with a Bird of Paradise in background in bloom.
at 3:06 PM