By Cheryl D’Souza
We hear it all the time: Home is where the heart is. I guess the question is, is there one set place for your heart?
Back when I was 18, I lived abroad in Myrtle Creek, Oregon, for six months as an exchange student. I grew incredibly fond of Myrtle Creek and its people, but never once did I question the idea of Kuala Lumpur being my home.
I wouldn’t say I was homesick – I did not ache for home. It was more of me enjoying myself, but knowing at the end of the day that Malaysia was where I truly wanted to be.
I did not cry when I left the country, but I most certainly did when I came home.
Fast forward two years later, and I’ve left again – this time to be a university student in New York City. I loved New York the moment I touched down; I loved the hustle and bustle, the constant sirens, the different people, the way New York seemed to be not so much a city, but a mini world.
And then after a while, once my excitement calmed down a little (and school kicked in a lot), I grew a little tired of the vivacity, the fast-paced life, the way everyone was always doing something or another.
I remember thinking longingly of mamaks in Malaysia, and how I used to spend a large chunk of my day at them, sipping too-sweet Milos and talking with friends. I missed the way people stopped to chat with you, instead of hurriedly calling out a “How are you?” while sprinting away.
Most of all, I missed the food. I missed how one dish was an explosion of five different flavours, and how good food was always affordable.
Coming home after nine months of being away was wonderful.
In the first week back, I’d managed more sleep than a month in New York. The sun shone all the time, and yes it was hot, but I remember thinking how I would take sweat over pneumonia any day. Also, my mum did all my laundry.
You cannot truly appreciate how magical it is to have someone else worry about your laundry until you’re away, and it’s the weekend, and you have to lug your laundry to the creepy could-be-a-murder-scene basement and hope that you have enough change and that the machine won’t swallow any of your quarters.
And yet, I missed New York. I was suddenly annoyed by how slowly people moved. It frustrated me that I could not just walk everywhere. I missed seeing people dressed like dinosaurs walking around.
And then I was angry at myself.
I had spent my last two weeks in New York battling finals, fighting sleep, hurriedly packing, and severely missing home, only to come home and realise that maybe, just maybe, the place I had left had somehow become home.
It was a feeling I fought for weeks, forgot even when I was in the company of family and good friends, or playing with my dog, or eating wan tan mee. And then, a month and a half after getting home, I was negotiating a parcel delivery when the woman asked me, “Your home address please, miss?”
Such a simple question, and still, I paused. Long enough for her to repeat the question.
“No, no, I heard you. Hold on a second.” I’d almost given her my Malaysian address, but by the time shipping kicked in, I’d be back in New York.
So, I guess that meant that my home address would be the one in New York. She repeated my address and then informed me that they would store it on their database, and just like that, it was made official.
Cheryl D’souza’s official home address would be in New York City.
The last week before leaving Malaysia was rough. There were a lot of last times – last time eating bak kut teh, last time meeting up with certain people, last walk with my dog. Leaving was hard.
Saying goodbye to my mum was very hard. Twenty-two hours later (and technically a whole day earlier, because time difference is a strange and wonderful thing), I arrived in New York. And I almost burst into tears. I was so happy!
I thought coming back would be difficult. I imagined I’d let slip a couple of “lahs” before I remembered that no one understood it. I thought I would have a hard time shrugging Malaysia off me.
The truth is: coming back was not difficult.
I slipped into my pre-coming home life easily. I made it a point to consume too much pizza and bagels. I traipsed about in the various parks. I started talking to strangers again. It was lovely to be back. And even though I knew that things would not be so easy when school started again, I did not care. I was ready even, to consume copious amounts of coffee and get as little sleep as possible. Bring it on.
I’m back for the summer again, and the need to identify my home is not necessary anymore.
I realised that I needed to make the distinction because I was worried about being one of those people who’d forgotten where they’d come from.
I did not want people to think that the bright lights of New York had blinded me to whom I had originally been: a Malaysian with a too-strong liking for durian. This idea of home does not cause me consternation anymore.
I’ve grown to realise that home is not so much a structure as it is a feeling.
So for me, that means home is my favourite pan mee, and also Washington Square Park. Home is Milo ais at the mamak, but also 2 Bros dollar pizza.
It is okay to love two places with all your heart. And also, it is comforting. Because wherever I am, I am happy.
As Robert Frost once said, “Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.”
Cheryl D’souza is a rising junior at New York University. She is pursuing a degree in Public Health with a minor in social and public policy. She is currently an intern at VoC through the Otak-Otak program. Cheryl is looking forward to a future in HIV Aids research and violence interruption. Her favorite animal is the platypus and she is an incurable caffeine addict.
This is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily represent the views of Voice of the Children. Youth Voices is a safe space for youth to engage constructively and discuss social issues.