A Severe Case of Homesickness – A Commentary by Henriette Chacar
I bought a children’s book in Arabic the other day, about a little girl who lost her imagination. The last time I read a children’s book, I was a child. The last time I read a book in Arabic, even though we spoke it at home, was… probably when I was in 7th grade, for school.
This is an extremely unusual thing for me.
ELIANA 1: It does get better, I have to say it gets better, it just takes a while.
This is my best friend Eliana. We’ve known each other since we were four. She’s in medical school now, in Hungary, so she understands what it’s like to live far from home. But it doesn’t take a medical degree to diagnose what I’m suffering; a severe case of homesickness.
I’m Palestinian from Israel. Last July, I moved from my hometown Jaffa to New York, to start graduate school. And New York! Let me quote Alicia Keys on that one — there’s nothing you can’t do. Maybe even randomly bump into famous people, like John Oliver! I was excited about being in the heart of it.
But then, homesickness settled in. At first it was in fleeting moments, but then more and more. Now, it’s just always there. Food kind of lost its taste; I started unconsciously inserting Arabic words in conversation; And — especially late at night — I’d totally disregard the seven-hour difference and call my mom, even when it was way too early for her.
I thought I was stronger than this. My mom likes to tell the story of my first day of kindergarten, when I let go of her hand and confidently walked past the school gate without looking back, as she stood there, tearing up.
But now I find myself lost. I call Eliana for advice.
Eliana: When I first moved away from home, it did happen to me, and it lasted for over a year. Sometimes you feel like you’re running a double life.
You hear that static white noise in the background? I hate it. Answering a call from back home means dipping into this deep current of longing while I’m simultaneously trying to keep myself from drowning in the day’s workload. That static? It just highlights the in-between-ness.
It’s a physical aching. I long to be home so much, I find myself rewatching videos of my two-year-old cousin Lucas singing nursery rhymes on the couch back home. I even asked my younger sister, Nadia, to record some of the sounds I miss the most.
I close my eyes and transport myself to my grandparents’ kitchen. I hear the calming crash of the waves coming in through the window.
Sounds of waves
I can see my grandfather making Arabic coffee in his blue buttoned-down shirt and fancy grey pants, dressed for the day even though he probably isn’t going to leave the house. My grandmother is sifting through lentils to make mjadara, with a cigarette in her mouth, and some old, black and white, Arabic movie is playing in the background.
Sound of movie
Like the little girl from the story, I too have lost my imagination, because it intuitively travels back home. But for now, that’s as close as I can get.