Home is where the heart is.

I feel like a little history is needed. To me, it feels all connected, and in a way, it has taken me to where I am today. Bare with me, please, or skip ahead, whichever you prefer.

Here we go. When my father was 18 years old, he went to the United States for a year of high school. Not that he needed it education-wise, but the year abroad getting to know family life in a culture different from his own was certainly something worth experiencing. The organization he used for arranging the connection with the host family certainly knew their job because my dad found a family for a life time.

It was somewhere mid-90s when my dad’s American brother Joel came to our house in Holland, and I met Joel, his wife Robin and their sons Nick and Charlie for the first time. Nick gave me a Polly Pocket, a gift that I still remember and cherish. At the time, it probably didn’t mean as much to me as it does now, because at the time I didn’t fully understand the power of the relationship between my dad and his extended family. It started to dawn on me when my dad took me and my brother to the USA, initially to visit his girlfriend (my ‘stepmom’, although I never called her that). My dad’s American parents were spending the winter in Arizona, where my dad’s girlfriend was at the time. It was then, that I first visited Walmart, and although I now have entirely different associations with the enterprise, at the time it meant a place where I could choose my first pair of camouflage army boots from the boys section instead of lame pink shoes from the girls section. They were a gift from Uncle Joel, and he let me beat him in a running contest while testing the shoes out. I remember thinking, wow, here is this Uncle I’ve only seen two times in my life, and he really is like an uncle to me. He let’s me get the cool shoes, he lets me be me, instead of trying to convince me to pick something more gender appropriate (whatever that may mean..).

Joel’s mom and her husband were like grandparents to me. The funny thing is, I’ve seen them only twice in my life, but when the news came that they had passed away, about a year apart from each other, I  felt just as sad as when my biological grandparents passed.

The bond between my dad and his American family is a tight one. The bond between me and my dad’s American family – between me and my American family is a tight one. When Joel got married again, to Debby, he called my dad to be his best man. This was approximately 35 years after they had been in the same graduation class, mind you. My dad took me, my brother, and my uncle (dad’s brother — who is 1,5 years younger and was still in school at the time my dad left for the USA) for a trip to the USA, to see our family. I have always been the ’emotional’ one in the family. I have always openly expressed the value of bonds between family. I’m loyal a f*ck. Give me one Polly Pocket when I’m 4, and I’ll love you forever. Just kidding of course, toys mean nothing in the end. The fact that these people, initially strangers to me, came so far across the ocean to see my dad made a huge impression on 4 year old me. It must have been the fact that these people meant so much to each other to cross oceans for and keep in touch after such a long time… I must have felt at the time how much these people meant to my father, and naturally, loving my dad, I loved the ones he loved too. But seriously, I felt the love between them when I was young, and took it over like it was my own love them. It is my own love.

Next chapter. In 2011, I went to Rio de Janeiro for 6 months to become an au pair (How I came to this plan I have described in different posts on this site. It could be that they’re in Dutch. If so: Message me and I’ll translate them gladly :D ) There I met this free spirit, just like I felt at the time, Aloha, who is still a good friend of mine. We connected instantly, not caring about stupid rules on behavior society tends to impose on people. We were crazy, and we knew we could be ourselves together. At one point, she got a very generous severance payment from her job as a second commander on a large ship, allowing her enough money to take the trip of a lifetime; traveling around the entire world in one year.

When Aloha posted her itinerary on Facebook, I could not help but feeling a little bit jealous. My god, what a marvelous trip this was going to be! From Brazil, to Europe, to Asia, To Australia, to North America.. Pretty much all over the world. Looking at the whole flight scheme, I decided that it was finally time for me to go to Turkey. It was one of the first 2-week legs of her journey that I would be able to accompany; the rest of the time, I was still in university. But Turkey, at the end of May.. Damn, that sounded like a good plan. I still had a lot of things I wanted to see there; Istanbul, Pamukkale, Troy, Bergama. Efes, ….

Luckily, my cousin Nick had settled in Istanbul some years prior, so when I thought of going to Turkey, I couldn’t overlook going to visit that city. Aloha and I planned our trip more or less via Facebook, telling each other which places we MUST visit. Everything else was up to the fates. Arriving in Istanbul and meeting Nick again after 7 years, was a given, though. I knew he was teaching English there, so I sure wasn’t going to miss him while in Turkey. (Funny note, when I was already in Turkey for a day, Joel called me and said his son was there teaching, and I said, yeah, I know, I’m meeting him later tonight. Joel is not so fast on Facebook :D ) In Izmir (where he was visiting his girlfriend for the weekend) I met Nick and of course, like I expected, it was like we had seen each other only a week before. I have no clue about his inner thoughts. I have no idea when he had his first kiss and how it was. I have no clue how he spent his summers, how he felt during high school. I don’t know about a lot of the things that many people generally classify as “now you know me like nobody else” but then again, for me personally, I think honestly only my eldest brother knows how to answer those questions about me. These facts don’t matter, not in the end.

In Izmir, Turkey, I met Nick for the first time in 7 years, and I met his girlfriend, Elif. For me it felt like coming home, to a long lost cousin who now, instead of handing me a pink toy, rented a car and showed me the land where he had found a life, were he had found love. We went to the places he had visited when he first came to Turkey 8 years prior. I hadn’t seen those places in vivo before, but I had studied some of them in high school. I love ruins of the ancient Romans, the Greek, the Byzantines. Then, a week later, we met again in Istanbul and Nick showed me where he had lived for the last few years. It was right at the time of all the protests in Gezi park, and my mother kept texting me not to go into the unsafe areas. For me, it seemed like show; not able to put all the political struggles in perspective yet, but fascinated by the people’s passion none the less.

Six months after I got back from that trip, Nick texted me. “I’ve got great news!!! I asked Elif to marry me, and she said yes!!!” And almost immediately after that, Elif sent me a message that I had to be at her Kına Gecesi, her henna party. Now, before I lose myself into telling the whole story, I want to express this: I had met Elif only 6 months before. We connected so intensely in the four days that we met, that she wanted me at her henna party – a traditional and special thing in Turkish culture. The fact that she wanted me there, meant so much to me… I cried the entire time during the ‘official’ part of the evening. I randomly ended up at a henna party in Holland before I went to Turkey, so I knew what was expected of me in terms of movements, dances, etc… But, man, did I cry, like a baby.

At a Kına Gecesi, or at least, at hers, the bride is dressed in red. The whole evening is about the bride being with her female friends, aunts, mothers, female neighbors, etc. They dance, eat, and have a good time, while the groom and his friends spend the evening somewhere else. At the end of the night, they come together at the house of the bride, and party together, but not before a certain ritual takes place. The bride goes to her room, and changes from her traditional red dress into something with white. While the bride and all her friends eligible for marriage are helping the bride change, the men enter the party. The groom is placed on a chair in the middle of the room, awaiting his future bride.

Elif asked me if I wanted to wear one of her traditional Turkish outfits, so I did. She wore a white gown over her red dress, and all the ‘single’ ladies followed Elif back outside. We all had little waxine lights on the palms of our hands, embellished with glitter and hearts. The lights we wore are a symbol of the light and the love we wish the future couple. Elif sat down at her chair, at first aside from Nick. The women all walked in a circle around Elif, three times around. The sky outside was dark with rain and wind, the moon was covered by clouds. Our flames were the only things people could discern clearly – the warm light cast shadows on our faces. Nick’s mouth dropped. He was flabbergasted. Then, Nick’s chair was pulled in, and we women repeated the same ritual. The couple was circled by tradition, by light, and by love.

Now, this was the start. Or dare I say, the continuation of the start…. Two days later, the wedding of Elif and Nick was a fact. Just like the night of the Henna party, this marriage felt like coming home. In Turkey, the actual getting married, is nothing more than an administrative issue; the memur (civil servant) asked, hey, wanna marry her? Wanna marry him? yes? Okay, you may kiss (it in fact wasn’t that short, in total 5 minutes, but yeah). That’s it. BUT I CRIED!!! These two people… I later described it as the union of two beautiful souls, and I still believe that’s true.

Now it becomes interesting, in the sense that am coming to the part where I met a very special person. Friends have laughed at me, have tried to warn me, have tried to direct my attention to the fact that I met him at a wedding… That meting at a wedding made it easy for me to fall in love. Because the environment was already full of love, I was already in such a state, etc, etc.. My only response to that is, If not at a wedding, where else? If not at the union of two beautiful souls, a celebration of two loved ones, were else? What else is the perfect place to fall in love, but a place where it is absolutely not about yourself, but about the union of two people so dear to you? If you can love two human beings so much, after spending so little time with them, if you can feel so happy for their union, without feeling any jealousy or resentment about not having the same for yourself… What better place is there to fall in love? What other place is there, but a place where you completely want love for other people, celebrating it, without expecting anything in return?

And then the next step: how much does it matter that this person you fall in love with, lives time zones away from you? The one I fell for is half Turkish, half American. How he ended up at the wedding is a story in itself, full of synchronicities with how I ended up there. For now, suffice it to say that he was meant to be there while I was too. We were meant to fall in love, or at least, I was meant to fall in love with him. I am not sure about how he feels about me anymore, if I ever was certain anyway. He lives in Turkey half of the time, in the US the other half. I live in the Netherlands, so no matter what, in our current way of life, we are physically apart.

But the thing is; even though we are apart, even though I am apart from my family in Turkey, from my family in America, in Brasil… Love knows no boundaries. Real, unconditional love knows no physical limits, it does not get limited by the amount of times you meet during the year. Unconditional love is not measured by the amount of messages you send, nor is it measured by the amount of money you spend on gifts. Unconditional love is not measured by the deepness of goodbyes, or hugs. “Goodbyes are only for those who love with their eyes. Because for those who love with their heart and soul, there is no such thing as separation.” — Rumi.

There is no such thing as separation, because the people you love will always be there with you in your heart. Distance does not matter. The only thing that I can see that causes me confusion is this.. What if you love a lot of people? What if they are in a lot of different places in the world? For me personally, I’ve been trying to find out where to “settle”. There is a place where you pay rent, insurance, taxes. I can follow my life mission, my purpose, sure, but in the mean time, there are still a few societal rules I have to follow. I want to wander, be free, follow wherever my heart takes me. But in this 27 years of my life, I have seen so many places, so many people that I want to call home, that I actually call home, that I am not sure anymore as to which place is home. Home is where the heart is, but what if your heart is with so many people? How do you prevent from becoming shattered? Home isn’t about the places you live, but the people you live with. The people you love. But how do you decide if there are so many people you love, in so many different places in the world? How do you decide where you spend most of your time?

Some say it’s a blessing and a curse to have passports from 2 different countries. It’s a blessing, especially of they are from two entirely different countries, politically speaking, and each passport offers you different benefits in different parts of the world. In that sense, it can come in pretty handy to have dual nationalities. On the other hand, it can me quite a curse. At first, I didn’t really understand why, because of the perks while traveling. I myself have a European passport, which offers enough perks in itself, so for a non-European to have two passports, seemed like a pretty good deal to me. Slowly I came to understand the curse of it all, however. Or at least, I could imagine a version of it.

My little brother has two passports. He is both Dutch and American, but was born in the Netherlands. When he was 2 years old, his American mother went back to living in the US, and naturally took her son with her. The deal was that each year, we would alternate going there, and them coming here, so that me, my other brother, and my dad would be able to see my little brother. That didn’t really happen as planned. It turned out that I went there 1 summer with my dad, he came here the next. The summer after that, and two summers after that, my mother took me to the US because relations between my dad and his ex were not so well anymore. After that last visit to the US with my mom in 2005, things were messy.

It was the last time I saw my brother, and due to some inexplicable actions of my bro’s mom, I was banned from speaking to him on MSN for almost a year – without a good reason (if she had one, she never told me). Even though I’ve been really sad about that for a long time, for not being able to see my brother… I don’t blame her, not really. I still don’t understand fully why she did what she did. I mean, I do understand the material and political motives at play, and how it all went down practically. Some things, she did deliberately, some things were probably more subconscious. Why she chose the more power-related options instead of the loving ones.. Whether she chose consciously to act like that, or she just didn’t know any other way to realize her American Dream… I’m not sure. None of that matters anymore, because the result cannot be changed.

I am back in touch with my brother. We don’t speak often, and although I am not liking the fact that I’ve missed so many years of him growing up… I still love him to death. He is still my little brother, just like he was the day when he was born. He never was a step- of half brother. None of that. I love him, and he will always have family at the other side of the ocean that loves him, no matter what. Meeting J. has made me realize that even though I didn’t get to see my brother each summer, and he had to miss his sister (he calls me his sister, too), he got a good thing. He got a relatively stable family life, with a new man in his moms life that he calls dad. A safe home, a dog, the same school and friends to be around. He had two parents there that loved him in their own way (and one father from afar that never stopped supporting him financially). I don’t know. Maybe being grounded in one place is not such a bad thing. Maybe it’s selfish of me to have wanted my brother here each summer, causing him possibly to be torn between to nations, two cultures. I don’t know how things would have turned out, whether they would be different if he had been here every other summer.. I do know, looking at J and the restlessness that he has, never wanting to be tied down in one place, afraid to settle anywhere, for anything or anyone… I get why having two passports can be a curse as well.

Meeting J made me grateful in a way for how things went for my brother. It’s like he is holding a mirror to my face in more ways than one, giving me a different perspective on the world. In a way, it’s nice to know you have a home anywhere in the world. It’s difficult, being torn globally between the people you love, but it’s a good difficult. Home is where the heart is, and the more places you call home.. The more places your heart is. Yes, that can be hard, and shattering, but luckily: love is the only thing that grows when it is shared. And that’s something pretty fuckin’ amazing.

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