Where are you from?

by Bhavana Gesota

Today I was a Canadian.

A couple of weeks ago, I was a Mongolian.

A month ago, I was a Brazilian.

Other times, I am an American.

And sometimes, when asked, I say I am an Indian.

The last one is the hardest. Not because I am running away from my birth identity like some suggest, but because it generates a plethora of questions and expectations depending on the asker’s perception and experience of India. To navigate through that is an exercise in patience and expense of time which I don’t want to be bothered with. It is almost easier, when someone asks where I am from, to give an obscure answer like Mongolia. Few strangers know much about the country, unless, of course they happen to be from Mongolia. Or sometimes it’s simpler to give a more run-of-the-mill answer like American or Canadian.

The question “Where are you from?” is not an easy one for me to answer. It’s a question I face in public places from random strangers while on my nomadic track. Perhaps they want to start a conversation or appease their curiosity. I want to ask in return “How much time do you have?” But instead I politely make up an answer depending on the time-space-inclination variables.

Where am I from?

I am baffled by the question.

Are people asking me where I was born? Or are they asking me where I live now? Or are they asking me which passport I carry? Those would be more precise questions to ask a nomad like me. Because really, I have three distinct answers for these three questions which I am unable to summarize into one reply.

Perhaps this question was more easily answered in the days when people were born, grew up, studied, worked and raised families in the same place. I think about my maternal grandmother and can confidently say that if she was asked “Where are you from?”, she would reply without hesitation “I am from Mumbai”. The solidity and clarity of such an answer eludes me. It must be quite something to feel so rooted in one place that it becomes part of your identity and sense of belonging. I must admit I don’t have this rootedness. I wonder what it would feel like in my body and mind if I had it. The only real rootedness I remember was in the home I grew up in until I was 13.

It would be quite different if people asked me “Where is your home?” Maybe for digital nomads like me that is a more relevant question than one that only relates to the past. In this age of digital nomadism where time and space is compressed through the cyber medium, really, its more about asking where is home? Rather then where I am from. “Where is home?” invites a more meaningful answer than “Where are you from?” A question that many other digital nomads like me ponder on.

The original myth of home always being where I was born then becomes available to be unpacked, dissected and unravelled by my life experiences which have left an an imprint on me. It forces me to re-examine rather then take for granted the notion of home. It presents a multi-faceted opportunity to create an answer rather then rely on one given to me by birth or education or the passport I carry.

This question of home always takes me to the song by Paul Young “Wherever I lay my hat that’s my home.” I simply change the words to suit me “Wherever I lay my heart that’s my home.” I could lay this question to rest with this answer.

But I continue to ponder. Is there a need for a single answer to this single question? In my nomadic journey, I have left a piece of my heart in many places. Could the planet Earth be my home?

Weren’t many of our tribal ancestors nomadic? They didn’t have a single place that they called home. They moved as a tribe from place to place in search of food and shelter. We are not hunters and gatherers anymore. Now we move in search of work. Sometimes we move in search of love or for love. Or sometimes we take our work with us wherever we go as digital nomads. The more I travel and meet other travellers, the more I realize that the nomadic tribal part continues to live in many of us in the deep recesses of our reptilian brain. Our nomadic ancestors passed messages through the birds and the drums and the wind. We pass messages through WhatsApp and Facebook. We don’t move in tribes any more but we still search for a tribe where we go.

So I ponder over what makes a place feel like home. What are the variables that give me a felt sense of home in a place? Invariably I reach into my childhood. The places that feel familiar and comfortable from my childhood are where I feel at home. That does not mean being surrounded by Indians or eating Indian food or celebrating Indian festivals. Even though I retain some of that in my lifestyle, they do not, by themselves, give me the felt sense of home. Rather it is the tone, the texture, the shades of a place and the people that give me the familiarity and comfort I call home. I don’t feel at home in big cities like Berlin or Mumbai or Kuala Lumpur but I feel completely at home in small villages with nature and land around me - like the Sacred Valley of Peru. Small places invoke a sense of familiarity that I had in my childhood. Buying bread from the same baker over and over again. Developing a relationship with the fruit vendor, the local laundry, the medical store or the local café. Recognizing people and seeing the same faces again and again. This gives me a feeling that appeals to my inner harmonics and generates a sense of well-being. Invariably, its the feng-shui of people and place together that make me feel part of a community, a tribe, and give me the sense that we look out for each other; it is what gives me a feeling of belonging and a felt sense of home.

And so I continue to ponder over what home is through my senses and feelings rather than where I come from. Whether I find a single answer or not and how long it takes, I do not know. Perhaps the answer itself will change as time changes. Perhaps surrendering to the transitory nature of the answer is the key.

 

Bhavana Gesota is a ex hi tech digital nomad, a venturing artist and a writer who seeks creative self-expression. Travel has been part of her life since the last 20 years and life has taken her on many adventures around the world. She enjoys reflective writing and musings along with painting. 

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