Sitting in the global health conference today, staring up at the projection, it hit me like a wave of nausea. Homesickness. It was just a picture of a hospital up there on that screen, but the speaker meant the hospital to be an example of private-public partnerships, and to me it was home. Looking at that picture, I knew how long it took to walk through the long grasses and up the red dirt road to my concrete room on the hill. I knew the slightly sneezy feeling in my nose from all of the dust in the Dry Season air. I knew how god-awful the cassava pesto tasted. I knew it all, hitting me over the head with just a picture of a hospital.
Ever since we came back from Africa before my junior year, I'm not sure I've been home. Don't get me wrong - I love my room. I love the Russian painting of a cat above my bed, the pointe shoes hanging on a hook, the Wall-E made of scrap metal, the calendar of vintage seed catalogs. And I love my house. I love the woodstove in the kitchen, the four windows in the library, the wheezing noises of the radiators. I love my room, my house, my city. But I'm not sure if it is my home.
I miss Africa more than anything. I miss Africa when I hear Rwandan accents or see hospitals in the hills. I hadn't realized how much I missed Africa until then, listening to a lecture in which the speaker showed a simple photo - a landscape that brought tears stinging behind my eyelids. For the first time in a long time (which I don't get - did I just bury all of this?) I feel I can't go on without the red dust and heat and smells and noise that pull me back.
When the photograph came up I called a friend of mine. His response was that people are normally homesick for their past and present homes rather than a future home, and I know that he's right.
It's odd, though. I always thought that I could go wandering without being tied down to places. And I love London and Paris and Greece (the extent of the rest of my travels). I could live there for a while - I'd love to, in fact. But when I see a photo of clouds over Parliament, I think "oh, I love London, I wish I could go back." I don't think that I might die if I don't return. That was melodramatic, but you know what I mean. I still think that the light on the moors is perhaps the most beautiful thing I have ever seen, but my heart is not wrenched in the same way it is towards Africa.
Meryl Streep in "Out of Africa" understands the indescribable pull of the continent. In "The Grass Is Singing," Doris Lessing examines its darker, destructive side. But it is always there. The rawness of Africa grabs you and holds you tight and never lets go. So I am homesick. I am not homesick for my past and present home, for the place of my birth, for all that I love about New England - fall and winter and muddy spring. I am homesick for red dust and wooden bikes and the rawness of an entire continent. Somehow, in this whole mess of things, I am homesick for Africa.