Anyone who has moved to an entirely new place knows that it’s not easy. The uprooting of your life makes the world feel groundless, as if the meaning that you’ve made out of the life now behind you has suddenly lost its structure, or worse, that it never existed. Moving is not exactly alienating—it’s not the newness of a place that is so hard to fathom. You can take an educated guess as to what eventually happens: you will furnish a new home, you will have a favorite grocery store, you will find a route to walk, and you will create the same coffee-consuming habits you once had elsewhere, or find new ways to indulge them. Moving is not alienating; it is a very familiar process. You become intimate with the performance of life, of how it will unfold in almost the same tune whether you are here or there. The fact that these things will be had, that you can make a home once more, is clear.

What, then, makes moving so difficult? Perhaps it's that excruciating place of defamiliarization with a life you experienced just yesterday. It's the burden of witnessing the transformation of a place you once lived in, kept it together in, cried because of, laughed in spite of, became fatigued with, were charmed by, crossed streets in, and were oriented towards, into a place that suddenly seems to have fulfilled the role of the background. Amidst this transformation, you mistake the notion of home for something that never truthfully existed; it was, at best, a preoccupying illusion. Yet only within this state of existential transformation—only by suddenly leaving a home—does this become apparent. The truth, then, is glaringly obvious: there is always a home, until for a brief, frighteningly footless moment, there isn’t.

I like to think that we gain more homes by moving, not lose the reality of homes past. When I first moved to a new city, I cried in front of my roommates for 2 weeks. I lost all sense of my identity, and bought horrible hummus platters from our college cafe so that I could feel closer to home. One roommate, Imani, offered me a cup of 7up because I was feeling sick. I didn’t feel better until I saw a couple of my friends that I had grown up with. I was homesick for the first time in my life.


Image from my new home in the same country I grew up in


The second time I moved cities was 6 years later. I remember a faculty member telling someone in my class who had finally found a room to stay in, about a month into the start of our program, something about how she can probably finally take the big city in, now that she has a place to be oriented from. During the first few weeks of train rides, I listened to Desiree Cannon’s album Beach Sleeper. It created a space for me to mourn the complete end of my previous home in San Francisco—my two favorite sandwich shops, hours of sifting through gems at the junk store, the weekend hikes overlooking the Pacific, the pizza place near the park, the long winding roads on the way to the Sunset, the traffic over the bridge—as I rode home to the new place that I slept in, conveniently safe and comfortable enough to go back to at the end of a long day. I thought about San Francisco while I was in another state, unknowingly gathering the sentiment of the place I was now in that would later help me define it as a home after I had left.

Once, I took a train and walked to the Poet’s House near the Hudson river, attempting to gather more time on foot in the place I didn’t yet know. On my way, I ran into a professor that would later become dear to my brief time in that new home. He said he was on his way to his Friday “reparative practice,” then chuckled and said “yoga.” That brief interaction punctured the threshold of placeless anonymity that I was feeling in that new city, amongst hundreds of strangers that finally became daily companions. Now, that memory comes to me as the start of my becoming embedded in the everyday fabric of the city.

Eventually, I found the places I loved to eat at, wander in, run through, and pass by. On some nights when I didn't want to cook dinner, I stopped by the taco place on my block before I went home, buying two black bean tacos but getting a free cup of corn from the guys in the kitchen. I remember staying at my friend's place in Manhattan when it was too late to spend 50 minutes getting back home. I also remember a train ride that came up out from underground, and the way it felt to be standing by the glass doors as the sunset spilled into the entire train, golden light pouring into all the faces of people going somewhere. That city became my home, albeit for a very short time. But I see it so clearly for what it was, now that I'm here instead, on the green desk in our apartment in Kuwait. The thing about the idea of home is that you never look at your home. You only ever look from it.

February 26, 2024 — Yasmeen Khaja

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