“Home is where I want to be. Pick me up and turn me round.”
Those are lyrics from an old Talking Heads song. They’ve been stuck in my head the last few days as my husband, John, and I have been driving around the greater Boston area looking for a new house. You see, when we bought our 800-square-foot condo four years ago, there were just two of us. But with the arrival of our daughter, Olive, earlier this summer we’ve quickly run out of room.
Now we’re looking for a place twice as big. And we’re debating what’s most important to us. Do we move to the suburbs for the schools? Or to stay in the city for the restaurants and shops? Do we want an old house with character? Or a gut renovation that’s move-in ready?
The more we see, the more confused we get. But yesterday, after looking at yet another place that was great but not quite perfect, I had a thought. No matter what type of building we choose, and no matter what the town or neighborhood, we’ll be happy. We’ll be together. And that’s what matters most.
That realization got me thinking about the many homes I’ve been invited into over the years while traveling for Oxfam. Whether tiny rooms or sprawling complexes, constructed of wood or tinder block, with tin or thatched roofs, they have all been modest by American standards. But each had a family that tended to it with loving care, hanging portraits of ancestors and gods on the walls, sweeping out every bit of dirt, and preparing elaborate meals for guests.
These were the places where they raised their kids and listened to their grandparents’ stories. These were the places where they discussed their changing community. On these lands, they made their living, raising cattle, growing rice and vegetables, and catching fish.
And yet, when I met so many of these families, they were in the process of defending their homes and livelihoods. In Ghana, a woman who had built a large house for her children and grew cocoa a short walk from her house, wondered why a gold mining company thought she would want to live anywhere else. In Cambodia, a young boy threw his fish net out onto the Sesan River, struggling to catch anything since a dam had been built upstream in Vietnam. In Guatemala, a coffee farmer walked us through his hurricane-damaged farm, describing how his cash crop had withered in the face of erratic weather.
Thinking about the people I’ve met and the homes and lands they’ve shown me, I’m trying to put my house search into perspective. We are lucky to choose where we want to live. We are lucky to buy something sturdy and safe. And we are lucky that wherever we live, we probably won’t have to defend it in the face of a company or government’s advances or even amidst the fallout of a changing climate.
We still have a few weeks to find a new place. But I’m feeling less worried about it now. Something will pop up. And no matter how many bedrooms or baths, it will be the place that houses our memories and traditions. In the end, that’s what makes a house a home.