As I was getting ready to go home this summer, I made a mental checklist of what to do during my layover in London Heathrow Airport. I could picture the airport– I knew where everything was, every detail mapped out. Heathrow has become a consistent part of my breaks and my semester, and a layover there has become as familiar and routine to me as buying books at the start of the semester. I feel more at home in an airport than I do in most cities.
There is no one place I can really call home – I’m more at home with the concept of traveling or being between houses I’m what has been termed a Third-Culture Kid: a person who has grown up in multiple countries, and in a culture or cultures different from those of my parents. I have a Pakistani passport, was born in the United Kingdom, spent a good chunk of my childhood in New York City, and for the last ten years, my family has been based in Nairobi, Kenya, which is where I will be spending half of my summer.
Nairobi has a large international, expatriate community, and it’s a bubble I grew up in. The community is always in flux as people come and go and the city itself has changed so much in the past ten years we’ve been here. Each time I visit it’s as if a new mall has sprung up, or old shopping centers have been renovated or my old school added new buildings. It’s a very different Nairobi than the one I moved to in fourth grade.
I’m more than a little envious of my friends in college, who go home and spend most of their breaks catching up with friends from high school. Growing up in an expat community, we had friends moving away each year. Three of my closest friends moved away the summer after we graduated high school, and I haven’t physically seen any of them since. Since I went to an international school, most of the students were not from Kenya, and would go to their home countries for the summer, or would spend their summers traveling. Apart from the fact that my friend’s families now live in other countries, my friends also attend university in different countries around the world, making our schedules less likely to sync up. So meeting up with old friends isn’t always that easy.
Home has less to do with where you are than who you’re with. Moving frequently and not having many constants strengthened my attachments to the things that didn’t change. It made me closer to my family. I missed my family the most when I went to college – more than I missed any physical aspects of the places I grew up in. So now that I’m back, I am thrilled to be able to spend time with my family. I get to annoy my sister in person, go out for lunch with my parents and go grocery shopping with my mom, which is something I actually enjoy now. It’s nice to be with them while they’re just living their normal lives.
There are things about Nairobi I took for granted that I began to miss while at college, like the weather, the scenery, and the restaurants, movie theaters and other places I used to go. Sometimes I feel like I’m more of a tourist, and even though I know I’ll never fully be a local, visiting has made me appreciate Nairobi as both a vacation destination and a home– or ,at least, somewhere between the two. And for now, that's enough.