Home is where the heart is

I Left home more than 20 years ago, just after finishing my apprenticeship. Ever since ‘home’ has been abroad, but every now and again, planes, cars, or automobiles take me back to my first home for a while.

Out of the airport and onto the train, the windows are open a little, and as the train enters the city, I can smell the hop from the breweries. My hometown is a city of breweries and, while it’s changed a lot over the years, some of them managed to cling on to their birthplaces in what is now very much the heart of the city. I like that smell. It’s what home smells to me.
My city’s grown up over the years and is a lot more multicultural than it used to be when I left it. I like that, too. In the taxi to my old apartment, I discuss the impending end of Ramadan and the upcoming Eid with the driver, who’s from Turkey. I know what people do in Dubai for Eid, but I had no idea how they celebrate in my old hometown.

I let myself into my apartment, automatically pulling the door so it makes the least noise – a remnant from my teenage years when I still lived here full-time.

The next day, I walk into the city centre, past my old school, and down old roads. It’s nice to actually be able to walk and not drive virtually everywhere like in Dubai. My steps lead me to my old hotel, where I started my hospitality industry career. It’s been refurbished, but carefully enough to make it look like nothing important has actually changed. The coffee is still reassuringly expensive and served by waitresses wearing starched aprons. The difference is that these days, I can afford to have a second cup and linger a bit longer in the lobby I once used to cross umpteen times daily.

I hop on a tram and it takes me past the university and near to the city’s largest park. I’ll leave that for another day, even though it’s perfect park weather. Close by, in a little side street an old friend of mine runs a café and has done, for close to 40 years. I used to spend entire days sitting there, reading the newspapers, playing backgammon, sipping grape juice with friends as the day turns into the evening. I didn’t tell him that I’m coming, because there’s no need to. I arrive during the early afternoon lull and there isn’t anybody else there when I open the door. My friend’s in the kitchen cooking tea and I just walk in and place my order. There’s laughter, hugs, and stories over several pots of tea. In moments like this, nothing has changed, and yet, I don’t really feel like I belong here and I’m acutely aware that I’m only a visitor, a virtual stranger now in my old hometown.

Leaving home and living abroad is often fascinating, but it’s also good to go home every now and again. Reconnect and realise that, although it looks like not much has changed over the years, things aren’t as I left them years ago. Buildings change and people change too, but for that fleeting moment you spend with old friends, you’re not just reliving your memories, but they are, too. I savour that, because it reminds me where I come from.

I leave the city as I found it, although with renewed purpose for my return to Dubai. After all, only if you know where you came from, can you figure out where you’re going.

Safe travels, everyone! Only if you leave every now and again, can you return. 

By Martin Kubler