Home In The Spaces

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Sometimes I look at the life we stumble through, led by grace and purpose, and I see holes…

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My twins have lived in Minnesota for two years, Somaliland for almost a year, Kenya and France for a few months each, Djibouti for eight years, Minnesota again for one year, and Kenya again for almost a year. That makes roughly twelve years and five countries.

I asked my daughter, Where was home? This is the dreaded, complicated, richly beautiful question Third Culture Kids wrestle with because, for a TCK, the answer might take five minutes. Or it might dredge up buried memories of lost places and people. Or they might draw a blank, not know how to answer.

Is home for my TCK where she was born or where she was potty trained or the place from which she fled with her family and a single suitcase? Is home where she found peace and safety for a few months, where she cared for a baby hamster, or where she had best friends and a bedroom and memories of skinned knees and Friday waffle-and-Star Wars traditions? Or was it where she licked snow for the first time and ate grandma’s cookies and spoke the same language at school as she spoke at home? Or is it where she lives now, at boarding school? Or where her parents and sister live, counting down the days until the school break?

I told her I felt torn sometimes, lost sometimes, whole and rooted sometimes. Half home in America, half home in Djibouti. Fully home in neither, walking around with a sort of tear down my center. And now that she her brother are at school in Kenya, that tear down my center bleeds.

She didn’t blink. “Home? Djibouti.”

Djibouti. This country that has taken so much from her and yet given so much to her. Sometimes I look at the life we stumble through, led by grace and purpose, and I see holes in the shape of grandparents and temperature-controlled showers, the shape of cousins and friends who share the same faith traditions, the shape of an intrinsic understanding of subtle cultural nuances.

But my daughter doesn’t look at the holes. She lives in the holes and looks out from them. She sees learning to pump on her own at the playground with rickety swings and rusty nails in the sand. She sees cliff jumping into the ocean and camping under the stars. She sees folding paper airplanes and starting a paper airplane business at school with her best Djiboutian friends. She sees reciting Mary’s Magnificat in French and performing it by heart at church on Christmas Eve. In other words, she sees a childhood filled with richness and memories and relationships.

Exodus 32 and 33 tell about a particularly rough week Moses suffered. The Israelites had built a golden calf and God wanted to destroy them all. Moses shattered the tablets he had spent forty days receiving and then he watched as three thousand men died at the hands of his relatives, the Levites. Moses pleaded mercy and begged God to not abandon his people or his promises. God renewed his promise to go with them. Desperate and grieving and disappointed and longing for God, Moses asked to see his glory. God said no one could see his face and live. Instead, he put Moses in the clefts of a mountain and passed by, declaring his goodness and his name. Exodus says Moses saw only God’s back.

I don’t know what that means, I don’t know how to anthropomorphize God and how to talk about his face or his back. But I like the image of Moses, nestled by a loving, powerful God into the spaces, the gaps, the cracks in the mountain. Moses turns from the mountain, looks out of the space, and the glory of God passes by.

When I release my perspective of home and of Djibouti and put on my daughter’s, when I find myself living in the holes and looking out from them, I see the back of God. I hear the voice of God declaring his goodness and glory.

I have read that many TCKs don’t consider a place home, but rather people. I love that. A home can burn, be flooded, be evacuated, sold. But TCKs find home in the space around people they love and in the space that people they love give to them.

For my TCK then, she finds home in the space to be her Kenyan self, the self that drinks Chai and counts in shillings. Space to be her French self with the perfect accent and all the information you never wanted to know on Louis the 14th. Space to be her American self, the self that wears skinny jeans and craves adventure and laughs loud. Space to be her Djiboutian self, the self that leaps into the Gulf of Tadjourah and savors the suffocating heat.

Home, for TCKs and their parents, is not a building or a place and probably not even a country. We won’t live here, or there, forever and they know that. We live in the holes, the spaces, the in-between places, and we watch for the passing glory of God.

If you’re a TCK or if you are raising a TCK, how do talk about home? How do you think about home? Do you have any tips for a non-TCK mom trying to figure this all out?

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 Photo credit: Tina Francis

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Rachel Pieh Jones
Rachel Pieh Jones has written for the New York Times, The Christian Science Monitor, EthnoTraveler, the Desiring God blog, and Skirt. She lives, writes, and runs in Djibouti with her husband and three children. She blogs at www.djiboutijones.com.
Rachel Pieh Jones
Rachel Pieh Jones

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