It’s been one month since I’ve returned to Laos! And I can’t help but feel the tension between having just left home and adjusting to being back home. My roommate/confidant/friend, Emily, wrote this in anticipation of returning to America but I feel it’s just as relevant having just returned to Laos:
For years, I have been skirting the question, “So, where’s home?” In the past, I have found my answer in sarcasm — “I have no home, thanks for asking” — which is always well received (see, sarcasm). I’ve had a home in Colorado, Kentucky, and now Laos. In fact, I’ve had three homes in Laos. This new home, the one that is not my old home that I keep trying not to miss, has me asking this question to myself. Today, however, I’ve demanded a real answer.
In July 2012, I attended teaching orientation in Colorado (with my new-found friend, Lauren). One of the key sessions at the orientation was, I’m sure, creatively named, but will infamously live in Lauren’s and my minds as “The Play-Doh Talk.” “The Play-Doh Talk” was introduced to us as “the time to let go and cry” as our final days of living in our passport country dwindled. Cue my eyes rolling. “The Play-Doh Talk” goes like this: all of us (Americans) are blue Play-Doh. As an American, we have a culture, language, world-view, and belief system that makes us irreversibly American and blue.
Next is the yellow Play-Doh that represents Asia, which I realize is an ironic color choice when encouraging people to let go of their preconceived notions and stereotypes about this part of the world. Asia, or Laos in particular, has its customs and culture that makes it distinctly yellow, just like we’re blue.
The height of the presentation was the somber and deliberate blending of the colors while we watched our metaphorical selves turn green. I would never be blue again, nor yellow ever. We were, from that point on, the loners of the Play-Doh Universe. This is what living overseas does to you. It takes us out of our world and puts us in one we must adapt to. And as I looked around the room at my new colleagues, tears rolling down their cheeks and hands clasped to their hearts, I turned to Lauren, grabbed her hand under the table, and stifled a sudden bout of laughter.
Maybe it was the oddity of watching a toy bring so much sadness, but it felt shameful, pathetic even, to cry over the inevitable shifting of my paradigm and broadening perspective. Who doesn’t want to be more cultured? I pitied the crying sissies. Two days after that talk I moved to Laos. I began studying language and taking my shoes off before entering a shop. A month after that I was riding a motorbike and wearing traditional Lao clothing. A year after that I was arriving late to everything and getting sick from processed food. And today, as I shiver in 75-degree weather and listen to Lao women discussing papaya salad recipes while I type on my Mac, I accept that I am green.
I first figured it out when I was at a stoplight on my motorbike, dressed in all the trappings of a Lao lady. I felt every eye boring into my already blazing hot neck, reminding me that yeah, I stand out. I felt it again when my students, with smiles on their faces, commented on how chubby I’d gotten over the summer. And through gritted teeth and tears that finally got the last laugh, all I wanted was to go home. So where was home? America gave me dreams, but Laos gave me passion. America gave me comfort, but Laos gave me endurance. America is where I belong, but Laos is where I’m embraced. I am partly at home here, and I am partly at home there. I have no home, and sarcasm is dead.
I long for all the things that I love and none of the things I hate to be combined into one ultimate Play-Doh ball. There would be no misfits and no outcasts and no 5’11” white girls parading around like they’re Asian. I long for heaven. And though I may tear up watching fireworks on the 4th of July and allow myself to be doused with water over Lao New Year, heaven is my home. It is the final destination for all green Play-Doh, for all of us who have taken solace in the words, “We are not of this world.”
This longing is, perhaps, the greatest gift Laos has given me. Through it has come peace in tribulation and hope in what’s to come. In a culture where life is thought to be an unending cycle of suffering, heaven is literally the light at the end of the tunnel. It is the end of all displacement, of bratty eye rolls and troubled tears. And so we who have been called to till, sow, and reap this broken earth and wait for what’s next we cling to Paul’s words in Philippians 3:20: “Our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await the Savior, our Lord.”
We will continue waiting, fumbling around like aliens in a foreign land, and we will rest in the truth that we have no home. Not here, not yet.
So there you have it.