Familiar and Foreign
The last time I was in the UK was over a year ago. I flew in from Bahrain, stayed with my parents for one night, then flew to the Netherlands for a conference. I haven’t spent more than a single night in my “home” country for two years. That’s rather odd. I grew up here, went to school and university here, all my family live here, and yet in the last two years I have spent more time in the northern areas of Pakistan than I have in the land which my passport tells me I am from.
Everything here is both instantly familiar and completely foreign. I can tune the car radio from memory because, somehow, I know the frequencies of all my favourite stations. I can navigate around the south of England without a map. I walk into a pub and the barman says “Alright mate, what can I get you?” and it feels entirely natural, as if I never left.
And yet it also feels foreign. My nephews and nieces are older, bigger, and there are more of them. Many friends from church have moved away; at least one couple are now divorced. At church yesterday I saw a friend’s son for the first time in two years and when he was asked if he remembered me, he shook his head and ran off to play.
After five years overseas I feel as though I belong everywhere and nowhere. If you stuck me in a random country, anywhere in the world, I could probably manage fine. If dropped into a Pakistani valley I could find accommodation, food, and transport home without a problem. But the ticket queue at Basingstoke train station, or the self-checkouts at Tesco, are suddenly daunting. I’ll need to get petrol later today and I bet I’ll have to stand there scratching my head and wondering if someone fills it for you, like in Pakistan, or if you do it yourself with a pre-authorisation from the credit card, like in Canada, or whether I have my supermarket loyalty cards any more to get a handful of points from the purchase. Probably not. I hope I don’t create a queue.
Perhaps this is not a bad thing. Christians have a home, and this is not it. Thanks be to God for that.
You captured it well, Matt! The disconnect. I still feel it 5 years after ‘repatriating’. As believers, we are sojourners who should, on some level, never feel like where we are is completely home, because it isn’t.