Oz or Bust

Oz or Bust - Image 1 460x234
By Skye Moody

When Dorothy says, “We’re not in Kansas anymore,” we don’t learn what Toto thinks of Oz, but Dorothy’s clearly spooked. Similarly, Through-the-Looking-Glass Alice knows for a fact that Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee have no business smoking their hookah pipe in the tree branches of Kensington Gardens where Christopher Robin romps with his homeboy, Pooh. Red Riding Hood’s naive take on “mi casa es su casa” nearly lands her in a heap of furry trouble. We’re tempted to conclude that only fey children and smarmy sentimental weaklings embrace the concept of homesickness.

Like Lyle Lovett, I live in my own mind. So I say. Sounds braver than admitting just a scrap of me feels nostalgia for a home on the range — deer and antelope optional. I’m proud that most of my furnishings consist of carry-on luggage and that I often catch myself staring into shop windows displaying suitcases, analyzing the baggage options as a homemaker might scrutinize couches and coffee tables. I’m a Planet Earth native, a global citizen; home for me is wherever the floatplane is landing or where the sled dogs slow to a stop. Wherever I alight, eventually I’ll find an excuse to depart, yet I always leave behind a piece of my heart. I thrive on the exotic, the exotic being whatever place or people I haven’t yet experienced. No place ever feels really foreign to me, yet no place ever seduces me into putting down roots. I can feel at home anywhere, with one exception. (Answer at the end of this column.)

 I’m a Planet Earth native, a global citizen; home for me is wherever the floatplane is landing or where the sled dogs slow to a stop.

As for planting roots, the idea threatens my inborn global explorer, a portable design that’s genetic; my ancestors were sea captains who sailed to and from their properties in Liverpool, their real home being the seas and the ships they commanded. Occasionally, their wives and children accompanied them abroad. The Captain’s Quarters were furnished in the fashion of English domiciles; often a piano graced the parlor, the flatware and family linens were engraved with the ship’s name, and art hung on the salon walls, every touch intended to create a home. Whether harbored in Gibraltar or riding out a typhoon on the China Sea, they were at home. Their portable roots were nurtured by air, wind and saltwater.

I’m more at home in water than on dry land, and confined to soil, my roots would wither, however beneficial the locale. Yet, like a barnacle, I’m comfortable almost anywhere (excepting that one place I simply can’t call home — see below). The sameness of my species — humans have so many traits in common — lends familiarity, if not coziness, to almost any locale, even, alas, to a war zone. Familiarity is said to breed contempt. Possibly, so I move on to avoid ticking off the natives.

We expats form a diaspora of freaks more curious and alienated than homebodies.

Changing environments keeps my batteries charged, feeds my craving curiosity and a need to identify the familiar in the differences: The doughy durian in Thailand has a similar tactile feel to Siberian dumplings, the thatched huts of Masailand suggest the thatched roof cottages in rural Estonia, and the savage tests of courage in Arctic Lapp initiation ceremonies border on the brutal coming-of-age rites in many African countries. Cruel, kind, warring or peaceful, humankind serves up a mixed salad of familiar habits and strange cultural practices that feeds my hunger for variety while slaking a thirst for something comparatively like home. I arrive “home” easily, that is, until the Sirens’ song lures me. When I haul anchor, am I anticipating a voyage home?

We expats form a diaspora of freaks more curious and alienated than homebodies. Some psychologists posit that we who nourish our roots in foreign soils, or who dwell on the sea constantly changing harbors, are in fact needy for attention, a specialness we play out by appearing “different” amidst a foreign tribe, standing out from the natives physically and in mannerisms. A human paradox by nature draws attention. Consider the “great white hunter in colonial Africa” or Gauguin in Indonesia. Expats concede a partial truth to this theory of outlanderism, yet there’s more to going abroad than seeking visibility among the natives. Anyway, the era of foreigners as exotic beings has all but passed.

Today, most of the planet’s tribes are dispersed, diluted and culturally ransacked. As the world hastens to stir its genetic and ethnic soup, as diverse flavors simmer and stew, the exotic reeks of the ordinary. So, why travel when at “home” — being wherever I am at the moment — I can saunter down to the corner deli for a Korean meal, slip into an Uber car and talk in Swahili with the driver, or probe politics with my Egyptian neighbor?

Home is where you make it, yada, yada

Here’s the catch to keeping home fires burning: Too much time standing in one spot on familiar ground causes my sea legs to buckle, my curiosity to itch, and my spirit to wither. Selfishly, I pack up my fond memories but leave my newly minted friends behind. Sorry, but the wayward wind has me in its clutches. I take wing with an albatross’ vision, and no matter where I am, the color of the weather matches my clothes.

I’m in St. Petersburg, Russia, when suddenly my brain craves the rush brought on by a Coke and a Big Mac. Sure, I can hit the local Russian-franchised McDonald’s, but the food tastes different, and for a good reason. The wheat used in the burger’s bun was grown in Russian soil, its amber waves of grain bent into a subarctic concoction of pollenated breezes, and the Coke’s water element springs from a more saline source.

The Japanese have perfected McDonald’s signature tastes. A Big Mac tastes exactly the same in Kyoto as it does in Kansas, but that triumph stands out amongst the plethora of food-mimicking on the franchise world’s banquet table. “Eat local” is a wisdom expats wisely embrace. They know better than to hit up Rome’s Burger King or Argentina’s Black Angus.

Home is where you make it, yada, yada. I say home is more than that. Our tribes, our communities, our caves, our piece of carry-on luggage, however temporary, represent our identity as part of a group, and perhaps more importantly, as individuals. If not hanging on the walls of her hut, what expat doesn’t keep “pictures from home” on her mobile phone?

Forgive me, Dorothy: Try as I might, and I shan’t, Kansas could never — ever — feel like home. There, I’ve said it. On the other hand, Oz is my kind of town, and I admit to being somewhat of a jingoistic Ozian.

About The Author

Novelist, essayist, photographer and world traveler, Skye’s 11 books include a seven-book environmental mystery series and two books of oral histories that span ethnic cultures around the globe, awarded respectively, “Mademoiselle Woman of the Year” and an NEH President’s Grant. Her book, Washed Up, The Curious Journeys of Flotsam and Jetsam, is the subject of an upcoming documentary film. Skye’s photographs have been exhibited in China, Russia, and the United States. Her latest novel, "Frostline" is available on Amazon.com, and the Audible versions of many of her books are available from Audiblebooks.com.