The miniature plastic house hung limply between two pine branches, the words “Our First Home” engraved on the side. We had brought the Christmas ornament with us to the first home we rented after a year and a half of marriage in which we lived with a friend.
The tree looked like it came straight out of Charlie Brown’s Christmas and the only other signs of celebration in our fourth-floor flat was a bright red poinsettia. Nothing about the day felt like Christmas because even though the Coptic minority celebrated the holiday, the Orthodox Christmas occurred later in January.
After we opened a couple gifts to each other—an onyx encrusted hand drum purchased from the tourist market and a grey flowing robe that local men wore called a gallabaya—we caught a cab to a nearby café that felt a bit like home.
The ancient culture had called to us back when we were living in the Southern United States. We imagined living in the land of the Pharaohs as this thrilling adventure and weren’t disappointed as the melodic Arabic call to prayer became the first soundtrack of our new lives.
In country for three months, the newness had worn off. We learned to say “we aren’t tourists; we live here” in Arabic to street vendors who tried to charge us more than we knew items were worth. But the truth is the dusty landscape didn’t feel much like home yet. We huddled in the cafe, isolated from those around us as we sipped our lattes and nibbled tomato and mozzarella sandwiches that Christmas afternoon, longing for the comfort of something familiar.
We had packed our former lives up in four suitcases so we had only a few things there that tied us to our American roots: ornaments, trinkets, photos. The taste of home lingered in the Lipton iced tea brought from Georgia in place of the hibiscus tea we sipped with Egyptian friends.
Gradually our flat began to fill up with more than the dust that clung to our sandals, symbols of the new life that we were forming. Bangles, a gift from my first Egyptian friend, glistened on my dresser. The wooden cross from our visit to the ancient churches of Coptic Cairo sat next to my English-Arabic Bible. Seashells from the Mediterranean coast mingled with rocks from the base of Mount Sinai, little pieces of a land that was finding it’s way more into my heart each day.
Almost as soon as I felt roots starting to grapple for a place to hang onto, we were uprooted again back to the home of our birth. In those last days we repeated the process of sorting our home into piles to take or leave behind. I found myself weeping for the feeling of home I wanted in that place and would never fully get to know.
Now there are few mementos of our home in the Middle East. Faded 10-year old photos a reminder of the place that feels like but a dream but I feel so attached to it now. When we watched the revolution rock the square where we had attended language school, our hearts ached for our far away home. Whenever a Coptic church is attacked, we weep for the people we still see as brothers and sisters.
As I sit before boxes yet again, I stare off into the past as if I can still see the gilded living room furniture that was more ornamental that comfortable. I turn the house ornament over in my hands, lost in thought. I wrap it gently and pack it with other precious items for our next international move. I pack it next to the Georgia ornament, a painting by my sister, an onyx box from Egypt, a scarf from South Asia, and shells from the Gulf Coast. Some of these trinkets remind me of places that I called home for a time; others point to people who will be home no matter where I go. I forgo taking more clothing and spices into suitcases so I can fit in another keepsake that reminds me of where I’ve been.
I hope I take the lessons Egypt taught me along to our next family home in a faraway land. I pray I have learned the balance between remembering and moving forward, between letting go and putting down roots. I tuck away pieces of home to take with me wherever I go but I now remember to hold space for the new home, too.
Nicole T. Walters loves to experience and write about the messy, noisy, beautiful world and cultures not her own and travels internationally as often as she gets the chance. But this writer and author from metro-Atlanta, GA spends most of her time with her husband and two little wild ones that keep her on her toes. She hopes to help others create space to hear God's voice in the noise as she writes about faith from a global perspective at A Voice in the Noise. Her writing has appeared in places like Relevant, CT Women, and Ready. She is an editor and regular contributor at SheLoves Magazine and The Mudroom and is a member of the Redbud Writers Guild. You can read more of Nicole's story in her essay included in the newly released book Everbloom: Stories of Deeply Rooted and Transformed Lives. She would love to connect with you on Twitter and Facebook.
Welcome to a guest series I’m calling, “Home: Musings and Memories.” I’ve invited writers from all over the Internet to share their stories from home—in part, because I’ve just released a book called, Keeping Place: Reflections on the Meaning of Home (IVP, May 2017). I believe home is our most fundamental longing, homesickness our most nagging grief. Most of all, I believe that the historic Christian faith has something to say about that desire and disappointment.
The story of Jesus is a home story.
Thanks for joining me and these other fantastic writers in our search for home—and the God who makes its hope possible.