I once asked my mentor how he defines home, and he said: “Home is where you hang your hat.” I pondered his words for a moment, and remembered that I had also read somewhere that home is where your heart is. Can one’s heart be in just one place though? Can one confine one’s heart? I think home can be the place where one lives, home may also be the place where one has lived before and has found peace and joy. Home may also be a place one longs for. Some people consider home to be a place where one can find love, protection, acceptance, security, peace, happiness, joy and a sense of belonging.
When I was a little girl, my Dad used to tease my Mom about the concept of ‘home’. Whenever my Mom would go to visit my maternal grandparents, she would say that she was going home, and my father would ask her: “What do you call the place you are now departing from?” “Home”, my mother would respond easily. I am sure that for her, it was no trouble to regard both places as ‘home’.
For the past eight years, I have moved a lot and found myself referring to many places as home. Having been born and raised in Uganda, to me, home was one physical location. Home was a place in the southwestern part of Uganda where my parents lived, where I was born and where I spent most of my formative years. Home was the place where I would go during school vacations. Home was the place where I spent most of my time throughout the year. Home was where my parents and siblings all gathered for Christmas and Easter holidays. Home was a place where I knew I had a room and a bed. That was home to me.
However, this place I once called home, although I still have a room and a bed there, I have not lived in for the past sixteen or so years. The concept of home has changed for me. I have moved a lot; for studies, for work, and for my writing. Many times I have joked with friends and colleagues who have asked me where home is; and I have told them that I am “homeless”.
For us as writers, this kind of movement and changing of places affects the way we approach our work, and the world. I believe that moving and living in different places allows us to see things differently, to view our surroundings through many and different lenses. If we are open and receptive, moving and living in different places allows us to imagine and approach our work in new ways. There is value in having a base, a place one is confident to call home, but there is as much value in moving and living in different places, and making ‘homes’ wherever one finds oneself. I think what has been valuable for me is to be able to look back and write about places I have been to. The value here is being able to look at a place or situation from the outside angle. Moving and living in different places allows us to see those places and ourselves both from the inside as well as from the outside.
Some writers have rituals that they do before they write, and throughout the whole writing process. Some writers are very particular about how their writing space needs to look like, which direction the desk should face (if they are using a desk), the shape of the chair or couch they sit on to write. I know that for me, I like to write in a room that has a window, and that my writing table needs to face the window, and my back towards the entrance in most cases. However, I have also found myself writing in rooms and places that sometimes have no windows or a desk, and I know that this influences what I am writing about. I will find myself sneaking my writing setting into the piece that I am working on. Physical locations, seasons, affect the way we write. Uganda has a fantastic climate. It is warm; some months can be hot, but not unbearable. Some parts of the country are quite chilly. The sun rises at 6:30am or 7:00am and sets at 6:30pm or 7pm all year round. We have two seasons, a dry season and a rainy season. When I lived in New York, the extremity of the weather shocked me, and I found these experiences sneaking into my writing. And I wondered whether I would have ever been able to write about them had I lived in Uganda my whole life, probably not.
I remember when I wrote one of my plays, “Cooking Oil”, I was a student in California. That was the first time in my life to live outside of my home country. When I was still living in Uganda, I had read about and almost internalized the corruption that was bringing my country to her knees. I had never really thought about what my personal and artistic response to this corruption pandemic could look like. However, studying in the US made me look more analytically at the US and European relations with the so called ‘developing world’, and I started wondering whether the unregulated aid for this ‘developing world’ did not in its own way contribute to the cancer of corruption. Maybe, had I not lived in the US, it would have been unlikely that I would have been very curious about the US relations with my own country. Maybe, I would have written a completely different play. Maybe, it would have only been an ‘indictment’ on the clichéd ‘corrupt African leaders’. Living in the US propelled me to question personal- as well as trans-Atlantic relationships.
Likewise, I have discovered that moving and living in different places compels one to think and write about a culture, a people other than what one knows or is used to; thus, writing about the ‘other’ (I have often wondered whether there is actually such a thing as ‘the other’). But, I have also asked myself how much I can write about a place that I have lived in for a short time only. There can be many inspiring things to write about; the culture, the people, daily experiences, thrills and fears. Even if one has lived in a place for some longer time, the questions that still linger in my mind are; how can one be honest and sensitive at the same time while writing about the ‘other’? How can a writer explore new grounds and be open minded without at the same time appearing prejudice? Is that even possible? If a writer is to write from their gut, do they even need to think about these things?
For the Internet generation of writers, we can also create virtual homes. Whether we like it or not, the Internet has shrunk our world. Home may not necessarily have to be a physical location. Home can be where one has the tools needed for writing; whether these are a notebook, desktop, laptop, tablet, smartphone or a typewriter, or whether these are love, peace, chaos, quietness, or noise. Although, there may be comfort and a sense of security in the ‘home’ concept, I think there is also something thrilling for a writer in knowing that they can write anywhere, anytime, and that they can be inspired by their sense of ‘homelessness’.