What being homesick really means

NEARLY a year ago, I packed my life into a suitcase and moved from the Klang Valley to Kota Kinabalu, Sabah. It was hard to imagine what days would look like without two-hour traffic jams, fulfilling work with a humanitarian organisation, my church community or friends and family.

I had thought the move would be easy, having lived in different countries for a good part of my childhood. Back then, it came as no surprise if my parents had a mere three weeks' notice to pack up and move to wherever my father had just been posted to.

I made thousands of connections over the years, some turning into lifelong friendships, others fading away with the seasons. As teenagers, we often think we can be superhero friends and juggle them all, but age and experience teaches us that it's all right to let go.

We assimilated into the communities we lived in, learning new cultures and moving with the pulse of the locals. Most of the time, every new land became a semblance of home. But we never spent long enough in one place to put down roots. And so homesickness was a foreign feeling, perhaps because my sense of belonging was never really tied to a geographical place, school or community.

When we finally returned for good to Malaysia, my family stayed put for the next decade.

Then, I got married and it was time to move once again. It was supposed to be easy, but roots had grown into the Klang Valley earth.

Three months into life in Sabah and I learnt what homesickness felt like.

The sudden pang of homesickness had nothing to do with the way my life was unfolding. I had just stepped into the adventure of marriage, and three days later we were off to the land below the wind. It was exciting and new, reminding me of my childhood days when we'd pack up and head out.

In those first few months, I experienced a taste of the warm and caring community that without hesitation embraces complete strangers and turns them into friends. In spite of it all, though, a yearning for semenanjung would take over every once in a while.

No, my sudden longing for the peninsula was not because life in Sabah was anything short of eventful and fulfilling. Instead, it was the sudden realisation that this move was different because for once in my life, I had to leave a community that I truly belonged to. I had developed roots in a land where uprooting was not then part of my foreseeable future.

We don't often realise the value of something until we lose it. In the midst of my routine and rooted life, I had found freedom. I belonged to a community of friends and family who after a decade, knew me so well I never had to explain myself.

It was a revelation. Homesickness isn't about missing a geographical location; it's about having experienced a community where you could truly be yourself, and then having to move away.

But such is life, and the best way out is always through.

I'm grateful to say that today, I'm learning to live the way my Sabahan friends do: taking a step back each day to live in the moment, enjoy beautiful sunsets and share experiences over huge plates of noodles. Marriage has been one of life's greatest blessings, and I can say that maybe, just maybe, little roots are slowly growing into Sabahan soil.

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