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“I wanna go home!” I say as I sit on the kitchen floor watching my mother cook.
“What do you mean?” she asks, giving me a questioning look. “Ethiopia?”
“I don’t know.”
Home. For most people, the word can be easily defined as the place where they grew up or live now. By that definition, the house in which I have lived for the past seven years would be my home. The problem is, I often find myself saying, “I wanna go home,” while sitting in that very house. The other candidate is the place where I grew up, but that could be either of two places: my home country of Ethiopia or my adopted hometown of Westbrook, Maine. I cannot choose one over the other. For better or for worse, each has shaped the person I am today more than can be expressed in words. Ethiopia is the place where I experienced so many of my “firsts.” Maine is the place where I developed my individuality. At the same time, neither can truly be my home.
Though Ethiopia was my home at one point, it is no longer the same place I knew as a child because I am no longer that child. I can no longer relate to the culture the way I once did. As my sister often tells me, I have become “Americanized.”
On the other hand, I have never felt at home in Maine. The first memory I have of Maine is my first day visiting Reiche Elementary, the school I would be attending. I stood in front of a group of seven- and eight-year-old boys and girls. Every face was pointed at me, every pair of eyes wide and expectant. I grabbed the fabric of my mother’s skirt and buried my face into the side of her leg. These children were all so different. Every child had a skin color different from mine. Though I picked out a few familiar words, I could not understand what they were saying. I knew I didn’t belong there, but there was no chance of hopping on a plane and going back to Ethiopia. I knew that, and the thought terrified me. I had never felt as uncomfortable and uncertain as I did that day.
That day has stayed with me, along with the discomfort and uncertainty. Though the intensity of those feelings has faded, it has not gone away, and it is not likely to leave me soon. I cannot deny, however, that the environment Maine has provided has shaped me profoundly. Living in Maine has made me who I am today just as much as being born and raised in Ethiopia. Ethiopia gave me my cultural and family identity. Ethiopia is the place that comes to mind when I think of my family, since my entire extended family remains there. It is also the place that comes to mind when I think of my motivation, since I was raised in a culture that taught me to give one hundred percent at all times. Yet, the fact remains that I have lived in Maine for nearly ten years of my life. This environment has influenced me more than even I can comprehend. So, the question becomes: which of these places (if either) should I consider my home?
In all honesty, I cannot choose one physical place and give it the title of “home.” Instead, I elect to compose my own definition of home, a definition that does not force me to choose between the two places in which I grew up. My definition allows me to think of home as a place in my mind, a state of mind that enables me to remember my childhood years in Ethiopia and the opportunities given to me by living in the U.S. It has taken a long time to define what home means to me — and even longer to find it — but doing so has given me an amazing sense of hope and comfort. In my mind, it is a place where I can escape. It is a place from which I draw strength when life gets too hectic or when I am faced with challenges that seem too great to overcome. It is what I really mean — what I have always meant — when I say that I want to go home.
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