“I’m going home”, I reply to the woman sitting beside me at the Gatwick airport lounge after she gingerly tries to start up a conversation to pass the time. On hearing my reply, she looks at my brown skin, black hair and dark brown eyes perplexed. Undoubtedly, she is trying to figure out which oriental country Easyjet flies to. After a moment or so of confused silence, I take pity on her and explain that, “I am going to Geneva, in Switzerland where my family lives.” She opens her mouth and closes it again without uttering a word, the crease in her forehead deepening “But, originally, I am from the Philippines,” I continue. “My mom works there and I grew up there with my sisters.” Finally, she smiles and a flicker of understanding crosses her face. Five days later, I am sitting in the relatively new Terminal D at Geneva Airport waiting for a flight back to London. I excitedly text my boyfriend–“I’m at the airport, just checked in. I’ll be home in a couple of hours.”
Defining home is not so straightforward. Being asked where I am from is often an anxiety-inducing exercise. To avoid confusion and long discussions about belonging, I have accustomed myself to simply replying that I am originally from the Philippines. I was born in Manila and am 100% Pinoy, so it’s true enough. However, that is only half of the story, literally.
I spent the first 15 years of my life in Manila, then moved to Geneva where I lived for 11 years and for the last four years I have been settled in London. The last time I was in Manila I was asked if I was from Singapore by the person that I was talking to–in Tagalog for over an hour. I am also more at ease navigating Geneva’s TPG or London’s Tube system than negotiating the price of a 15-minute tricycle ride from our family home in Quezon City to SM Centerpoint, my favourite mall from when I was younger. At the same time, when I am in London I miss my Grandma’s cooking, especially her garlic rice with fried egg and tocino (sweetened cured pork) for breakfast. I also long for the cosiness of a small city like Geneva, where I cannot walk around the centre of town for more than 30 minutes without seeing a familiar face. In comparison, it takes me almost an hour, a bus ride and two Underground trains to have dinner at a friend’s house on the other side of London. That said, I’m never more at home than when I am sitting at the dinner table with my flatmates talking about everything and nothing over a good bottle of red.
I could go on and on. After years of retrospection, I have come to the conclusion that there are three cities where I feel simultaneously at home and homesick. On most days, I wouldn’t have it any other way.