Homesickness in the Diaspora

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By Dr Masimba Mavaza

IN this very silent place, the only sound you hear is your breathing. 

In that extreme silence, there is a pounding sound piercing through your mind. 

Maybe you have to leave in order to really miss a place; maybe you have to travel to figure out how beloved your starting point was. 

Homesickness is real.

Now, more than ever, you long to be transported into that quiet landscape, to walk up the path, to take a key from your pocket and open the cottage door, to sit down by the fireplace, to wrap your arms around yourself and to stay there forever and ever.

Who has made such a decision that we suffer from great temporal homesickness for the place we call home. 

You sit again yearning for the waters of Masekandauya that numbs the heart.

I will not forget you Chikwaka, my land of birth.

It’s a kindness that the mind can go where it wishes. 

Individuals know by experience how it feels to adjust to a new place, suffer from reverse cultural shock when returning home, have a restless urge for new relocations, and finally recognise the homesickness when away from home again. 

The latter, namely homesickness, is not as pronounced a topic as the others; as in some sense it is considered either childish or immature and does not really seem to fit with the growth in global mobility.

There’s a particular kind of homesickness that only those in the Diaspora understand.

It comes as you’re sitting on the edge of your bed on a cold winter morning and watching the white space painted by the cold snow which has blessed the land for the past week, knowing that all should be right with the world; all is pretty close to perfect, by any objective measure.

Home is always great and nobody has been able to treat homesickness, except home itself.

Over 1,1 billion people, or one-quarter of the earth’s adults, want to move temporarily to another country in the hope of finding more profitable work.

An additional 630 million people would like to move abroad permanently.

The global desire to leave home arises from poverty and necessity, but it also grows out of a conviction that such mobility is possible. 

People who embrace this cosmopolitan outlook assume that individuals can, and should, be at home anywhere in the world; that they need not be tied to any particular place. 

This outlook was once a strange and threatening product of the Enlightenment but is now accepted as central to a globalised economy. 

After all, the world has become a global village.

It leads to opportunity and profits, but it also has high psychological costs. 

Many people who leave home in search of better prospects end up feeling displaced and depressed. 

This is made worse by the fear of telling anybody that you are sick lest you be suspected of mental illness. 

Because of this fear, few speak openly of the substantial pain of leaving home.

In the 20th Century, Zimbabweans of all stripes — pioneers, prospectors, soldiers and thousands of immigrants — who streamed into other nations admitted that mobility was emotionally taxing.

Medical journals explored the condition, often referring to it by its clinical name: nostalgia.

Stories of the devastating effects of homesickness are now common. 

In 1887, an article in the Evening Bulletin of San Francisco had the headline, ‘Victim of Nostalgia: A Priest Dies Craving for a Sight of his Motherland’ and 

reported that the Rev. J. M. McHale, a native of Ireland, had fallen ill with nostalgia after arriving in Brooklyn. 

Shortly before he died, he declared: “I am homesick. My dear country, I will never set a foot on your green shores again. Oh, my mother, how I long to see you.”

Many Zimbabweans have braved this sickness alone in the privacy of their borrowed homes. 

The number of Zimbabweans now suffering from homesickness-induced mental health are many. 

Being away from home is a struggle every normal person goes through.

Today, explicit discussions of homesickness are rare, for the emotion is typically regarded as an embarrassing impediment to individual progress and prosperity. 

This silence makes mobility appear deceptively easy.

Technology also seduces us into thinking that migration is painless. 

Even though the advent of video calling or zoom callings makes it easy to be together, even when you’re not. 

The comforting illusion of connection offered by technology makes moving seem less consequential, since one is always just a mouse click or a phone call away. But sometimes one needs human touch. 

You can not hug the phone. 

If they could truly vanquish homesickness and make us citizens of the world, Skype, facebook, cellphones and e-mail would have cured a pain that has been around since the beginning of migration; the technology of the day was seen as the solution to the problem. 

One can assert that serious cases of homesickness had ‘grown less common in these days of quick communication, of rapid transmission of news and of a widespread knowledge of geography’.

But such thinking is pregnant with optimism, for homesickness continued to plague many Zimbabweans who migrated and are away from home.

Today’s technologies have also failed to cure homesickness even though studies by the Carnegie Corporation of New York show that immigrants are in closer touch with their families than before. 

In 2002, only 28 percent of immigrants called home at least once a week; in 2009, 66 percent did.

Yet this level of contact is not enough to conquer the melancholy that frequently accompanies migration.

Most Zimbabweans have said the day after they arrived in London they wanted to leave!

“I’ve always been really close with to family. …and returning home was always in mind,” said Manshome Mandaza from Salisbury, UK. 

He has been using e-mail and phone cards to keep in touch with his wife, calling her several times a week. 

But even this regular communication could not assuage his tremendous homesickness.

With this COVID-19 no one knows when they will travel again.

Many Zimbabweans long to be in the arms of their beloved ones back home. Skype is no substitute for actually being there.

It is possible that these new technologies actually heighten feelings of displacement.

María Maroro, a Zimbabwean in the UK, believes technology may magnify homesickness. 

Her sister Abina had been living in London for 25 years. 

With the rise of inexpensive long-distance calling, Abina was able to phone home with greater frequency. 

Every three days a week, she called Zimbabwe and talked with her family, who routinely gathered for a large meal. Abina always asked what the family was eating, who was there. 

Technology increased her contact with her family but also brought a regular reminder that she was not there with them.

The immediacy that phone calls and the Internet provide means that those away from home can know exactly what they are missing and when it is happening. 

They give the illusion that one can be in two places at once but also highlights the impossibility of that proposition.

The persistence of homesickness points to the limitations of the cosmopolitan philosophy that underpins so much of our market and society. 

The idea that we can, and should, feel at home anyplace on the globe is based on a worldview that celebrates the solitary, mobile individual and envisions men and women as easily separated from family, from home and from the past. 

All in all, while it is possible to decrease feelings of homesickness, maybe it is just a natural part of being away from home?

For views and comments, email: Vazet2000@yahoo. co.uk

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