Here’s the thing – we all want to belong. From surveying the schoolyard for a friend to sit with at lunch, to agreeing to participate in ridiculous team building exercises at work, there’s a part of most of us that craves the feeling of having a place in the place where you are.
Even when the place that you are is your place – the one that you were born in, or that you know as home – feeling like you belong isn’t always easy. Life stages change, friends move, work ends. Stuff happens that makes you feel different to the people around you.
When you live in a place that is someone else’s, where you are a visitor or an interloper of some other kind, the stuff that makes you feel different to the people around you doesn’t happen to you – it is you. It’s not always big stuff. In fact, often it’s the small stuff that sets you apart the most: the way you so compulsively need to refrigerate perishable food while everyone else is totally fine with the boiled eggs being sold on the corner store counter next to the lollypops; the fact that you really can’t roll your r’s no matter how much you try.
Living in Vanuatu has given me a whole new appreciation of what it’s like to be The Other. This is possibly the friendliest place in the world and people here are pretty much universally welcoming of strangers. And yet, there is a sense of the differences between me and my neighbours that runs just below the surface – on the way we define family, or the things we consider to be essentials for life, or the fact that I won’t be here forever, that even though I’m here for more than a year, at the end of the day, I’m still just passing through.
It’s made me think about what it’s like for people to be the other in the place that is mine. I’ve always been empathetic to newcomers to Australia, but now I feel like I can be sympathetic too. No matter how much you want to build bridges with the locals in your new place, there is also a real draw towards people from the same place and background, who are dealing with the same adjustments as you and know exactly what supermarkets you are used to and why not being able to buy Bonds undies at Au Bon Marche (or anywhere else in Vanuatu) is such a serious problem.
There seem to be two main options when it comes to dealing with difference: adapt to be more like the people around you, or hold on to your differences and make peace with the feeling of not-the-sameness. Having wrestled with this quandary quite a bit over the last six months, I think the answer is a bit of both. There’s a lot of good things about ni-Vanuatu culture and it’s a good thing to take those things on board. At the same time, I am not ni-Vanuatu and I won’t ever be. And that’s ok, because I’m a welcomed guest here – and that is more than enough.
Have you ever had a home that’s not home? For those of us who always have a little piece of our hearts offshore, craftsmanship from those other homes is just what the doctor ordered – find your artisanmade (and ethically sourced) treasure in store.