What is the meaning of home? When a new, unknown virus hit the world, the lives of billions of people changed drastically over the course of mere weeks. People suddenly found themselves following unprecedented safety measures. They were isolated from loved ones, and mostly confined to their homes. Yes, I said the word ‘home’. Why do I feel so weird when I say the word ‘home’? Well, maybe it’s because I’m still figuring out which place exactly I should call ‘home’ during these crazy times. What is the meaning of home? This is the story of my search for ‘home’ across continents.
My journey to find the meaning of home across continents amidst the global pandemic all started in late January 2020. That’s when the novel coronavirus first started to spread out across China. I was just an unknowing first-year undergraduate student living near Shanghai. I was hoping to spend a relaxing Chinese New Year break in Qingdao. There were rumors that a new virus was discovered in Wuhan, but unable to understand the local news, I simply brushed it off and continued my journey up north.
However, once I arrived in Qingdao, I received an alarming message from my school. The campus had just locked down. Nobody who is currently outside can get back in anymore, and we’d be compensated for our flights back home. Shocked, I contacted my mother, who had just left for a long work trip to the Peruvian Amazon region to work with the local indigenous people. I told her I’d come to visit her. An hour later we ended up booking my flight to Peru.
Meanwhile, I tried to go for walks and explore Qingdao, a city I had long been looking forward to exploring. However, all the shops and restaurants were closed. Still unable to fully grasp the situation, I decided to spend the remaining five days before my flight locked inside my Airbnb. I ordered takeout meals and groceries and did home workouts. My quarantine across continents had officially started. What would be the result of my search for the meaning of home?
A lot of flight cancellations and over forty hours of traveling later, I finally arrived in the small Amazonian town of Atalaya. The town is located in the thick jungle in Peru’s Ucayali province. It is home to a tiny airport with weekly flights to Lima. All other villages are only reachable after hours of boat rides. Within the city, the only mode of transportation available is moto-taxis and the entire city can be explored in ten minutes. The main attractions include petting street dogs, visiting cocoa plantations, and chatting with locals. None of who all had any idea about the new virus in China. You can probably imagine the immense amount of acclimatization I had to do. Not just in terms of weather and temperature, but also lifestyle. It’s no easy transition from a modern megacity to a small Amazonian town.
However, I in no way mean to discredit all of my experience in Peru. I got to learn about the local peoples’ cultures at an indigenous university, stay at a traditional Amahuaca house in the deep jungle, and prepare all my food straight from the source (You bitter, bitter raw cocoa beans!). It was just different from what I was used to and I was not quite sure whether I could this place really fulfilled the meaning of home. The search across continents continued.
A month and an announcement that all of my classes would continue online later, my mother had finished most of her work in the Amazon. She decided it would be best for me to go to her home in California. My boyfriend, who holds a multiple-entry US visa, was very excited about this idea. He decided to also fly over to California from his home in Pakistan. All of us arrived well and had a lot of fun during our first few weeks.
However, that’s when things got bad in the US. Really bad. The numbers of COVID infections were on a rapid rise, and from one day to another everything closed down. We quickly came to the realization that the best thing for us to do would be to stay at home. But it took much longer to realize that the very thing we thought we had escaped in China a month ago had already caught up with us.
The next few months, my boyfriend and I spent cooking, cramming for our online courses, and watching silly shows on TV that I never thought I’d get bored enough to watch. We had everything we needed, however, day by day I noticed how my boyfriend grew more homesick. He was originally supposed to stay for no more than two months but due to the suspension of international flights across continents, he had already stayed four months. Not to mention that his visa was only valid for six months. And somehow, I also felt like I wasn’t really ‘home’ when I was staying at home. Although I had lived in California for three years before, things still felt pretty strange to be me and I didn’t feel very comfortable.
That’s when we made the decision to go to Pakistan together. However, flights were still unavailable and there were so many open questions that nobody seemed to be able to answer. Will I be able to board a regular flight and when? Are visas being issued to foreigners at the moment? Will I need a negative COVID test and how the heck can I get one? In short, these days were filled with anxiety.
Fortunately, everything worked out well and I found myself on a 20-hour flight to Pakistan just a few weeks later. I was more than thrilled to be back in this beautiful country with my boyfriend’s wonderful family. From day one on, everyone around me tried their best to make me feel at home with their incredible kindness and hospitality. Every morning, my boyfriend’s mom would wake me up and ask me what I wanted to eat for breakfast. Whenever I replied “anything is fine,” she’d tell me: “We don’t have a dish called ‘anything’ in Pakistan”. I oftentimes felt miserable for the amount of work I inflicted on the family but they always made sure I feel like I was part of the family. I truly cannot recall ever being treated this nicely by anyone across the globe. So, did I finally arrive at ‘home’?
Pakistan captured my Heart
Pakistan is one of the countries that captured my heart instantly. I made so many incredible memories in this country that it would be impossible to mention all in this paragraph. From marveling at the impressive Mughal architecture in Lahore to traveling on some of the world’s most dangerous roads through the stunning Karakoram Mountain Range, I saw it all. From being served heart-shaped roghni naan to meeting an incredibly kind Balochi man, I experienced it all. Never will I ever forget celebrating Eid al-Adha with my boyfriend’s family, and neither will I forget the incredible time I had in Naran. With so many amazing memories, it’s easy to imagine spending the rest of my life in Pakistan, right?
No Place is Perfect
Unfortunately, no place is perfect and there are certainly some problems I am facing there as well. The part that bothers me the most is that I cannot leave the house by myself. Everybody tells me it’s too dangerous for girls, and I must always wait for my boyfriend to accompany me. Is it really that dangerous? Who knows. Nobody around me seems to have tried. However, even if I were able to go out, it’s hard to get around without a car. And besides this lack of freedom, my visa situation worries me a lot. I applied for an extension weeks ago and still haven’t heard back. If I don’t get an extension, I will not be allowed to stay.
As much as I would want to call Pakistan my ultimate home for the quarantine, as much as it fulfills the meaning of home, the future is very uncertain and there’s no way to tell whether I will have to find yet another home before returning to China.
Hi, my name is Arabela and I’m a 19-year-old German-Peruvian travel blogger and full-time college student studying in China. Despite my busy schedule and limited funds, I’ve managed to (solo) travel to over 50 countries and my mission is to empower more young and busy women to do the same.