expat, home

Other people’s homes

For us nomads, home is a subject that we constantly come across, touch upon, confront. We have to make sense of it in order to make sense of our lives. We ponder, explore and evaluate our
sense of home, what we need to feel at home, how we go about creating it. We value and protect it. Our home. The home of our partner. The home of our children. But what about the home of others – not our family or friends, but
people we don’t know, haven’t met before, total strangers? What if that home is at stake? How does that make us feel and what do we do about it?
I was sitting, again, in my neighbourhood café in Athens doing some work, when I noticed an elderly lady come in. I only guessed her age from the lines on her face, because she certainly wasn’t dressed or behaving like an old lady. She was rather elegant, though low-key, in her red leather jacket and dark pants, a leather bag hanging from her shoulder. She was holding a cane, limping slightly, but she wasn’t hunched, as often happens with age. She stood upright, though her eyes were cast downwards. She seemed shy.
I was taken aback when I saw her going from table to table, asking people if they could offer her some help. This woman was not your typical beggar. But then again, this has become a relatively common sight in my country in recent years – people who used to be
well off, leading what we would call ‘normal’ lives, being rapidly and ruthlessly reduced to poverty, desperation and the need to survive forcing them to ask for help.
Most people gave her coins; very few ignored her. Across from me, a middle-aged mother was just sitting down with her two kids. She was still busy getting them settled with their drinks and food, when the elderly lady approached her. The mother took one look at the lady and I could tell that she knew exactly what to do. Without hesitating, she
asked her if she could offer her something to eat instead of giving her money. The elderly lady accepted, and the two of them went to the counter together, where the mother bought her a sandwich and a coffee. If I hadn’t witnessed the beginning of their interaction, I would have thought they are two friends having coffee. I could almost feel the gratitude I saw in the elderly lady’s eyes as she tucked the food in her bag and swiftly got on her way. I saw her thankfulness, but also a sense of relief that she could interrupt what she was doing, at least for now. I saw an urge to get out of the café as fast as she could; to escape from a reality that wasn’t hers.
I was impressed by the thoughtfulness of that gesture; the instant recognition of how hard this must have been; the almost instinctive act to try to salvage what was at stake, even a minuscule part of it. The elderly lady’s home was at stake – emotionally and probably also literally – and the mother’s gesture indicated to me that she understood that; she knew how vital that sense of home was.
Because isn’t home a feeling of security and comfort; an ability to be our true self? And isn’t dignity part of that true self? For the elderly lady, preserving her sense of dignity, being true to herself was vital for sustaining her sense of home. She was holding on
to that dignity, through the way she dressed and through her behaviour, even while engaging in an act that effectively stripped her of it, therefore threatening to leave her homeless.
Most people at the café, but especially that mother, got that. With the way they reacted to her approach, they played their part in helping her sustain that dignity – at least
for a moment. Their kindness and compassion essentially kept her from being homeless – emotionally, if not literally.
Sometimes we are almost as protective of other people’s homes as we are of our own. Such little acts of saving home are proof of that, even if it takes a crisis to get us there. 

Linked to the My Global Life Link-Up at SmallPlanetStudio.com


  1. I've been thinking about the concept of "home" a lot lately, so I really enjoyed reading this. I love how you put it – "Because isn’t home a feeling of security and comfort; an ability to be our true self?" I think this is spot on!

    Thanks for participating in the #MyGlobalLife link-up!

  2. Anonymous

    I wonder about the concept of "true self"… Would love to know what it means to you. For me – we are true self in every situation (our responses, feelings about our actions, confidence, lack of confidence, insecurities, fear, shyness, happiness -they are all a part of our true self – like it or not). So for me, "an ability to be our true self" is a bit confusing, because I think that I am always true self… (in my understaning of this concept). For me home is (beside security and comfort) an ability to like who I am , to have this sense of condifence, peace, warmth within myself that makes me feel good. And I have no idea what label to put to these feelings. Is warmth and peace can be associated with "True self"? What do you think?

  3. Anonymous

    Is it possible that "true self" is the comfort zone?

    1. If you are at peace with who you are, then that sounds to me like you are your true self. You are being authentic. For me, part of being authentic is being able to communicate that in my interactions with others – to allow others to know who I really am. I find it hard to achieve that in a language that I don't master.

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