Four years. I have lived in Mozambique for four years!
Who’d have thought way back in 2008 when I gave away half my belongings and packed the rest into a storage unit in Sydney, farewelled my family and friends and dragged two overweight suitcases onto the luggage belt at Sydney Airport, that I would still be here four years later.
For the first year or two, Sydney remained “home” and every year I would leave Maputo to return "home" for a couple of months. Over the years, though, a shift has occurred. I cannot pinpoint exactly when or how but now I come home to Mozambique while Sydney is the place I pop back to occasionally, just to visit.
This is home now. It is no longer the place I visit, far away: it is where I come back to from other places.
2009: WHERE IS HOME?
In 2009, after a year away, I went to my rented storage unit in north-west Sydney and longingly gazed at my sofa, stood up on its end, surrounded by chairs, table, fridge, garden furniture and the detritus of years of living in one place. I thought of the people I work with in Mozambique, friends who live in one-room shacks with no electricity or running water, who eat two meals a day if they’re lucky, and who are full of joy and hope. I decided that, next year when I’m back, I’ll sell it all.
The mind shift was huge and still not fully jelled but it had begun. Before I left Sydney, I sold my car.
From then on, when people asked me when I would be leaving Sydney, I’d stumble over my words. “I’m going... ahm... home... ahm... I mean... back to Mozambique... in a month.” The internal shift was, well, shifting, and it was gaining momentum. I even heard Dad say it once then correct himself: “So, when you go home... I mean, back to Mozambique...” It was a tough distance to traverse for others also.
What defines “home”? Is it time spent in a place? Is it a physical building? Family? Or familiarity perhaps? Sydney will always be a home of sorts because it is so familiar to me. I can still drive from one end to the other without a map and can find a mall in just-about any part of the city with one dampened “mall meter” finger raised to the breeze. North three kilometres I’m sensing there’s a department store with a Country Road outlet on the second floor, to the left off the elevator, right next to Sportscraft... My Sydney mall-meter never lies.
2010: SELLING UP
In 2010, as soon as I landed in Sydney, I began planning for the garage sale to end all garage sales. Weeks of preparation, emptying out the storage unit, pricing furniture and white goods... oh-how-wonderful it felt! I no longer wanted to be weighed down with possessions that were serving no purpose for me or anyone else. To sell them would free them up for others to have and also lower my storage bill each year. I could feel the load lightening as friends and family helped me to move everything except some boxes and bits‘n’ pieces to my brother’s front yard for the big sell-off.
In the end, the garage sale was a huge flop and I sold very little. By the end of the day, I left all my worldly goods in the rain beside the curb, knowing that 1) I did not want to spend another day owning things I no longer needed and 2) it would all be gone by morning.
And it was.
I was taken aback that, once there was nothing left, I grieved the loss of these items. I spent much of the next week feeling quite bereft, thinking longingly of my old home in Sydney and of its warmth and comfort. I felt off-balance; the weight of an adulthood spent collecting belongings had now shifted and I was a little lopsided for a time.
2011: NO MORE BACK-UP PLANS
I look back to that week and realise that I had given away far more than some furniture - I had begun, seriously and with intent, to give away my sense of home as I knew it. I had given up the possibility of retrieving everything from storage and setting up house once more in this familiar place where I had spent most of my life.
Without realising what I was doing, I had drawn a line in the sand of my life and, only now, can I see what a clearly defined line it was. I had given away my back-up plan and, after a week of wrestling and regret, I was able to embrace the buoyancy of owning little and began to step more lightly. What a relief it was. I returned to Mozambique with a lighter load and a smaller storage bill, hooray!
By 2011, I knew I was here to stay... perhaps not “here” exactly – who knows what tomorrow will call me to – but here in this particular region of the globe. I continue to walk more lightly now, knowing I can shift direction in a heartbeat as I allow the needs before me to lead me through each month and each year.
2012: THE SHIFT CONTINUES
In 2012 I applied for permanent residency in Mozambique. It took four years and much thought, some tears and quite some wrestling within myself, to get through this particular shift. “I Still Call Australia Home” rang stridently in my head every time I thought of transferring loyalties. All those gorgeous little Qantas kids on TV, smiling brightly, standing on the edges of cliffs and the tops of mountains, with kangaroos bounding and gum trees swaying as they sing, “No matter how far or how wide I roam, I still caaall Austraaa-lia home...” Talk about tugging at the homeland heartstrings.
I knew, though, beyond the love I have for my first country/home that, to serve my second, I had to commit fully. Applying for permanent residency was the means to this end.
My DIRE was signed, stamped, sealed and collected a few months ago and, for the first time at Maputo Airport last week as I flew back from the UK, I queued in the Permanent Residents line at customs. When a security guard eyed me suspiciously then marched over and demanded to know why I was in the wrong line, I proudly waved my card and said, “Eu estou um residente permanente de Moçambique! Eu mora aqui!” “I live here!”
THE FUTURE: NO REGRETS
A few weeks ago I tried to enter an online Qantas competition to win free travel to some amazing place in the world, then I read the fine print. “Only permanent residents of Australia may enter.” I had fully accepted that, with a Mozambican DIRE, I am now a permanent resident of Mozambique. It had not occurred to me though that, in the gaining, I was laying something down. I am no longer a resident of Australia. There, I said it... deep sigh. Another shift to navigate.
And so, today, I think of my old sofa. The sofa is now in my brother’s living room being enjoyed by the myriad of teenagers who hang out there, socialising and eating, flirting, playing guitar. The dog has taken up residence on the top of the lounge’s plump back cushions, from where she can see the front door and bark at arriving visitors. I am happy for my sofa, that it has found a new home, even as I am making a new home without it.
I exhale once more, struggling with the shift. I do not yet own a sofa in Mozambique and, for some reason, that big, soft, comfy blue sofa represents the home I gave away to live here. It reminds me of peaceful afternoons sipping coffee with friends as we enjoyed the last of the low winter sun glowing through the glass doors. I think of weekends spent report-writing with Saturday’s cooking shows playing on TV in the background, of dozing in summer after a morning in the garden, of collapsing as I kick my shoes off after a busy day at work...
I am making new memories now. I am making a new home, it is time. The past and the future meet briefly in these moments as I type.
I am so grateful for the life I am living here and have no regrets, not a one. Well, perhaps just one... that I was not able to fit that one cosy blue sofa onto a plane and bring it with me as a tangible reminder of the wonderful past I have left to shift into an even brighter future
I may still be occasionally wobbly in this shift but, after four years, my balance is getting better every day.