Saudade and the grief of something left behind
I used to get homesick.
It first started at boarding school, where I hid my face in my pillow at nights so that the sound of my sobs wouldn't carry in the dark. The other girls were used to be away - at least so I thought. Perhaps they also went to bed with wet pillows beneath their cheeks.
When my family moved back to Australia from Pakistan, I no longer needed to board and so at the age of 16 I moved home again. But I still felt homesick. I still carried a deep grief for... what was it? I was with my parents, so I wasn't missing them. I was missing the land of my childhood, the people of my youth, the experiences that formed me. I am a 'Third Culture Kid', someone who has grown up in a culture that is not their own, and I missed the country that I had borrowed my whole life.
I called it homesickness, but Marilyn over at Communicating across Boundaries (also a TCK), this week found a new word for it: Saudade. It's a Portugese word with no equivalent meaning in English, but it describes a longing and a melancholy for something you've left behind.
Marilyn writes about it like this:
What is described are feelings so deep that you can scarcely give words to them. Your throat catches and you try and describe intense longing and desire only to remain wordless. How do I know this? Because I have experienced it first hand. What we long to describe is “Saudade”.
When I came back from Pakistan I felt like my heart was cut up. It hurt inside my chest. It was hard to explain the grief to people who had no experience with leaving their own place and often I just didn't talk about it. When I did, I was sometimes rude. The careers counsellor at high school asked me what I wanted to do and all I said was, "Leave this country as soon as possible." I certainly couldn't imagine living long term in Australia, let alone being happy here.
Fastforward more than 20 years and things are very different. All the intense feelings have mellowed and melted and formed their own gentle scar tissue over the wounds. I left Australia once - for three months - soon after I finished school and felt so higgledy piggeldy and out of place that I had to return. I've actively avoided going overseas to live and dig my heels in whenever my husband now talks about moving on.
When I read Marilyn's post about Saudade my immediate reaction was not "Oh I know how that feels" but "oh, I remember how that felt."
The change in my feelings didn't just come about because of time, although I'm sure that's part of it. I have consciously sought to put down roots and re-adopt this country as my own place. After years of feeling like an outsider and an interloper in Australia, in my mid twenties I realised that I had just as much right as anyone to feel a sense of 'belonging' here and I set out to claim that as my own.
Wherever we go (and we have moved a lot) I remember that there are always people around me who also feel like outsiders. Even if they have lived in one location their entire existence, they may feel inadequate or small in some part of their lives. I can relate to that feeling, so I look to connect with people who are willing to share their vulnerabilities and be my friend.
Perhaps I'm just blocking out the saudade, and I'm quite open to the idea that that may be the case. I have enough other hard emotions to live with and a longing for my adopted homeland may be the one I can put away on the shelf for another time, but I'm not sure.
Of course, I love a good karai with fresh roti and there are times when I would give quite a lot to walk in the dusty evening of Sindh, next to the canal. Living in Aussie dairy country fulfils my need to smell cow manure in the distance and I enjoy seeing Pakistani women in their colourful shalwar kamiz in certain parts of Sydney when we go, but the feelings are less intense and more muted.
My saudade is now drawn lightly in pastel shades, whereas before it was smeared thickly with intense oil colours.