While being away from home for over 6 months, living in Africa – a land far, far away, with customs and cuisine very different from what I’m used to, I had a chance to reflect on a lot of things. Then, not too long ago, friend and fellow blogger Starvacious Gal (whose trip to Reykjavik made me rethink my post on my most wanted trips to see if I can squeeze Iceland in there too) wrote this post on Secret Single Soup, and reading that while I was laying in bed with a cold, I started thinking about comfort foods, and the things that I missed from home. This post has been lingering on my mind for a while, and I’ve been pondering what really defines home and comfort to me.
While I am an adventurous soul, and I’ll go almost anywhere and try pretty much anything once, there are certain things that just make me feel comforted and at ease. Some of them I knew I would miss when I moved to Africa, but others took me by surprise. And, to be honest, the amount of junk food that makes the cut is slightly disturbing to me, but what can you do, the heart wants what the heart wants, right? 🙂 Here are some of the things that said “home” to me, and that I couldn’t wait to get back home to have:
- My favorite sushi rolls from my favorite sushi place back home, Samurai Sushi. They make a Tartar Layer appetizer that’s to die for! So far, everyone I introduced it to loves it, and its something I’ve never seen served anywhere else. And frequently adding a side of seaweed salad really completes a sushi meal! Yum.
- Pretty much ANYTHING from Trader Joe’s – being in a country where recycling was unheard of, where plastic bags fly around every time the wind blows because they are everywhere, and buying “organic” is nearly unheard of, the affordable deliciousness of the healthy selections of a Trader Joe’s grocery store is enough to make this east-coast gal’s mouth water! Items I missed most? The mushroom & black truffle flatbread pizza, the gingerbread cake mix, and the Columbus salami. When I came home, the gingerbread cake mix was not in stock (it’s a seasonal item) but you better believe the salami and the pizza were in my cart on my first trip to TJ’s!
- Good buffalo wings or chicken fingers. Preferably eaten while sitting at a bar, with a nice cold beer, and in the company of good friends.
- Grilled Cheese Sandwich with Tomato soup (usually Campbell’s basic tomato soup, made with milk instead of just water to add a bit of creaminess to it) – I found some La Vache Qui Rit processed cheese slices in Africa, and some instant tomato soup that I could easily make on my electric cooktop at the hotel, and it was yum! Though the instant soup was not nearly as good as Campbell’s, it did the trick and held me over until I could get home for the real thing!
- Stove Top Stuffing – OK, I know it’s nowhere near the homemade stuffing that I make at Thanksgiving (garlic & mushrooms really make it fantastic!), but when you don’t have hours to slow roast a turkey just to have some stuffing, it is not half bad! I’ve been mocked for asking my friend CB to bring some Stove Top out here when he came to work with me in Africa, but what can I say, it’s easy, tasty, and something I missed from home! Classy? Maybe not. Comforting? Totally! (And I should say to CB, who mocked me for asking him to bring Stove Top, that the McRib’s he loves so much from McDonald’s are no better than my Stove Top in the fine dining department!)
- Cool Ranch Doritos– OK, this one isn’t so much of a comfort food that I’m homesick for now as an adult, but it really was when I was younger. When I was in high school, and we moved to Florence, Italy for 6 months, nothing made me feel more comforted than when my best friend KL (at my request) sent me a couple of bags of Cool Ranch Doritos in a care package.
Then, to make it even better, she included Muttsy, which to this day I find comforting to hug! That was a very homesick time for me, because as a bratty teenager it took me a couple of months to stop pouting and appreciate the beauty and wonder of where I was. It’s hard when you’re 16 to be pulled out of your high school and brought anywhere away from your friends, no matter how fabulous a place you’ve been brought to! And in times like that (parents of teenage brats or soon-to-be teenage brats, take note) small tokens from home can make a HUGE difference!
- Readily available good Italian salami & prosciutto – pork products are very expensive when you do manage to find them in a Muslim country, and you can’t get the good Italian stuff very easily, if at all. I found a good Italian deli in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and wound up buying some there while I was in East Africa. Since I wasn’t living in Ethiopia, though, that was certainly not the easiest way to get lunch meats!! Much easier when I’m in the US or in Europe!
Now comes the bigger question of how to avoid the feeling of homesickness while away…. that’s a little tougher, but I’ve found that a few things help.
- Skype/FaceTime or any other video chat programs to see the faces of those you miss
- Google Voice or Skype to Go for cheap calls home
- Exciting trips to avoid feeling lonely during holidays. For example, I found being in East Africa, and away from home for Christmas lonely and isolating, as I was far from my family, so I hopped a quick flight to visit an acquaintance (now turned friend, thanks to this trip! And meeting AB’s friends in Jordan was an added bonus, as they were also great and as other adventurous travelers, who knows where our paths will cross again! Some of us have kept in touch, and it’s always great to have friends around the world who you can visit or meet up with for more adventures.) who had recently moved to Jordan in the Middle East for New Year’s, which gave me an exciting distraction. Having a new place to explore and a bit of excitement for New Year’s breathed new life into me and allowed me to finish out my work and the rest of my time in Djibouti revitalized and refocused.
- Keeping up on local news back home, by updates from friends, keeping an eye on the online versions of your local paper back home, and, for me, watching CNN while I’m in hotels abroad.
- When possible, watch TV from your home country while abroad. I found myself watching a lot of really bad American reality shows on E! Network while I was abroad – embarrassingly enough! I don’t watch that kind of stuff back home (in fact, I don’t even have cable at home!), but being in a totally different culture, I found reminders of my lifestyle at home (though I don’t live at all like either Kendra or the Kardashians) was oddly comforting at times. Any time they would visit cities I’ve lived in, I would scan the buildings on the streets behind them to see familiar sights.
- Make new friends. As I mentioned in my last post on far-flung friendships wherever you are, making new friends makes any experience more fun. I know that it was the friendships I made in Djibouti helped me enjoy my time there and miss my loved ones a bit less.
- Stay active – it’s hard to feel homesick while you’re snorkeling or hiking!
- Pamper yourself a little – it’s hard to feel sad or lonely while you’re indulging yourself by doing whatever makes you happy.
Well, that’s all I’ve got on homesickness for now…. except to say this: if you’re feeling homesick, then you’re somewhere new, and are getting a chance to get to know a new place. The more you explore, the less homesick you’ll feel, so live in the moment, and enjoy wherever you are for as long as you find yourself there!
Happy travels, with as little homesickness as possible!