A friend and I were discussing a new law in Tanzania that could impact how long foreigners are allowed to live here. It's not even in effect yet, and we don't even know if it would impact us. But it was a stark reminder that we are visitors here.
I thought for a while about where we would go if for any reason we were forced to return to the States. It was depressing. I can't think of anywhere in America that actually feels like home anymore. My parents' house probably comes closest--but only the house, not the neighborhood or the city. I love many, many people in America--especially California--but that doesn't make it feel like home.
Dar es Salaam is home now. We've lived here 11 years. For Gil and I, that's 11 out of 14 years of marriage. All of our kids were born here. Dar es Salaam is certainly not the most pleasant city in the world, or even in Tanzania. I love a lot about it, but there are aspects to this city that I downright hate...yet it is a familiar hate. My car goes into auto-pilot, even when dodging goats. I know the secret to finding ravioli. I've planted memories in a thousand corners. Not much about this place surprises me anymore. It is familiar.
It's strange, though, that I've made my home in a country where I have to renew my resident's visa every two years. I could, technically, be deported at any immigration officer's whim. I will never be allowed to own a house here. I will never be able to vote. I stick out on the street and am treated differently from everyone else. A million events could force us to leave: a serious illness, a closed ministry opportunity, political unrest.
It's disconcerting to come to that realization--that this is the place where I feel at home, and yet I will never totally belong here. It's been the story of my life, starting in Liberia, then Ethiopia and Kenya, and now Tanzania. My passport says United States of America, and it's still part of my identity, but I have no idea what I will do when one day I have to live there.
Sometimes it feels like I am floating five inches above the earth, my roots dangling aimlessly. Then I remember, Fix your eyes on things above, not on earthly things. My roots shouldn't go down into this earth anyway. I am a foreigner in this country, but more importantly, I am a foreigner on this earth.
For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands....While we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened....so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. (2 Corinthians 5)
This life is a only a vapor, and when it is extinguished, that is when I will really go Home.