Written by Anamaria Guerra Forero
Over the last several years I have had the incredible good fortune of experiencing chapters of my life that have taken me all over the world – from my home country of Colombia to the streets of New York to the bustle of Nairobi, I have had the unique opportunity, and challenge, to find and build home from scratch. It hasn’t always been easy, but the effort is always worth it: for me, home is the most important place in the world – and it’s a radical idea that it can be anywhere if you seek it out.
Before I get into it, a quick aside on why home is so important to me: for me, home is a place where you feel secure; a place you trust with people you trust. It’s from that foundation that amazing things can emerge; it’s where conversations go deeper, love is expressed through a meal, imagination takes off, dreams are shared, fights and forgiveness happen in a single night, and above all, you find space to recharge and, ultimately grow. Home is a profoundly powerful place.
The idea of home being mobile was instilled from an early age, splitting my childhood between the busy city of Bogota and the quieter countryside in the coffee region of el Libano in Colombia. In both locations I knew my neighbors, felt comfortable in my environment, and always had a family dinner to look forward to. It taught me that home could exist in multiple spaces and I am deeply grateful to my parents for building those spaces for me – I didn’t fully realize how much work that was until I had to do it myself as a postgrad, striking out to build a life for myself.
In my college years I had established a strong community in Bogota where I worked and studied; I worked with two incredible organizations, the Colombian Agency for Rural Development that focused on protecting the homes of indigenous territories and Fundacion Tiempo de Juego, a group that encourages at-risk youth to find purpose “on the field” through participation in group sports and arts. Both of these experiences reinforced that home was universal in representing security and support but could manifest in hundreds of ways. I felt rooted in my work and in my city, but life and love took me to the remote region of Guatavita. That’s where I learned home could be anywhere, but you have to work to make it happen.
Guatavita is a beautiful place, filled with lush farmlands that ebb and flow with people that fill the land during the weekend, but file out during the work week. Living there full time, it could be a lonely place. Sure, I had a beautiful house, stunning views, all of that, but I still didn’t feel like I was home – I was far from friends, longing for conversation, missing the fast heartbeat of a soccer game, missing feeling connected to something. I realized home wasn’t just going to happen – much like the farmland that surrounded me, I was going to have to cultivate it and nurture new growth, both in myself and in those around me.
So, what did I do? I hustled.
I got to know my neighbors; I learned what they were cooking, I asked what they grew, I learned their routines. I got to know the land around me with long walks and explorations. I got to know my community and discovered there was an appetite for offering the art and sport programs I worked on in Bogota. By getting to know my present, I realized I could share elements of my past that had been so important to me. In a matter of time I found myself painting, offering community yoga on the farm, working by the hand of the community, cooking up my own recipes from the garden, and thriving – I was home.
If Guatavita was a lesson in creating home, moving to New York was the final exam – and I’m proud to say my husband and I passed with flying colors. Guatavita had given us the blueprint for what home away from home looked like and while New York was not rural farmland, the challenges of being away from lifelong family and friends was similar. Now, instead of getting to know rolling countryside, I got to know concrete sidewalks and streets on my bicycle, “Aluna.” Instead of picking herbs in my own backyard, I got to know amazing people through harvesting an urban garden in Brooklyn. Through a free class at the local library, I got to know fellow immigrants and learn about their stories of home and their ways of rebuilding it locally. We hosted dinners, danced late, and talked for hours with new friends. New York was a brief chapter, a layover to our next big adventure: Nairobi, Kenya.
A quick point of context: we moved from Guatavita to New York for a fellowship my husband was awarded through Acumen. Through this program, they trained and paired him with BioLite, a New York-based startup that is focused on bringing affordable and safe energy to households who don’t have access to a traditional grid. At the end of the training, we packed up and headed for Kenya where he would oversee operations and we would build a brand new chapter, the furthest from home we had ever been.
Nairobi is a city, but lush with vegetation – in so many ways, it has reminded me of being back in Colombia. Joyful music, dancing, the meaning of a family meal, these are all things that I see in the community here and ring true to me as well. Just like New York, we’ve built a home that welcomes friends, feeds conversation and stomachs alike, and encourages dreaming and creativity. It’s when we visited a some households new to us that I realized I had been overlooking one element all along that lays at the heart of every home.
BioLite’s Kenya headquarters are based in Nairobi, but the majority of their customers are in more rural regions of Kenya, far away from the city center. I attended several in-home visits and was welcomed with warmth, food, and laughter. People opened up their homes and shared their space, a humbling experience. There was so much in common in here: kids dancing to the radio, moms peeling potatoes for family dinner, a cousin calling another cousin to say hello, things I would all do myself at home. The difference was the energy used to bring these moments to life.
So much of home revolves around energy. Want to make family dinner? You need a way to cook it. What to stay up late listening to music and talking for hours? You need a light for your space and battery for your speaker. These are things I’ve done every day, without thinking twice. Yes, I have had to put effort into building and creating home, but I haven’t had to think about the resources to make those efforts possible in the first place. In stark contrast, many of these homes were constrained by the literal energy that flowed through their homes: kerosene lamps meant that bedtimes were earlier; expensive out-of-home mobile charging meant that phone calls were shorter; wood-cooking meant that meals were smokier. While these visits were sobering, visits to households that had expanded energy access were inspiring: a clean cookstove meant everyone gathered around the cooking; a solar light meant that the night ended when you were ready, not when the gas gave out.
It was in these visits that I realized that, as always, the power of home lay in people, but it is made all the more vibrant by the energy that surrounds them.
As we wrap up 2017, we also wrap up our chapter in Kenya and plan our return to Colombia. I am grateful to the people who have shared so much of themselves with me and given me the chance to share myself with them; I will miss the local kids soccer team (yes, I got involved in one here, too!) and the Drum n Yoga in the park (that, too) and my eyes are forever opened to how much energy goes into making home happen. Not just emotionally, but through the very watts that we can pull from our fires, our sun, and other sources.
Some might say returning to Colombia is a homecoming of sorts – I’d say we never left home. If you’re willing to find it and share it, the power of home will always be along for the ride.
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