Nostalgia for home hits me at unexpected moments, but what has surprised me about living in Johannesburg is that I don’t miss home as much as I expected I would. When I lived in Chile a decade ago, I longed for good Mexican food and I was plagued by loneliness despite having a large circle of expat friends. Perhaps more of a statement on being abroad and being young and immature, I couldn’t help but feeling that my friends were having an incredible time at home and I wasn’t there to share in the merry-making. Instead of focusing on the adventures I was having, I felt like I was missing out on events happening 5,000 miles away and at the end of my eight months, I was ready to return to the U.S.
I throughly expected to have the same longing for home when I moved to Johannesburg. I girded myself to miss the U.S. and I waited for it to happen. Almost a year and a half later, I am still waiting. Sure there are moments where I momentarily miss a friend or Ethiopian food at my favorite neighborhood haunt, but overall the transition to life in South Africa was seamless. But over the past few weeks, I have been overtaken by momentary nostalgia as friends posted on FaceBook about an epic snowstorm that was predicted to blast the East coast. Colby College, my alma mater, canceled classes for the first time since 1998. I was overtaken by a physical manifestation of nostalgia – something akin to a sharp and quick gasp that echoed throughout my chest. I love snow and the anticipation around whether a big snowstorm would bring the city to a grinding halt or settle on a dusting. I imagined myself scurrying around DC to collect provisions wrapped up against the frigid temperature in my huge puffy down jacket that could double as a sleeping bag. Never mind that the storms weren’t actually affecting DC.
And then there was the Super Bowl. While I am not a fan of professional football, the Super Bowl is as much of a cultural event as a sporting one. Not attending a Super Bowl party and relying on the New York Times review of the game just makes me feel far away. Perhaps that is why I broke into the chips and queso that my mom ferried to South Africa in her suitcase. Under normal circumstances I would have held out for a few more weeks, but I wanted a reminder of home and queso as a staple Super Bowl snack seemed like the right choice amongst my stash of U.S. foodstuffs. Even though my mom never fed us queso and I don’t think I have ever even bought a jar or attempted to make it from scratch, queso has the ability to transport me back to high school slumber parties and margarita dinners with friends at Tex-Mex restaurants.
Stashed away in my pantry are many other foodstuffs that remind me of home and when I am feeling a bit nostalgic, I grab a handful of cheddar cheese flavored crackers in the shape of goldfish. It’s probably a good thing that Peeps last for years since I can eat the sugar covered marshmallows at the next holiday. Holiday Peeps get consumed on Valentine’s Day, Easter Peeps on Halloween, etc. Food is not the perfect antidote to nostalgia, but it will do. Perhaps that is why I was so excited when a friend passing through Johannesburg snuck some Lacey’s cookies from Trader Joe’s into her bag. If you are ever visiting an expat, besides your visit stash some goodies in carry-on.