A story about being displaced, longing to be home, and creating a home where you are.
Home / noun / A place where something flourishes, is most typically found, or from which it originates.
For the past three years I have called Qingdao, China home. It has become a place that I love deeply and where there are many people whom I love deeply. It is where I met and fell in love with the man who is now my husband. It is where I found my sweet cat, Percy. It is where my husband and I have decorated and settled into our first apartment together. It is where I teach my adorable students and work alongside incredible teachers. It is where my husband’s family lives and has lived for about seven years now.
But on January 31st, everything changed. I missed the first call because we had some friends over since I was going a little crazy having not seen anyone other than my cat and husband for about a week and a half. When the phone rang again I answered. “We are encouraging everyone to go back to their home country for the next two weeks. If you are able to, we would really like you to leave in the next 24 to 48 hours.” I don’t think I have ever felt this level of panic or fear ever before and I would be perfectly fine never again feeling the way I felt over the course of those next few days. Two days later we finished cleaning our apartment, packed our luggage and hopped in a taxi destined for the airport. Little did we know this journey to America would be quite a bumpy ride.
About half way to the airport there was a massive checkpoint where all cars had to stop momentarily and each passenger had to have their temperature checked. Once we were cleared we continued on our way to the airport. Fortunately, once inside the airport it was for the most part like normal except everyone was wearing masks. Our first flight was destined for Tokyo and took off at 2:45pm. Once we landed we learned our next flight had been delayed by 4 hours, so we got some food and made ourselves comfortable. It was almost 10 o’clock at night and they seemed almost ready to start boarding, but then we heard them say, “if you are coming from China you will not be able to board this flight to America”. What!?! Now what are we supposed to do?
So I went and talked with one of the airport staff at our gate and they clarified that the announcement was for Chinese citizens, if you are an American citizen and have a US green card or passport you are able to go to America. *huge sigh of relief* Thank you Jesus! But unfortunately, I spoke too soon...
We finally began boarding the plane around 11:20ish, despite having been told that this airport has a midnight curfew. We were on the plane, luggage and food loaded, seated and seatbelt fastened. Then we heard, “Sorry about this everyone but it is now 12:01 and because of the curfew we are not allowed to take off so we will have to cancel this flight and reschedule it for the morning. Please wait in your seats until we have confirmed with customs that we are allowed to exit the plane”. You have got to be kidding me...
Fortunately, we were taken to a nearby hotel where we got to stay, and got breakfast, for free. The next morning we took a shuttle bus back to the airport where we FINALLY took off to America. When we eventually landed in Chicago, we waited in the longest customs line I’ve ever experienced and, at this point why was I even surprised, missed our connecting flight to Indiana.. of course. Thankfully, we had new tickets waiting for us when we finally made it through US customs and our flight to Indianapolis was super easy.
Friends, thank goodness for friends. We stayed with Elijah’s best friend and his wife our first week in America. It was so great to spend time with them and for me to get to know them better. At the end of that week it was time for us to get our rental car and start driving to Nebraska (quick stop to say hello to my best friend) and then head to Minnesota. Surprisingly enough it was not quite that easy. Apparently, in order to rent a car, without plane tickets to another location soon after renting the car, you MUST have a credit card not a debit card. Hmmm.. well we don’t have a credit card. All we have is an American debit card and a Chinese debit card. So after some panicking, praying, and a few tears, we got connected with the manager of one of the rental companies who assured us he would get us home and we won’t be stuck in Indiana. Thank you Jesus!! At this point it was more than just a few tears, but can you blame me? Our journey hadn't necessarily been easy so far.
It was February 6th when we rented the car and drove to Nebraska where we stayed only for Friday night and a little bit on Saturday before continuing on to Minnesota. Since then we have been living with my parents, almost exactly 3 months now. We have calculated that if we stay here until the end of June, we will have lived with my parents for exactly half of our marriage. Which is, I’m sure, what every newlywed couple wants to be able to say. Right?
Being back “home” has been nice, but it has also filled both of us with a number of emotions:
Sadness for sure. We miss OUR home, China. We miss our friends and family that are still in China or are currently spread out all across the world (South Korea, Australia, Canada, South Africa, England, and all over America). Anytime I think about my students and what it would be like to finally see them again I’m hit with a tsunami of emotions.
Anger and frustration. This is not where we want to be living and we can’t go back because the borders are closed and we have no idea when we will be allowed to go home. As great as it has been to see friends and family, we don’t want to be here, we didn’t really want to come in the first place but we wanted to avoid all the virus craziness, which we’ve clearly done a great job of seeing as it followed us to America... Teaching online for three months going on four is not what I signed up for when I decided I wanted to be a teacher. I hate home based learning. But it is better than nothing.
Joy and Happiness. Daily late night (time differences are fun...) zoom calls with my students fills me with so much joy and happiness and reminds me why I became a teacher. I also enjoy moments when my parents and husband get to spend quality time together, because he hasn’t had the same opportunities to get to know my family like I have had to get to know his.
Being displaced, aka not being home, has been very hard to navigate. It’s been hard to be greeted with “it’s so good to see you” or “we’re glad to have you home”. It’s hard because we don’t want to be here, this was not some planned trip or vacation. We left OUR home to try to stay as safe as possible, but it followed us so we've gotten to relive things shutting down all over again. Yes, it’s nice to see family and friends and get to eat some foods we can’t get in China, but this isn’t our home anymore. I mean, yes, it will always be home, but it isn’t OUR home. OUR friends are mainly in China. OUR school is in China. OUR cat is staying with friends in China (thank you thank you thank you). OUR apartment is in China. All of OUR summer clothes are in China.
This was supposed to be a two week trip. Get out of country for a couple weeks to allow this virus to come and go. Once things calm down and start to return to normal we’ll be back. Man I wish that’s how this all actually happened. I so badly wish I was in my apartment cuddling my cat, correcting some student work or preparing lessons for the next week, and eating the noodles I always order from that one lady’s shop not too far away. But that is, unfortunately, not our reality. Instead we are here, displaced, for an uncertain amount of time. It is hard, there have been many tears, and there is this deep achy feeling in our hearts. But we have hope and we have joy.
Accepting that this is our situation right now, our “new normal”, has helped us to make ourselves a bit more at home here. We have become more familiar with our current surroundings and have chosen to try to start enjoying life again. Trust me it has not always been easy. The first month or two I spent a lot of time just laying in bed, very emotional, with little to no motivation or desire to do anything. Even watching Netflix felt like a huge endeavor. But now, we try to get out of the house and go on walks or bike rides as much as we can. We make big family meals sometimes. We have movie nights. We play games. We laugh.
We have found joy amongst all the hard. Thank you Jesus!