Twelve weeks ago, I boarded a plane that would take me from Jakarta to Berlin. I had taken this flight numerous times before, but this time, I was on a one-way ticket. I was moving back home.
Home? Berlin isn’t my home. It was my home for two years when I was still studying. It’s where my parents live. It’s the city I go to for vacation every year. But for the past eleven years, Jakarta had been my home, for all intents and purposes.
I wanted to move to Germany for many different reasons, which don’t need to be elaborated further here. Once the decision had been made, the flight booked, the resignation letter signed, there was no turning back.
Saying Goodbye to Jakarta, a city I have loved as long as I can remember, was a weary, heartbreaking and painful process. During my last two weeks there, I had farewell lunches, coffee breaks and dinners every day. By the time I settled down in my seat on the plane and caught one last glimpse of Jakarta through the window, I was so exhausted I couldn’t even shed a tear anymore.
By contrast, my arrival in Berlin was very quiet. Of course, my parents and my sister were around, and my dog needed to be taken care of. But other than that, it was lonely. I was greeted by ice-cold weather and snow and instantly remembered how much I disliked winter in Germany. If I had ever been prone to depression, it was during my grey and windy winter days in Berlin.
At the same time, I realized that there were many things I had missed about living in Germany: having fresh bread for breakfast every morning, taking long walks and hanging out in parks, watching football games at a normal hour and not in the middle of the night, realizing that heavy rain doesn't lead to a complete standstill in the city.
After a while, I came out of my shell, catching up with old friends over coffee or drinks, visiting exhibitions and book readings, signing up for volunteer work. Homecoming wasn’t a triumphant return. Instead, it was, is and will be hard work. “Arriving” in Germany is an ongoing process, and at the moment, I still feel like I’m in between two worlds.
Thanks to social media, I’m still very much up to date on what’s happening in Indonesia. I can see that the Yayoi Kusama obsession has taken over the Instagram and Facebook accounts of my Jakarta friends, that the construction of the MRT is moving along slowly but nicely, and that Indonesians are bent but not broken over the horrific terror attacks that recently hit the country.
But even though I still feel connected, I know that I’m only watching from afar. I’m not part of the story anymore. I have to turn over a new leaf and write the next chapter of my life, here in Berlin.
I know it’s not going to be easy. Most days, I’m quite busy, and I'm still learning the ropes of being a freelancer (for now). But sometimes, a pang of homesickness and longing for Jakarta hits me, unexpectedly. And when it does, it hits quite hard and tugs relentlessly at my heartstrings: when I hear JT’s song “Mirrors” on the radio because it reminds me so much of my final days in Jakarta; when my mother cooks Indonesian food and the smell of rendang fills the kitchen; when I suddenly find a rupiah coin in the pocket of my jeans; or when I’m unpacking boxes and find a shirt that still smells like the laundry detergent we used in Jakarta.
It’s been twelve weeks, and I need more time. But what if there will never be enough time? What if my friend who once told me “No matter where you are, something will always be missing” is right? It’s a frightening thought but also one I probably need to be at peace with.
Home, I have to come to realize, can be many things. Home is when my dog runs happily over a meadow, enjoying his newly discovered freedom. Home is when I look at my sister and know exactly what she’s thinking without having to say a word. Home is watching my parents enjoying a cup of coffee and slice of cake in the afternoon. Home is the chuckling laughter of my friend’s little baby. Home is getting a WhatsApp video call from my friends in Jakarta, sitting in front of Plaza Senayan and sharing that moment with me. Home, I hope, can be memories of the cities I have lived in, and the place where I am right now, this very moment.