3 Apr

I’m finally going home in May. It’s been 9 years.

I moved from Montreal to Lebanon, then to Moscow and back to Lebanon, and to Chengdu during that time, got married in Montreal, dropped out of a master’s program in Beirut, took up yoga, did a Teacher Training in Thailand, supported Maher through a stroke, seen a few too many gynaecologists and IVF experts, trusted a fantastic doctor in Ahmedabad and gave birth to my twins in Hong Kong – so, that I didn’t stop off in Zambia since my last 3 week visit many years ago is beyond me. I constantly go back and forth about how that happened.

How could I have been that complacent?

I thought my mum was crazy when she told me she was going back to Bombay after 10 years. I will never be like that when I grow up. I remember how alive and confident she was weaving around Fashion street and Crawford market in Bombay, chatting and bargaining with the salespeople. She proudly  introduced us to Badsha, her favorite falooda (ice cream drink) joint in Bombay.

I can’t lie, I have  I’ve had a mental drama about home, what it means, if the concept will ever exist for me again, and especially for my children? When I recently told my brother how long I’d been away, he did a quick mental calculation and said, “But that’s almost a third of your life, can you even call it home?”

I can’t lie, I miss home. I don’t have the words to express it. My first, only attempt at a poem ever, was inspired by an uncontrollable nostalgic moment.

Whenever I’ve brought up my need to go home, Maher reminded me that we’ve seen my family here in China, in Canada, and in India, depending on where they or we were.

But it’s not just that –

It’s the smell of the wet grass when the drumming rain keeps me curled up in bed devouring book after book, the feel of the red earth between my toes, the mango trees at my grandparents house in Livingstone, and the size of the avocados, of my solitary bike rides and road runs around our neighbourhood, of the rocks along the banks of the Zambezi river, of my school and my friends – some still there, many also living in different places.  But then it’s also the Rotary clubs, and politics that my father was always too busy with; it’s the street kids, the AIDS, and the corruption.

When I was 13 or 14 I decided that I would become a doctor. I was adamant. My parents and I went to see the principal, who was also my English Literature teacher, and running-group leader – without a doubt my most inspiring teacher. Now, I realise that during that meeting he gently tried to persuade me not to switch out of history and literature, that there were other possibilities out there for me. He bothered to try. I was stubborn, and I had my father’s backing on this one. My mother understood me better than I thought I knew myself, but she never imposed anything on me. She’s always trusted me, and in her typical manner, she let me figure things out my way. But she always listened big when I mentioned switching into naturopathy, or anthropology during my university career.

Back to when I was 14 in Zambia, I asked one of my parents doctor friends if I could intern at her clinic for the summer. I went in at 8 every morning, mainly helped with computerizing patient files at the reception, spent a couple of hours with the lab technician every afternoon, and went home for my evening runs. That’s the thing, while I was a teenager in Lusaka, there wasn’t much to do over the holidays; kids were either involved in sports and engaged in the community, or doing drugs and having sex. I fell into the former category.

But I digress…

One afternoon the lab technician was showing me how to actually carry out a malaria test. He put a drop of blood that he’d drawn earlier, on a glass slide. We examined the sample through a magnifying glass to identify if the parasite was present. The patient had come in specifically with a malaria query, but the lab technician was on a teaching spree and decided to show me how to perform a HIV test. He took a little more of the blood (don’t ask me about the ethics / human rights of it all especially since he knew who the patient was), and it was positive.

A number of caregivers from my past have died, usually young, and after a lot of suffering. More often than not, it’s AIDS. The man who cooked for us throughout my childhood and until a few years ago is one of them. The man who drove me to school and back every day, who taught me how to drive, who told me it was his dream to drive trucks – the only person who ever called me princess, playfully, just because he knew I hated it, is living with HIV now. He sent me gifts when my children were born – 2 chitenges (traditional cloth that women wrap into skirts, and use to carry their babies on their backs). He quit working for my parents a little while ago. I can’t wait to see him; to hear him joke.

I couldn’t wait to leave home when I was a teenager; now I can’t wait to return.  I’m not sure how I’ll react after so long, but I want my children to feel a slice of the simplicity, play in the dirt with the chongololo’s (millipedes), imagine the white clouds are cars in a blue sky, run barefoot in real green grass, play football with their uncle, eat nshima  (thick maize porridge – local staple food) and curry, see elephants, kudus, and lions in their natural habitat, all that alongside people who smile wide, who smile for life.


The idea that we can and should feel at home anyplace on the globe is based on a worldview that celebrates the solitary, mobile individual and envisions men and women as easily separated from family, from home and from the past. But this vision doesn’t square with our emotions, for our ties to home, although often underestimated, are strong and enduring.
The New Globalist is Homesick, the International Herald Tribune


I live in Chengdu with my husband Maher and our two-year-old twins Leila and Rahul. I was an Ashtanga Yoga teacher until Our Little Yogis became the teachers.

23 Responses to “Zamsick”

  1. heidinevin April 3, 2012 at 9:00 pm #

    Really beautiful, dearest. Thank you so much for sharing. I’m so excited for you and the little ones to be able to go home, and I can’t wait to hear how it goes. Travel safely and be in touch! Much love.

    • natasha devalia April 4, 2012 at 7:25 pm #

      Thanks Heidi!
      I’m sure it’s going to be a good time. I’ll probably write something 😉 Good luck with your own travels. I also can’t wait to hear your stories. And thanks for sending me that article – it got me writing again.

  2. Rossandra April 3, 2012 at 10:26 pm #

    Hello fellow “Zambian.” Congratulations on all you’ve accomplished so far. My journey is quite different from yours, I couldn’t wait to leave but the country is still in my heart. I write about those days quite often. I come from Nkana.

    • natasha devalia April 4, 2012 at 7:33 pm #

      Hi Rossandra,
      Thanks for dropping by and leaving your comment. I’m very happy to have come across a fellow Zambian blogger;)
      Zambia is still in my heart too.

  3. Ravi Devalia April 3, 2012 at 10:58 pm #

    Can’t wait to be with you,Leila and Rahul and of course Maher …in our simple… but ….HOME!!! DAD and MUM

    • natasha devalia April 4, 2012 at 7:34 pm #

      Yeah, it will be quite something to be back there again – I bet Leila and Rahul will love it.

  4. Aniroodh Devalia April 3, 2012 at 11:34 pm #


    Very well written! Wish I could be there with you guys! Next time 🙂

    Don’t forget to go to Trudy’s as well 🙂

    • natasha devalia April 4, 2012 at 7:35 pm #

      Hahaha! I’ll have to go to Trudy’s!
      Wish you were going to Z too.

  5. Joan P. Lane April 4, 2012 at 7:23 am #

    How I can relate to everything you say. I’ve now lived more than half my life outside my motherland, Jamaica and, like you, in several countries, yet the umbilical cord has never been severed. I return to visit as often as I can. As my main character in my novel says, “There are two types of homes – the one where you live, and the one where your heart resides. They’re not necessarily the same. It’s a fortunate man who lives where his heart is.”

    • natasha devalia April 4, 2012 at 7:37 pm #

      Hi Joan,
      Thanks for dropping by and for leaving your lovely comment. I hope I can go back more often – as often as possible as well. Your main character sounds interesting. I’d like to hear more about the novel…I’ll be dropping by.

  6. maro adjemian April 4, 2012 at 9:41 am #

    Beautiful, Tasha- thank you for sharing! “…alongside people who smile wide, who smile for life.” I know exactly what you mean. Enjoy your visit back home!

  7. renu86 April 4, 2012 at 2:26 pm #

    Such a refreshing read! I am sure Leila and Rahul will make fantastic forever memories from their trip because they have a fabulous Mum like you to help them cherish every little bit of their life experiences. Hoping you have a safe and fun trip back home.
    Thanks for sharing this!

    • natasha devalia April 4, 2012 at 7:42 pm #

      Hey Renuka,
      Thanks for that sweet comment. I’m not sure what they’ll remember – I’ll be sure to take some photos! Actually I’m surprised by the things they remember…sometimes they say things about places we’ve been to, and especially if there are repeat visits. We’ll just have to go often!

  8. sadiadoublefun April 6, 2012 at 5:48 am #

    This captures so many of my feelings towards going “home” (to Bangladesh). I had to cancel a visit at the last minute, nonrefundable ticket and all, 3 years ago, so it’s been 12 years now, and a trip is nowhere in my near future. I can’t wait to hear about how your visit goes.

    • natasha devalia April 11, 2012 at 2:12 am #

      12 years is a long time. I’m sorry it didn’t work out that time. I’m not sure how I’ll react to the trip – enough to write something surely!

  9. Julieta April 11, 2012 at 2:03 pm #

    Really touching, Natasha. I’m sure R and L will love Zambia as a part of you, no matter how beautiful it can be, it’s deep in your heart, that’s the reason.

    • natasha devalia May 22, 2012 at 9:12 pm #

      Hey Julieta! L and R are enjoying it here;) I’m happy for that – the weather is unbeatable. I remembered that again! See you soon.

  10. Rekha April 19, 2012 at 10:51 pm #

    I really enjoyed reading this. I went home to Zimbabwe after 38years. I WAS A TRIP TO REMEMBER!!! Heart breaking, and healing at the same time.I will be thinking of you , and will look forward to reading about it later. Take care, Rekhafai.

    • natasha devalia May 22, 2012 at 9:08 pm #

      Thanks for your lovely comment Rekha fai. I leave Lusaka in a few days, and heart-breaking and healing sums it up nicely!

      • Pallavi Parikh June 3, 2012 at 10:16 pm #

        hi Natasha please ask your mom to call us in Cleveland Ohio . We are trying to reach them . Thanks

      • Pallavi Parikh June 3, 2012 at 10:17 pm #

        Cell 216 509 6020 home 440 892 0526


  1. Zamsick | Our Little Yogis - April 3, 2012

    […] New Globalist is Homesick, and suggested I share it at MM. I thought I’d be able to whip up a post that very […]

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