BY LAURA CHAUSTRE BERARDINELLI
They say words are just words until you give them purpose. The more you say a word, the more it loses its meaning. For some, this particular word is defined by the place that holds memories. Memories which trace back to the first few days after they were born, up until they pack up everything and move out; thus, leaving their parents with the nostalgic reminiscence of their little one’s early life. Others associate this word with baking cookies with Grandma, having snowball fights with Dad, and playing endless games of hide and seek with their cousins every year on Christmas. New Jersey, Michigan, Tennessee, Michigan again, now Pennsylvania. Moving 5 times in 15 years makes it almost impossible to establish a meaning for the H-word.
Another common phrase, “don’t forget where you came from.” This one has stayed with me, through every house I’ve lived in, all 9 schools I’ve attended, and each friend I’ve made. There’s no feeling better than walking off a plane, directly onto the runway, while repeatedly getting slapped in the face by the heat and humidity of South America’s Caribbean coastline. Walking around the most magical city in the world, Cartagena, and trying a different fish at every restaurant you go to. No matter how much your parents warn you about the dreaded espinas, you still manage to yourself with a couple of fish bones each time. The constant sound of cars honking on the streets of Barranquilla, a sound so inevitable that you fall in love with it. Everywhere you look, people smiling, people dancing. You’ll never be too old to walk on the beautiful beaches of Santa Marta, seeing the rainbow-colored ice cream cart, running up to it and buying a Chococono, but getting charged extra if the ice cream vendor knows you speak English.
The most joy I’ve ever felt: bringing my best friends with me to the country I came from, where my heart is. “One day I’m going to bring all of my friends with me to Barranquilla for my quinceañero,” something I used to say when I was 6 years old. Having them right by my side on the day I turned fifteen, a feeling of insuperable joy that has no price. Seeing the look on their faces when we go to the grocery store and they read that a 12-pack of potato chips costs the equivalent of 3 US dollars. The magic of going back to the place where I feel belonged, no matter how dysfunctional it may be.
Home: The H-word, that has no right meaning, other than the one you give it. Colombia: the one I gave it.