You need to understand about me that I am a homebody at heart.
I didn’t set foot outside the United Kingdom in the first decade of my life. School holidays were mostly spent in the magical setting of my grandmother’s home in the village of Talsarnau in North Wales, overlooking the estuary and the italianate village of Portmeirion in the distance. Occasionally we made it as far as South Wales to see my other grandmother. The furthest I ever travelled in those first 10 years of life was probably a week-long visit to Edinburgh, which, at the time, held all the fascination of a foreign country for me. So, in my final year at primary school, when my mother brought home some glossy magazines about holiday destinations in France, I was beyond excited. In due time she picked a small holiday cottage in Normandy, booked some dates and a ferry crossing and we could begin to count off the days. In those pre-internet days there wasn’t much to counter the effect of a powerful imagination and as I crossed the days off in the calendar I had made especially for this purpose, I could picture the white sands and waving palm trees on the beautiful island we would reach by ship. As it happened the white cliffs we left behind in Dover seemed of more dreamy stuff than the prosaic reality we met in Calais. We disembarked and I slept for the rest of the journey and only woke when we reached our house. My vision of a dreamy little cottage with roses around its front door and a bubbling brook through the garden was in fact a recently constructed holiday house with rough gravel for a garden, graced by a plastic picnic table and chairs, the brook nothing more than a trickle of water through concrete pipes.But my disappointment was short-lived. For the next few weeks I discovered rural Normandy with all its sights, sounds and smells, so different to what I knew and so exotic. I loved everything on that first trip to France from the cockerel crowing early in the morning, the milky coffee drunk from bowls, the hazy, hot days, to the local cows, plagued by flies, swishing their tails patiently in an attempt to drive them off. I loved the sound of French and I even loved my Dad’s attempts to butcher the words in order to tease my perfectionist mother. I loved the seaside towns and the châteaux. And I loved this holiday which was so different from anything I had hitherto experienced.
Then we went home.
Three summers in a row we went to the same place in Normandy, each time it was a bit different and held a different kind of charm.Each time we came home to our house with all its familiarity and security. I loved home. I loved our house with all idiosyncracies and I couldn’t honestly imagine ever living anywhere else. I had always lived there and I took it completely for granted. I loved to travel but I loved coming home again.
After our spree of three summers in France I didn’t go abroad again until I finished secondary school. This time I headed for Germany and was pleasantly surprised by what I found. After a flight to Zürich and a short train ride to Lake Constance, I caught the ferry over to Germany as dusk fell across the lake. It was far more lovely than I had imagined and for the next 6 weeks I soaked in as much of its beauty and the language as possible. It didn’t take long for Germany to supplant France as second after England in my heart.
The following summer I returned to Germany, to a new place and new people. It was as opposite an experience as I could have imagined. For the first time in my life I experienced homesickness and I was truly sick. I could not wait for the ten weeks to be over. The job had been monotonous and my diet of bread during the workweek more so. I had been welcomed into a home but not treated as one of the family and I felt out-of-place and yearned to be home. I was in a prison of time, bound by the date on my air ticket and all I could do was bide my time. At last the day of my departure came and after almost 10 weeks of imagining this moment I was finally home. Later that evening, while sitting in my best friend’s living room, the relief and the tears finally came. I had learned a hard lesson. To feel at home somewhere was a gift I would no longer take for granted.
I had learned to value home and my visits abroad were accompanied by increasingly mixed feelings. But the next few years brought more time away from home than ever before. Home was changing too. The dynamics of our family were constantly in flux as my brother moved away from home to a town further south and first one and then my other sister got married. Over the next three years I spent the majority of my time in France and Germany and my visits at home were like punctuation marks in my travels. During this time I met Dali and added Slovakia to my list of destinations.
My experience of home forever changed once I met Dali. Somehow in those early days of knowing Dali and understanding that I would become his wife I knew that we would pursue our lives not in England but in Slovakia. Maybe it was the Holy Spirit whispering to my heart that He had a new home for me or maybe it was Dali’s thorough Slovakness. Whatever it was, my initial reaction was to accept it and not question it. In the longing to be with him and make a home with him, I didn’t face up to the leaving it would require of me.
My first visit to Slovakia came in the Spring of 1993. I arrived in Bratislava after a long and appreciative train ride through France, Germany and Austria. My first impression of Slovakia was that everything was red. The cars, the lamp posts, the buildings. Quite appropriate for a post-communist country. My second impression was that I had stepped into a world which was thoroughly unlike anything I knew. It wasn’t different like France and Germany had been. It felt like I had stepped onto a different continent, into another age. Nothing in my previous experience could compare with this. This was what Dali wanted me to see before I committed myself officially to an engagement with him. It didn’t change my mind. Wherever I made my home, I needed Dali to be in it.
Later we took the long train ride to his parents’ house in Prešov and a few days later celebrated our official engagement. Everything seemed so foreign to me, even Dali seemed so foreign, so different when I saw him in his cultural setting. But the certainty that I was doing the right thing remained.
It was just so hard to imagine how this place would ever become home.