I recently saw a page on Buzzfeed that resonated with me called “23 Charming Illustrations of Untranslatable Words from Other Languages.” I clicked on the link to the page because, being a visual person, I enjoy illustrations and, seeing as how I am married to a man whose first language/mother tongue is different from my own, word/expression meanings in different languages have recently become relevant to me.
The first word illustrated was “fernweh” which comes from German and means “feeling homesick for a place you have never been to” (according to the illustrator, I hope she was correct!). The list goes on and some of the illustrations are quite nice. If you didn’t click the link to the page, you should check it out. You might find a word that speaks to you like I did.
Back to why “fernweh” stood out to me… When I read the translation of what it means, I recognized that I had felt this exact feeling in my life many times. I can’t tell you where it came from, why it came, or anything other than I know without a doubt I felt this homesickness for India long before I ever had any Indian friends or even knew any Indian people. Maybe it manifested itself because I was always an avid reader in my childhood. Maybe it came because I read something about India or its people at a young age. Unfortunately I have no idea what this could have been or if it was anything like this in the first place.
What I do know is that in my elementary school, I learned to read a little earlier than most other children, I used reading as a means to escape reality (don’t take this the wrong way, my reality was quite good, I promise) and “travel” to many different places, and that I had a very vivid imagination. I enjoyed reading so much that in fifth grade, I read so many A.R. books and got so many points that I was the Top Reader and won $100. That’s a pretty big accomplishment for a 10-year-old! What I’m trying to get at is that it makes total sense to me that I could have learned about India while reading one of the many books I read during my early “travels”.
My earliest memory of being interested in India was when I was young, maybe 10-12 years old, and spending some time at my paternal grandmother’s house. This story requires a little background information, so hang on! My grandmother was one of my favorite people in the whole world, especially when I was young. She and her dog lived in a three bedroom brick house about fifteen minutes from my parents house. I would often spend Friday nights with her and we would do many crafty things together during these times. We would draw, color pictures, make jewelry, do embroidery, etc. because she enjoyed being creative and making things herself. I think (and my husband thinks) I got some of my character traits from her. She made one heck of a grandmother. I still get teary-eyed when I think about her and she has been gone for more than 7 years…
One thing she would do with me was take me to fabric stores and let me choose a fabric to make something out of when we got back home. She sewed various things for my brother and I growing up, like pillows, embroidered blankets, bags, you name it. She had a fancy embroidery machine that you could create your design on the computer and the machine would transfer it onto your fabric. I guess this was pretty fancy for the time, now that I think about it… Because she was always sewing and embroidering various projects, she always had some interesting fabric scraps. One of my favorite things to do when I was at her house was to play in the fabric. Literally. I would take out her neatly folded and organized fabrics, throw them around for who knows what reason, wrap myself up in them pretending to be somebody different, or wrap up her dog or my brother in them turning them into whatever characters suited my fancy that day. This is where my earliest memory of being interested in India came from.
One day I told my grandmother that I wanted to wear a sari. I don’t even know how much I knew about them or how in the world I came to know about them, but I knew that they were beautiful pieces of fabric beautiful ladies were wrapped up in, and I wanted one. Spending the whole day dressed in a pretty fabric sounded perfect to me. And in my grandmother’s quest to be the best grandmother she could be, she made it happen. (Perhaps I was a spoiled child…) She found (I don’t know where) a print-out of how to wrap a sari and how much fabric one needed to do all the wrapping and pleating. She also calculated that since I was a child, I would need less yardage than a full-grown woman. We came to the decision that we would go to the fabric store and find four yards of the fabric for my sari. I still can picture the blue fabric in my head to this day. It was a polyester, flowing blue fabric with sky, royal, and navy shades and a large paisley block-style print. When we made it back to her house, we followed the directions as best we could, and I was happily in our version of a sari. That’s all I remember about it.
As time went by, I learned more about the world, not just India. It was on my radar just like any other country halfway across the globe would be to a girl born in 1990 in the U.S. When I would come across products imported from India, I was drawn to them because of the various colors and patterns that were different than the norm here. Other than that, I didn’t really have any tangible reason to be interested in a country that was so foreign to me. Fleeting thoughts here and there told me I wanted to go there, but I had no reason to believe it would actually happen! This was my “fernweh” kicking in.
I met my first Indian friends in college. I liked so many things about these people: their food (of course!), their clothes (surprise…), their friendliness to guests, and the way they were excited to share their culture with a white American Southerner who despite all the stereotypes surrounding her, was not, in fact, as closed-minded as she thought she was. And as those of you who already know us know, one thing led to another, and through mutual friends, I met the Indian man who became my husband.
Almost five months after our wedding, we traveled to India to meet B’s parents. If you’ve read my previous posts, you know that it was a big deal for me especially because this trip was full of firsts. My first plane ride, my first time out of the U.S., my first time traveling with B for more than a small trip, my first time meeting his family face-to-face, my first time finding out what I am really made of! To read more about this trip, click here or here. I experienced so many things on this trip. I won’t list them here because it’s just too much.
December 2013 and January 2014 was the time my “fernweh” was satiated. Now when I feel homesick for India, Nabagram, B’s Mom’s cooking, Bengali mishti, etc., it’s just plain old longing instead of the fancy word “fernweh” because I’ve been there now. The bottom line is that I knew I felt something, but was never able to describe it in words. While I don’t know that all (or even half) of the things on Buzzfeed are worth the time it takes to skim them, this page was worth it because it made me connect things in my life I hadn’t connected yet.
Do you have a place that you feel “fernweh” for? If so, try and make it there someday! I bet you won’t regret it.