Tuesday, July 31, 2012


It's really good to be here.

I really love this place.

It feels strange, but good. I've forgotten certain things. I wandered around our kitchen for ten minutes this morning trying to remember where the toaster was. I did a sink full of dishes by hand before being reminded we have a dishwasher. I text like someone many decades older than I am. My closet feels overwhelming.

As the mom of a dear friend said to me the other evening, "there is no in between." You're either there, or you're here. I went from being so on my own, on a long year in places so far, to being completely and utterly home. You're either away or you're not. There is no in between.

 Downtown Burlington
I was worried everything would feel  the same when I got back, and that this would bother me because I wanted more tangible proof that this year happened. But I'm finding that actually everything feels really different, even just the way I move about these familiar spaces. 

It's been a nice few days. Driving around Vermont with my Dad, satisfying culinary cravings at farmers' markets and berry farms, painstakingly unpacking boxes I had sent home throughout the year, folding old clothes from high school and driving them to Goodwill.


I hadn't realized until now, being home and in a different mode, just how much energy the whole Watson persona took. Even when there were moments I felt comfortable and relaxed, you can't "turn off" in the same way when you're traveling solo and responsible for everything. I hadn't fully realized what a different norm that was. Merging these different ways of being in the world is my new challenge.

I'm in Burlington all too briefly. Early Thursday morning I fly out again, this time to Wisconsin, for the returning fellows conference. I'll get to meet the 39 other Watson fellows who have had their own journeys and experiences and adventures. I'll be back on Sunday and then early Monday morning, I'll head up to Prince Edward Island, Canada to join the rest of my family (and my beloved friend Hadley) in our traditional summer setting.

I'm not quite sure about the fate of this blog, but I will say that (for your sake, and mostly for mine), I'm not going to quit cold turkey. I'll let you know how the conference goes and how settling back in here feels, but posts will be more sporadic.

In the meantime, I have a lot of catching up to do.

Postcards my parents put up.
 Pile of things I acquired

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Homeward Bound

Today's illogical itinerary:

Reykjavik --> Boston --> Philadelphia --> BURLINGTON, VERMONT.

It's going to be such a long day.

It's going to be SO DAMN GOOD.  

I'm gonna get back home tonight...

I did it, guys! I really did it!!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012


                Everything feels big right now.
     Come to think of it, “big” might be the best word to use when people ask me how my year was.
                Geographically. Emotionally. Calendrically.  
                I have less than 48 hours left in Reykjavik and less than 48 hours left of being “on my Watson year.”
                The joyous return I was already envisioning from a porch in Bali twelve months ago feels a bit more complicated. Don’t get me wrong, I’m so excited to go home that most nights I can’t sleep, but as it comes closer and closer to being a reality, I also have been realizing more and more that going home will also be  a loss.
Processing this ending has also been made more complicated as I try to mourn another loss. I’ve been having conversations with my parents over the last year about the health of our beloved family dog, Cally, and the end is, unfortunately, quite near.  They were hoping she would hold out until I was home so that I could see her one last time, but we’ve all decided that she’s in a lot of pain, and it makes the most sense to let her go before then.
I wasn’t sure whether to write about this turn of events on here or not. I don’t generally advocate for grieving through forms of social media (“RIPs” on Facebook statuses somehow diminish the sentiment, no matter how well-intentioned they are), but this is the way I’m able to talk to people this year. I wanted to let you know that this is the reason my countdown to home has become a bit more thorny.  
In a kind of cruel irony, Cally is going to be put to sleep on Friday, probably some time while I’m flying over the Atlantic Ocean.  My countdown to home has also become a countdown to losing her. 

The Watson Foundation has a rule about us not returning to the United States.  They even specify that the only reason they’d make an exception would be the death of a parent or a sibling. The rule seems irrational and ridiculously harsh, but I think I’ve begun to understand it more as I go along. I took it into consideration when I first decided to accept. I worried that something big and terrible would happen at home while I was abroad. I hadn’t thought about my dog.
                Talking about the loss of a pet is a difficult thing. We don’t really have the language to do so. I’ve been in places this year where people would have laughed if they had seen how upset I was about the death of a dog. We don’t have the language for grieving over animals; we want to acknowledge a loss while simultaneously acknowledging that there are bigger losses people face.
                It reminds me of when we first got Cally. My sister and I would melodramatically cling to her, proclaiming our love as if she understood us, and felt welcomed into the family through words alone. I remember countless conversations with my Dad where we tried to get him to say that he loved Cally. He would say something along the lines of being fond of her, or that she was a great dog, but there was a difference between the way he cared for Cally and the way he cared for us.  We would listen patiently but then wail, “But why don’t you love her?”
                We wanted absolutes. We didn’t understand that there can be different kinds of love, that she could be a part of our family even if we loved her in different ways than we loved each other.
                She has been a part of our family for the last fourteen years. She joined a home that was then the home of two girls, ages eight and eleven, who opened up a box on Christmas morning to find dog food and a leash and put together the pieces, hysterical with joy.  She had been painstakingly waited for, counted down for, loved before she even arrived.  I remember training her on snowy mornings, a clumsy ball of fur with black paws skidding on our kitchen floor in New York, small enough to stand on the top of the dishwasher while we were loading it and lick the plates. I remember being furious at her when she ripped up the pages of my new American Girl book, terrified when we took her to walk in the woods at Sugar Pond on a February morning and she slipped through some ice. My Dad put his coat on the ice and laid down on it, stretching out to distribute his weight and pull her out. That’s when we knew he loved her. 

She was a great dog.  She barked too much and was sometimes snappy with other dogs. Sometimes she chased cars, even if we’d run after her, yelling. But she was with us as we grew up, as great dogs should be. She was there for my parents when my sister and I went off to college. She was gentle with children and obligingly wore a pair of antlers when we’d walk her every Christmas Eve on Church Street. In periods of high school angst, if I was upset in my room, and my Mom knew I wouldn’t put up with any kind of consolation from her, she’d open the door to let Cally in instead. She’d wander over to my bed and lick the tears off my face. She adored her time on Prince Edward Island every summer as much as the rest of us, she learned to be a lover of water, chasing countless sticks and Frisbees through the waves, running on the beach.  She was agile, fast, beautiful. On Christmas mornings she opened her own presents wrapped up with tissue paper. She was remarkably good at it.  She was smart.
I can’t remember a time in my life before my family took walks together almost every evening or afternoon. I’m not sure if we’ve always been that way, or if it started with Cally. She gave us a reason to, to escape the house for a while as various combinations of the four of us would take time out of our separate lives, emerging from different rooms to walk her together.  I hope we still do that.
My mom says that Cally hasn’t been eating for a while now. She carries her up and down the stairs every day.  She asked me if I want to skype with Cally before Friday, to say goodbye to her, but the idea of skyping with a dog seems ludicrous and laughable. And maybe I’d rather remember her running on the beach anyway. 

I went jogging this morning down by the water, on what will probably be my last run in Reykjavik. It all hit me for the first time, because, apparently, when you’re miles away and hearing about a loss through gchat, it takes a couple days for it to sink in.
I finished my run and began crying, walked to a nearby park, red-faced and sweaty. People walked by and I tried to cover in some kind of elaborate stretching routine that would hide my face. I thought about the day I had ahead, of coffee dates and meals with people who are lovely and generous, but whom I barely know. I don’t want to talk to them about my dog. I don’t even want to talk to them about this year. Everything feels too personal, too impossible to even begin to describe. I don’t want their faces to be the ones at the other end of these particular conversations.  
I’m ready to go home. 

I walked back to my apartment, snot and sweat and tears blurred on my face, put on a smile, and opened the door to meet three Austrian tourists who had just arrived. 
Much as I can try to mentally prepare myself,  I have no way of knowing what it will actually feel like to be back in the U.S., coming to terms with my own ending, coming to terms with Cally’s. All I can do is go through the motions. Saying my goodbyes in Reykjavik cafes. Laundry. Passport. Flight confirmation. Packing. Then board a plane, take off, and trust that somehow, I’ll figure it out when I get there.
Just like I did a year ago. 

 ...There's a time to let it go.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Name Post: Voices of Iceland

I think I just had my last interview of the year. It’s the last one I have scheduled, anyway, and I want to keep it that way and hoard these last few days all to myself.  I still don’t know what (if anything) is to come of all of the conversations of this year or of my own relationship to this research and to this topic. I seem to fluctuate wildly between thinking I should go home and write a book with all of it immediately, and wanting to shut the cover of my black notebook and lay it to rest as this year comes to an end.
                And it has. When Katie and Isa were visiting me at the very beginning of my time in Iceland, we talked about how this topic is impossible to study without talking to people. You can’t (usually) learn someone’s name through observation alone. It requires a conversation, and, if the conversation is to be at all interesting or revealing, it requires a connection.  Studying names has given me a reason to talk to people, and a reason to travel. Even if those were the only reasons for studying names, they’ve made it a worthwhile topic.  
My last few weeks in Iceland have been filled by a steady flow of these conversations. I’m still working on how they all fit together, but I also think that in some ways, that’s what the Icelandic naming committee is currently figuring out too--how these different aspects of a changing Icelandic population work, where the lines are between cultural insularity and cultural acceptance, what it means to carry a name that breaks linguistic and grammatical rules, and if that even matters. I’m breaking down my recent interviews (the ones I haven't written about yet) into brief descriptions of what I think were their most interesting moments below.  Hopefully this gives you a sense of the questions that arise in discussing what constitutes an Icelandic name in 2012. 
Outdoor art in downtown Reykjavik

 Monument to civil disobedience outside the parliament to commemorate the protests following the 2008 economic crash.

 Sara & Olga
               Sara & Olga are two sisters who live out in Hafnarfjarðar. I met with them a few weeks ago and they kindly gave me breakfast and some pretty adorable babies to hold (it was all in all a great morning). They have three daughters between them and we talked about how they chose their names. 
              Sara’s daughter, Rafnhildur Sjorn, is six weeks old. She was going to be called “Marta” or “Isabella” until Sara took a look at her jet black hair and fierce, determined eyes. Rafnhildur is an old Valkyrie name that comes from the words “raven” and “battle.” The name “Sjorn” is Sara’s mother’s name. 
                Olga has two daughters, four year-old Úlfhildur Sjorn (the Sjorn again after her mother, and Úlfhildur meaning “battle of the wolves”), and one year-old Salvor Vega (Salvor meaning “sun season”).  She told me it’s taken her a while to decide on both of her daughters’ names. (Úlfhildur wasn’t named until she was six weeks old).  She felt it was a great responsibility, she told me. She said that she kept wondering, if “a baby makes a name, or a name makes a baby.” 
               Sara and Olga spent a large part of their childhoods in Sweden, and they said that at times their Icelandic names posed challenges.  Like in most Icelandic families, their names followed the patronymic system, which meant they all had different last names. In Sweden, their whole family decided to go by their father’s last name to make things less complicated. Olga also told me that in school she was self-conscious about being the only girl with her first name. “I really hated it,” she told me. “But then I started realizing that teachers always remembered it. I was the only Olga, and I got to make up what that name meant.” 
                We talked a bit about the patronymic system and how it worked. It struck me for the first time that Iceland was a place where, if you took your mother’s name, it was quite obvious.  In the states, if you go by your mother’s last name instead of your father’s, it can easily go unnoticed (“Smith” and “Garcia”, for example, are genderless, and could have come from either parent). In Iceland, however, since surnames are derived from first names, and first names are regulated by gender, a baby named  with the last name “Helgasdottir” as opposed to “Jonssdottir” would clearly be going by her mother’s name. There may be some stigmas surrounding this (stigmas that are starting to change as more and more people are opting to use the matrynomic).  Traditionally, however, having your mother’s last name could be an indication either that you have a radical feminist for a mother, or, to the delight of the gossiping Icelandic countryside, the father’s identity is unclear. 
                I recently heard a story that during World War II when there were many American and British soldiers in Iceland, many babies were being born to Icelandic women with the last name “Hermatthson” or “Hermathsdottir.” In Icelandic, “hermaður“ is the word for soldier, so these invented surnames conveinently left the identity of their non-Icelandic fathers unknown. 
                We got on this topic because Sara is raising Rafnhildur Sjorn on her own. Her full name is Rafnhildur Sjorn Sarasdottir.  We wondered whether Rafnhildur would face people making assumptions about her based on her surname, or whether by the time she’s going to school, it will be more commonplace. 
                Sara and Olga are fiercely against the regulations on names in Iceland.  They think they’re arbitrary and feel that often the reasons behind the naming committee’s decisions are vague and illogical. 
“A society is only a living society if it is willing to change,” Sara told me. She foresees many changes in Iceland’s near future. 

                I’ve already written a bit about my conversation with Maria, a Columbian woman who has been living in Iceland for the last twenty-two years. I wrote about her parents emigrating from Columbia to Iceland to join her, and about the pumpkin soup and sunshine in her backyard on a Monday afternoon.
 She told me about choosing names for her three Icelandic-Columbian children that would work in both places (Michael Luis, Sara Isabel, and Gabriel).  Her Icelandic husband had many traditions in his family about passing on names, but he insisted that they break them. “He wanted the kids names to show that they weren’t only Icelandic,” she told me. “He wants them to be proud of all parts of themselves.”
One experience that was particularly interesting to her as an outsider was following the Icelandic tradition of not revealing the baby’s name until the baptism. “I didn’t get it at first,” she told me. “I didn’t see what the big deal was.” She told me that in Columbia, the baby is usually named in utero, spoken to by that name, planned for. It seemed so strange to her to wait for months after the baby’s birth to reveal the name. “But I loved it.” She told me. “I did it with all my kids. It was such a fun surprise. Everyone was just so happy, and that way, no one can say they don’t like the name. When the priest says it, it’s there.”
Like Lani, Maria arrived in Iceland before the law changed that forced immigrants to choose Icelandic names for themselves in order to gain citizenship. Unlike Lani, she was one of the lucky ones. “Maria” worked perfectly in the Icelandic language and is on the approved list of names. “Maria” could cross cultures.
Maria knows lots of people who decided not to get citizenship in Iceland before the law changed. She has a friend from Bolivia, for example, who only recently got citizenship after twenty-eight years in the country. Before the law changed, he would just continually get his visa renewed, rather than change his name.
She told me about one time when she was in line at a government office watching a Vietnamese women in front of her. The Vietnamese woman was asked her name and told the official at the desk, “one second, I have to look it up.” She started shuffling through her purse, and Maria realized she must have adopted an Icelandic name formally, but had to look it up to remember what it actually was. It was an identity that existed on paper alone.
Maria thinks the regulations about names have gotten more and more flexible each year that she’s been here. She has started an organization for families who are new to Iceland, and she always finds it interesting what choices they make in terms of changing or keeping their names. Many of their Icelandic-born children’s names are approved, names Maria thinks would never have been approved when she first arrived.
“More Icelanders are traveling and that makes them think,” she told me. “They realize that they can travel around the world with their Icelandic name and people will call them by it. It doesn’t make sense that they wouldn’t do the same for foreigners coming to Iceland.” 


                On the drive to Thingvellir National Park last week, I interviewed Tryggvi, my landlady’s partner and the namesake of his grandfather, a former prime minister of Iceland. He passed on the Icelandic tradition of choosing names for your kids after your grandparents. His three children are called Hildur Jacobina, Guðrún Lillja, and Agnar Björn, all names from his family or his ex-wife’s family.

                The Icelandic tradition of naming your children after your grandparents was so popular in his family that he has five cousins who are named Tryggvi as well.  We talked about this tradition and how Tryggvi thinks that when he was growing up in Iceland, families were more like clans. The names indicated who was related to who, and how they were related, and everyone knew what family was known for what.  Traditionally in Iceland, these names became important for questions of inheritance and marriage and family relationships. “Icelandic families had their own little mafia,” he joked.  
I’m starting to get a handle on just how small the population of Iceland is. Its one thing to know the number, and it’s another to be here and see how people operate in a place where everyone is so inter-connected. I realized today for the first time that the population of the state of Vermont is double that of Iceland.
                Tryggvi told me that the tradition of passing on names from within your family is dying out a bit, something that he thinks is quite sad. He thinks that more people are traveling and coming back to Iceland, and choosing not to use names from their families for their own children.  He believes names should continue to be regulated here. He doesn’t want all of these traditions to die out.
 I tend to be skeptical about the Icelandic name regulations, but I sympathized with Tryggvi on the rainy drive. At the heart of it all is the importance of a sense of belonging and of community, of a big Icelandic family. There’s a sadness that comes from realizing maybe today people are less interested in where they came from, more interested in where they are going.  

Auður Eir
My last interview was with Auður Eir, who happens to be Iceland’s first female priest. She’s somewhat of a celebrity here, but it’s a small country, and it turned out she knew Steingurther, who put us in touch. Auður kindly picked me up at my apartment on her way to work and we went to the “Kvenna Kirkjan” ("Women’s Church"),  that she runs downtown.  She talked to me about her four daughters’ names: Dalla, Yrsa, Elin Þöll, and Þjóðhildur. Dalla was chosen because it’s Auður’s mother's name and the name of the wife of the first Icelandic Lutheran Bishop. Yrsa is named after her sister, Þöll is the name for a small tree, and Auður thought it was very pretty combined with Elin. By the time Þjóðhildur came around, her oldest daughter, Dalla, was reading Icelandic history in school. She wanted to name her new baby sister Þjóðhildur after Leif Eriksson’s mother. Auður told her, “that is such a big name for such a little girl,” but now, she loves it.  She thinks Þjóðhildur has grown into her name.
For Auður, the naming committee is a gift. She told me that before it formed, she had to act as an informal committee herself.  
 “Before, I had to be the one to tell parents yes or no about whether they could have a name. I had to read the law and decide whether I could baptize a baby with that name or not.”  She was ordained in 1974, 17 years before the foundation of the naming committee.  “It was really hard to face the parents and tell them I couldn’t baptize the baby with that name, but it was my responsibility as an official.”
A few times, if she refused, the parents decided to go to another priest instead (some of them tended to be more flexible than others). She told me that in a few heartbreaking cases, she had been baptizing babies in a family for years, but then when someone came to her with a name she thought didn’t meet the standards, she had to refuse them. There have been three cases that she remembers where this happened and the family stopped speaking to her. She remembers every one.
The committee makes her job easier. There is a higher authority that approves or rejects a name, and she can turn to them to ask whether a name will go through—it is not up to her interpretation of the law alone.  But when I asked Auður about if she thought names here should be regulated, she wasn’t sure.  She thinks it’s important for names to work properly in the Icelandic language, and to preserve a kind of cultural identity, but she wonders if perhaps, people would self-regulate. She wonders if the rules should be there or if, as she put it, they could just “let it be.” She thinks that right now more international sounding names are popular, but she thinks these trends move in a circular fashion. She thinks that maybe as people become more global citizens, they might actually choose more Icelandic names for future generations.  It might happen on its own.
Auður confessed to me that baptisms are her favorite. “Weddings and confirmations are nice too,” she told me. “But baptisms are smaller. You can be with the whole family, talking, singing hymns. And then of course, there’s cake and coffee.” She told me that she loves hearing names, of seeing the happiness in families as they learn what their newest member will be called. “You hear your name so many times a day,” she told me. “People need to love their name.” 

           These conversations all happened individually, in different contexts; a woman’s church, apartment buildings, a car ride. Most of these people do not know each other, but their words may be most interesting when put in dialogue with each other, like most of the conversations I’ve had this year. These names have become part of an Icelandic cultural landscape, and the onomastic landscape that this year has been to me.  
I don’t think this will be the last time I write something about names. I might try to write some more overarching, cross-cultural posts when I get home about what I’ve learned about names this year in general.  
Or maybe not.
It’s the last name post for now.  I’m so grateful I had a reason to meet these people, people who have now defined who a Tryggvi or an Auður is, who have showed me the ways a Maria can cross borders, how a Sara and an Olga think and behave, how we all somehow ended up in this place, introducing ourselves to each other by name, and all that they encompass.  

Friday, July 20, 2012

Midnight Equestrian

 When I wrote in my last post about trying to keep busy and involve myself in every Icelandic cultural opportunity while I can, I hadn't quite realized this would entail learning to horseback ride with my landlady, Steingerthor, around midnight one night in Thingvellir National Park. 

On her invitation, I rode out of town with her partner, Trygvvi, who I learned is also the grandson of a former Icelandic Prime Minister. I quizzed him about Icelandic names as we drove through a light rain to a rented summer house full of old furniture and bright red Coca Cola glasses (it turned out the house originally belonged to the head of Coca Cola in Iceland). We came back from riding at 2am, cold and muddy, to a late (or very early?) supper, glasses of wine, and rousing choruses of Icelandic national songs.

Icelandic horses are much smaller than other horses I've seen (though apparently it is an insult to call them ponies). They're also known to have two additional gaits; most horses only walk, trot and canter, but Icelandic horses "tölt" and also have a "flying pace". I'm not a rider, by any means, and these horses were a bit intimidating because most of the time, they just live on their own in the wild. Steingerthor walked me through some instructions and let me ride around a fenced-in area so the horse wouldn't take off running too fast. I don't think I was quite ready for whatever the "flying pace" would have entailed, but I did build myself up into going into a "tölt."  

These photos aren't the best. My camera didn't seem to love the midnight/twilight lighting, but they do show a journey. 

Many times this year, I just have to stop and think, How in the world did I end up here? 

A thought that is quickly followed by, I am so glad I did.  

Tuesday, July 17, 2012


                  I’ve been trying to keep busy to avoid the alternative. (An alternative that would consist of staying in my Reykjavik apartment, twiddling my thumbs and convincing myself it would be reasonable to start packing ten days too early). Morag, a wonderful teacher from Scotland who recently stayed at the apartment, has been a welcome distraction. We spent a few days swapping traveling stories and being tourists in Reykjavik, trying to sneak into overpriced events and soaking up the surreal 10pm sunlight.  One night we went to the movies and saw Heima, the documentary that follows Sigur Ros on a series of free, unannounced concerts they gave in Iceland in 2006. The Icelandic concerts were all given after the band got back from touring around the world as a thank you to the people who had got them started. I learned that in Icelandic, “Heima” can mean “at home” and “homecoming.” 

                You could definitely read into the fact that Icelanders use an interchangeable word for being at home and homecoming. Though today they are an incredibly well-traveled and worldly bunch, the island is so isolated that for quite a long time, I imagine most people couldn’t imagine being “at home” anywhere else in the world.  There never was very far to go for a homecoming.
                I’ve been in Reykjavik long enough now that it’s begun to feel a little bit like home, at least a temporary one. It’s tied with Rabat and Ubud for the places I’ve spent the most time in this year.  It means that I’ve been here long enough to have Reykjavik favorites—cafes and people watching spots and jogging routes.  Someone once said to me that it’s a good sign you’re feeling at home in a place when you’re cooking for yourself, and I heartily agree. I go grocery shopping and visit the City Library (a beautiful building where, I recently learned, you can check out books as well as paintings to keep in your house for a couple of weeks). Tomorrow I’m going to the countryside (near Thingvellir) for a night on invitation from my landlady and her family, and this weekend going to an Icelandic college party.  I’m trying, quite desperately, to be as fully present as possible, so at the very least so I can leave without regrets.
Above: Paintings at the City Library
Below: Children's books.  
And I do adore this place. There have been a lot of wonderful moments recently. Two Saturdays ago I spent an evening an evening in the midst of a crowd of Icelanders watching a free outdoor Of Monsters and Men concert. (Following in Sigur Ros footsteps, they decided to do this show right after getting back to Iceland from an American/European tour). There was 10pm sunshine and a sea of blond hair and such wonderful, happy music. 

 Icelandic baby, ready to rock.
 I really adore these guys.
They played "Sloom" for the encore (see my video above). The whole scene may or may not have made me cry. 

                This past weekend, Morag and I took a trip to Videy Island (about a five-minute ferry ride from Reykjavik). We walked on the paths and had an incredible lunch and visited Yoko Ono’s Imagine Peace Tower which is lit up every winter. 

                 Thanks to the help of some new Icelandic-American friends, I’ve also been able to meet quite a few people for interviews. I’ve had a lot of conversations lately with people who are (relative) newcomers to Iceland.  Though the focus is on names, I can’t help but feel that these talks of place and identity are almost too directly tied to my year and its unfolding right now. These conversations become more meaningful as I try to make sense of it all; figuring out my own place in Reykjavik and reflecting on my other homes throughout this year in the strange time of living at the end.   

    Yesterday I met with Maria, a Columbian woman who has lived in Iceland for twenty-two years. She talked to me about how much the city has changed since her arrival in terms of the number of foreigners and the opportunities for them. We talked about the organization she started for newcomer families, her three teenage children who are fluent in Icelandic and Spanish, her parents and sister who came to Iceland from Columbia to join her here two years ago. We ate her delicious pumpkin-sweet potato soup in the garden behind her apartment, sopping up leftovers with thick rye bread on the brightest and warmest afternoon I've had since I arrived. 
                 I asked her how her parents liked Iceland, and how it was for them to move here from Columbia. She told me that parts were hard, but she added, “All you can do is take some parts of home with you. No place will ever be the same as any other place.  But my parents made the decision they were going to be happy here, and they are.”
    As if the true meaning of heima was a kind of happiness.  
    I think she might be right. 

                 I have, inevitably, entered the process of homecoming. It’s a bit impossible not to, though as it approaches it also feels oddly anticlimactic. The only ceremony I will have will be the packing of my big blue bag. Laundry. Getting my tax refund. Cleaning out the fridge.  Tasks turned into rituals so mundane they are almost anti-ceremonies.  The planes I take on July 27th will be full of people making their own journeys, who have no idea that I’ve been waiting for this moment for the last twelve months. Unlike many other markers of time in my life up to this point, this is an ending that will not be visibly marked.  
Maybe it is this feeling of anticlimax that I'm fighting against by investing everything with meaning. Heima.  The yogurt expiration date. Music.  Getting teary taking photos of colorful Reykjavik houses before it’s too late. I’ve been here long enough now to see the lupines dry out, soft pods of seeds replacing their purple and blue blossoms. The sun has begun to set around midnight.
 I’m trying to soak it all up though my brain can’t really think of anything else besides what will happen in ten days. I’m still going through the motions, taking long walks through the city (really a small town in disguise) on white nights (really afternoons in disguise). I’m still setting up interviews and meeting friends of friends and talking to people about how we’ve all found ourselves in this place, how we’ve all found a home.  
I’m reading too much into the word “heima”. Trying to disentangle and then rejoin those phrases, “at home” and “homeland” in a linguistic kind of dance. If nothing else, I want to remember that I found ways to be at home here, even when I wasn’t. I want to remember that even in this strange time, there was the decision to be happy—to hear music at outdoor concerts and take a boat ride to an island and eat Icelandic pastries at cafes. Thankful to be at home, excited for a homecoming.