Powdered Milk & Apple Spice Incense

Ava Rofougaran - Ecuador


December 9, 2014

At home, it’s common to encounter little inconveniences like running out of milk or an early wake up call on Saturday morning to the voice of NPR’s Scott Simon. It is not common, however, to lose your temper and chuck the empty milk carton at the refrigerator; to storm downstairs in a state of utter rage, screaming at your family for catching up on the latest news – no matter how soothing Scott’s voice may be. Because those inconveniences are part of life. They’re normal. Sure, they’re annoying, but they’re certainly not occurrences that make you resent your home.

Here in Atuny, it’s common for the incessant squawking of our parrots to wake me up early on weekends. Or to receive cockroaches as regular visitors in my bed. Or to have our stove suddenly stop working right (“right” means making five attempts to ignite the stove fire with matches while avoiding also igniting yourself on fire).

Now I’m not saying I threw tantrums, but in the first few weeks at Atuny, I became increasingly bitter every time I encountered those sort of inconveniences. They weren’t normal for me because I didn’t feel at home. Why’s that? Because home is comfort. And comfort is familiarity. Thus, by the Transitive Property, home is familiarity. And arriving somewhere that is supposed to be my home without anything familiar, well, it doesn’t add up.

So, my solution was to go looking for familiarity – at the supermarket. Fortunately, I managed to find two things I was certain would make Atuny feel like home: powdered milk and apple spice incense.

To clarify, my logic was to recreate parts of my life in the States to the best of my ability (or to the best of the town’s availability).

Back in the homeland, my daily routine included a Starbucks latte, and my bedroom always smelled of those apple cinnamon Yankee candles. So, because my family doesn’t have a refrigerator to sustain liquid milk, I bought instant powdered milk for my morning coffees. And because I couldn’t find apple cinnamon candles, I bought apple spice incense sticks for my cabin. Close enough.

I thought I had fulfilled my search. I thought I would now be more comfortable and therefore feel more at home, because the powdered milk and incense would satisfy my need for the essence of home.

Well, I was wrong. The only difference was the enhancement of my morning coffee and cabin scent. It was still worth the purchase, though not helpful with my ultimate goal of making Atuny feel like home. But I did end up getting there.

Indeed, making a place your home requires two things – neither of which involve the local supermarket. Fostering a home requires time and appreciation. I discovered I had to be patient, because familiarity comes with habit and constant exposure. I had to recognize Atuny’s attributes while changing my perspective on its occasional inconveniences, basically accepting the place for what it is. I had to stop trying to replicate my Boston life and start creating a new one.

It’s now day 84 in Atuny, and my daily routine is instinct. The shrieking parrots are my snooze-free alarm clock. The cockroaches are my guests. The stove situation is a game with the objective of lighting the stove with the least amount of matches and first degree burns. And comfort is the feeling I get after work when I climb the hill, descend the rocky path, cross the bridge over the brook, and I arrive home.

Ava Rofougaran