It's been a real wild ride, but finally I am home.

I have to be honest, talking about what home is became exhaustive. I’ve never stopped believing in the project, but it came from a very vulnerable place. It was born out of pain where I didn’t feel I had the right to express how I actually felt, and so I decided to ask others instead, using their stories to mask my own. Perhaps their stories would give life to my own lost words. Perhaps their stories would spark something new in me, in others, and in themselves. I became determined to give a voice to those who maybe felt voiceless. I became determined to tell a story that at the surface, didn’t seem to be much, but as I dug deeper, I realized there was so much more. 

I loved being able to ask the question, “what is home to you?” because as soon as the words left my mouth, strangers who before seemed apprehensive, would suddenly sink deep inside of themselves. Something in their eyes would change. Their eyes would begin darting back and forth, becoming removed from the present, and looking into their past. In just their eyes they would express years and years of untold stories, some happy, some terribly sad, some right in the middle. It was like they were suddenly flipping through their life storybook, moments they had once forgotten suddenly being flipped open to. 

Some would share. Others would tell me not to ask them their story, it was simply too painful. Some would laugh, others would ask me to stop the audio recording because they couldn’t stop crying. Everyone I interviewed left with a sense of hope. 

I’ll never forget Chris’ words. I was in a bar in Austin, Texas and he was sitting there alone. I tried talking to the bartender but she declined. I could see that her storybook wasn’t something she wanted to dig up and expose. So I turned to Chris and asked him, “what is home to you?”  

“Sometimes you can’t go back home, so you keep taking steps forward until you find something greater.”

Those words have never left me. 

I was homeless for 415 days, although if I exclude the 3 months I spent living in New York, that makes 325 days. Those 415 days were the best 415 days of my entire life. It felt like I was hooked up to an oxygen tank in one of those new, hip Oxygen Bars in San Francisco. Each breath was more intense and invigorating than the last. Being able to let go of everything allowed space in my life to invite new things that I probably otherwise would have never invited in. Being without a home allowed me to realize that home isn’t something we compartmentalize with physical space. Home is inside of you, and if you learn how to foster and care for that home, home becomes omnipresent. Home becomes something like the wind. It’s always turning and blowing and will be with you wherever you decide to go. Home is that “something greater” inside of you.

But, I cannot tell you how amazing it feels to finally, finally, have my own home again. I’m being careful not to hold on too tightly to any of my possessions because I know how quickly possessions can disappear. I’m also choosing to keep my possessions to the bare minimum because I’ve learned that possessions don’t really make you happy. And I’m also choosing to be very thankful for the possessions I have, the roof over my head, the warmth, comfort and safe zone a house provides, because we need a place to rest our head. Each home looks different and takes physical existence in different ways, but our shelter is important. Our body is home to our soul. Our house is home to our body. 

Home changes. It is altered on experience. But it also remains constant. We just have to dig deep enough within ourselves to understand that wherever we go, our home will still be inside of us.

What Is Home? Didem in New York


Name: My name is Didem Civginoglu.

Where are you from?  I'm a nomad born in Izmir. I moved to Istanbul when I was 18 years old… I'm a fish from the Aegean sea in the ocean right now. 
Occupation: Photographer, storyteller, if only it can be an occupation, then "curious kid" … before I moved to New York I was a storyteller as a consumer researcher. I was asking many questions, and now I'm asking my questions with my camera…

Where do you live now? I live in New York… a seeing eye exploring the city and looking for miracles.

What are you wearing? The pants are from a local shop in Cesme, paradise of my childhood…they are so comfortable that I have 2 more in different colors.

While I was with Didem, she made me Turkish coffee and told me that in Turkey they tell your fortune afterwards (from the coffee beans). Here's the story from her:

I am not an expert on background rituals but I can say that turkish coffee and fortune telling is one of my favorite things. When I was a kid it was more like an adult thing, that my mom and other ladies did when they got together. I had no interest in it except for its amazing smell. I always loved the smell of it… even forced myself to drink it a couple of times because it was hard to understand the fact that a thing with such a strong and beautiful smell had such an intense taste. I was more into Kinder surprise eggs where you have no idea what was going to pop out from the pack. It was suprising, exciting, fun and even sometimes frustrating if you didn't get what you wanted. Furthermore you build your own thing and if you have a series of them you can come up with your own story… It took me a while to understand that they are similar and now it is one of my favorite ones…. You have the turkish coffee with a friend most of the time, and those conversations are the best ones.. sincere, genuine, confident, fun and sometimes with some tears... you turn the cup upside down and let it cool, then it is time for story telling…you look at the shapes in the cup that the ground coffee beans leave and try to come up with stories about the other… a lot of hope, surprise, fun, creativity… you just want the magic to happen, hear the unexpected, guess the unpredictable… it is a game people play…you know that it is not for real but you want to believe… that is the essence of it, you want to believe in magic… "As long as there's one person to believe it, there's no story that can't be true.” ― Paul Auster, Auggie Wren's Christmas Story 

The picture she saw in my fortune was of "Don Quixote." 

Didem's photography can be found here.

Small Interactions

I walk everywhere in New York. And when I'm not walking I'm sitting on the subway train. The subway is an interesting place. It is filled with hundreds of thousands of people every day. Every day we each wake and carry our tired selves to the subway where we sit and stare. To counter the uncomfortableness of awkwardly sitting and staring at nothing at all as we are all pressed up against one another's bodies, many of us wear headphones and listen to music. It distracts our minds and brings us comfort. A familiar song to listen to amongst all the familiarly unfamiliar tired faces.

One day while I was sitting and staring awkwardly at nothing at all, pressed up against another subway rider's body, I put my headphones in. And then I sat there and stared some more. I did not press play and turn the volume up, I just sat there uncomfortably with my comfortable headphones in my ears. And that was just it: my headphones brought me comfort because wearing them meant that if anyone sitting and staring even so dared to break the awkwardness and speak to any one of us, making us even more awkward and uncomfortable, I would not have to interact with this stranger. I was too busy wearing my headphones (with no music in them).

And then it happened.

An old man got on the subway train and began singing and playing his guitar, beautifully, might I add. He turned to an older woman on the train and began singing to her.

I've got sunshine on a cloudy day
When it's cold outside, I've got the month of May
I guess you'd say
What can make me feel this way?

My girl, my girl, my girl
Talkin' 'bout my girl
My girl

She smiled at him cautiously and then her eyes met mine. I smiled at her and she smiled at me back, the way two nervous women smile at each other as if to say, "I know you're uncomfortable with this man (or situation) and so am I, and so I am smiling to tell you that I'm here, I've got your back and I'm on your side."

I've got so much honey, the bees envy me
I've got a sweeter song than the birds in the trees
Well, I guess you'd say
What can make me feel this way?

My girl, my girl, my girl
Talkin' 'bout my girl
My girl

The man continued smiling and sang to other women and men, too, and then he turned and sang sweetly to me. Harmoniously harmless. I smiled at him cautiously and turned to the other older woman and our eyes met again. And we laughed. We laughed and the man laughed and under our breaths, the woman and I began to sing. I took off my headphones to listen to the music. We smiled and we laughed as others began smiling and laughing, too. The man finished his song, collected a few dollars and cheerfully exited the subway and was on his way.

The woman spoke to me. "I wasn't laughing to be rude."

"I wasn't either."

"I was laughing because my daughter texted me moments earlier to tell me that she's chosen the song that she's going to play at her wedding. It's the song, My Girl. And then this man played it."

"It's a wonderful song! What an amusing coincidence. It's lovely, though, and your daughter getting married, too."

"It really is."

She turned and began chatting with another woman on the train, one whom also was sang to by the old man with his guitar. The train stopped and she stood up.

"Have a nice day!"

"You as well!"

And she left.

I don't need no money, fortune or fame
I got all the riches baby, one man can claim
Well, I guess you'd say
What can make me feel this way?

My girl, my girl, my girl
Talkin' 'bout my girl
My girl