‘Home’ has always been an abstract concept for me. And a somewhat dynamic one, because we used to move around a lot to accommodate my mum’s commuting conveniences. In fact, we have shifted so many times, I stopped keeping count after a point. Some might have been annoyed at the constant ‘uprooting’ – leaving behind your favorite neighbor or neighborhood candy store can be tough on kids – but my brother and I took it in our stride and really learnt to enjoy the whole process.
The last couple of nights before the moving days were the best- it was chaos, but the good kind, because we were left to our own devices by our preoccupied parents. We could pretend we were in another world and navigate the mountains of neatly labelled cardboard boxes scattered haphazardly throughout the apartment for the movers to pick up. We could use some of the sturdier boxes as make-shift furniture, balancing paper plates on our knees for dinner. And if we timed it right, we could sneak sips from the forbidden cans of Red bull that my father needed on those nights of little to no sleep. And we managed to make a home out of every place we stayed in, from our tiny one-bedroom villa in Rashidiya to the beautiful flat in Al Nabba, and all the hundreds of apartments in between.
Recently, the concept of home has taken on a new meaning for me.
It is no longer confined within four walls, but is rather a feeling, an emotion that brings so much contentment it makes me want to weep at times. I realized that it has always been so; home was never confined to an apartment, it just took me a while to understand that.
Home was everything that the Emirates gave me, right from the cold mornings so obscured by fog that it was sometimes hard to see the person next to you, to the little tetra-packs of colored joy that was Areej. It was my breakfast kuboos and my one Dirham lunch pizzas, it was the care that went into ironing my khaki skirt and sky blue shirt. It resonated in the words of my school song that I belted out with pride. It was the gleam of those ridiculously polished black shoes I wore to school, in the seams of the socks I rolled down when teachers weren’t looking in an attempt to emulate the older girls. It showed in the golden and indigo stripes of the tie I knotted with pride. It healed into in the scars I collected from kho-kho and running track. It was my best friend’s wide and innocent smile, it sometimes hid in her long silky black hair that I was in awe of. It was the way I enjoyed walking into my classrooms, in the lunches wolfed down in haste to spare time for playing in the quadrangle. It was the laughter ensuing as a result of the most ridiculous games and stories that my friends and I made up on the bus rides home. It was the one Dirham movies we rented on weekends, and the cheap Chinese we pared them with. It came with us on the drives through the desert from Dubai to Abu Dhabi, it was a part of the long hours of badminton we played in sandy parking lots.
Home had been all around me, from the air that I breathed to the bedtime stories that seeped into my dreams, and the millions of indescribable things in between. And I was so used to that feeling of contentment, that I felt completely displaced when we moved back to my father’s hometown. And naturally, I hated it. I hated feeling out of place, I hated the noisy, sweaty and unruly crowds, and the constant honking you’re bombarded with when you step out to the streets. I felt it was easier to withdraw into myself and wait it out till the day I could go back rather than trying to make a home here. I don’t yet know if that was a good decision or a bad one, but it gave me enough hope kept me going till I was attuned to the places and people that my parents grew up calling home.
I now find traces of home in things and people that make me happy, in places that make me smile, in food that fills my soul. I find home in familiar childhood smells that make sudden appearances out of nowhere and leave just as inconspicuously before I can trace their sources of origin. I find home in the books I grew up reading; in the bustling form rooms of Malory Towers and the eerie stillness of the woods under the White Witch’s reign, in the damp and darkness of the Gorgonian Grotto, and the brightness of a sunny afternoon by the Great Lake.