Home is a place you grow up wanting to leave, and grow old wanting to get back to. ~John Ed Pearce
On a warm humid summer night in the middle of the concrete jungle of Beirut, I sit on the balcony of an old Achrafieh building as I pose the question : “Did I change or has the country changed?”
I still remember very clearly the day I decided to start this blog. I was visiting Lebanon during winter break. I was facing a reverse cultural shock, I was struggling with accepting certain cultural norms and behaviours. I may have always regarded them as erroneous and askew, but had grown numb to them over years. I realized how living abroad had awakened me and extracted me out of that numbness, only to come back and face the inevitable reality of having to deal with that adaptation again, even for a short period of time.
This is why I shifted from my original blog, Reflections, to what would describe my situation, a Lebanese Expatriate. I was, and still am, a Lebanese Expatriate, not only when I am abroad, but also in my own country. It was expected to deal with the sentiment of alienation in a foreign country, but to face that bitter sentiment in one’s own country was, and still is, painful.
You can never go home again, but the truth is you can never leave home, so it’s all right. ~Maya Angelou
If you have lived abroad for a while and come back to your home country for a visit, you know that such an affection is not a result of simply adapting to your new country of residence or growing fond of it on the expense of your own home country. It is simply because living abroad, one goes through a form of metamorphosis, one that reshapes one’s behaviours, daily routines, certain habits and maybe even beliefs and ideas. Abroad, the expatriate feels like an alien, a pear among a field of apples, a black-eyed pea among a bag of jasmin rice. Especially if you are on your own, you feel like a solo army fighting the battle against the dark phantoms of homesickness, anomaly and the need to fit in. Abroad, there is always the need to justify one’s presence abroad, the need to look for that spot, that setting that replicates the feeling of safety and familiarity that home used to create. You long for that sensation of belonging, of being ordinary rather than exotic, of being one of many instead of being one among many. You wait for the moment when you re-immerse yourself in that place that brings you peace, that holds all those memories. You book your ticket back home and your heart starts pounding as the airplane starts landing and the first landmark appears from the windows as you lose elevation.
The moment you have been waiting for has finally arrived. You step out of the airplane, approach customs feeling that you belong, not that you are visiting. You grab your bags and head outside to be greeted by eager family and friends holding flowers and excited to see you again. An influx of emotions, love and affection engulfs you.
You need a village, if only for the pleasure of leaving it. A village means that you are not alone, knowing that in the people, the trees, the earth, there is something that belongs to you, waiting for you when you are not there. ~Casare Pavese
The first few days of excitement and elation soon fade away as you fit back in to where you left. You are not a tourist, no matter how long you have been abroad. You know that culture, you understand that mentality, you can read people’s eyes and deduce from their gestures. You know that store at the corner, and the owner still remembers you, but now you are a visitor and not the next door neighbour. You know that the traffic laws are only on paper, and the street lanes simply for aligning the car, but regardless, you are agitated when you drive on those streets again. You grew up on those narrow alleys and had them memorized like the back of your hand, but somehow they feel narrower and congested. That corner you used to play at as a kid, and hang out with the buddies as a teenager, is now painted in a different color and occupied by some young lads you don’t know.
You can feel that acrid sentiment of alienation in your own country when you come back home at night, only to feel like a guest in the place you grew up in , to lie down uncomfortably on that old bed of yours and wake up with a sore neck since you are not used to your own pillow. All this is easy to fix. Soon your body will get used to that mattress again and that space between the four walls will become familiar in no time. But what do you do when the people you talk to feel like strangers, when you feel that your actions no longer comply with the norms of society, when your thoughts and ideas are criticized by your own group of friends and perhaps new acquaintances, when your are deemed as too progressive and someone who want to import the foreign culture? You justify that you do not even like the foreign culture where you live, that you feel Lebanese more than you have ever felt, that you have not adapted the ideas of the West ( or the East) but you simply see the same things from a new perspective. You start feeling like you are the ugly duckling ,the black sheep among the white fluffy herd. You thought being abroad felt like an alien, huh?
Home is not where you live but where they understand you. ~Christian Morgenstern
What happened to you? You used to be one of those people? Used to? When did you stop being one of those people? Weren’t you one of those people every single day you were abroad, anticipating the day you would be among those people again?
Have you changed or have things changed so rapidly while you were abroad that they do not understand you anymore? How did you use to live with the same conditions that you now perceive irritating?
Wasn’t traffic always so bad? Didn’t you grow up with power outages and spend long studious nights solving mathematical equations lit by the candle flicker? Why do you puff now every time there is an electricity cut-off or you get stuck in traffic due to road work on the highway?
You grew up with people round you cursing politicians and voting for them, but now you criticize the population for not revolting against corruption and feudalism. Now you preach about democracy, about true representation and blame the people for not standing up for their rights, for letting their country deteriorate as they mind their own business and watch.
You refuse to live here anymore, you have a choice. The juicy old pie that used to savor your taste buds has been replaced by the new fat-free organic thin crust pie that pleases your mind before it feeds your appetite.
Here is where you realize that there is no turning back. Once you leave, you never fully come back. You may return home, but home feels foreign. You may leave home, but home will never leave you.
You ask yourself :” Am I home or am I just visiting? Am I a foreigner or am I here to stay?”
Home becomes a pursuit, a reminiscent past and an anticipated future.
Peace – that was the other name for home. ~Kathleen Norris
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