“home” becomes a slippery concept

Beginnings of a sand storm

“All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy; for what we leave behind us is a part of ourselves; we must die to one life before we can enter another” -Anatole France

Dear Friend,

I will get to see you in a few weeks! This is incredibly exciting. To say that I’ve missed you would be a terrible understatement.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what it will mean to “come home” to visit, and what “home” I will be coming to. A strange and distinctive part of being an expat is a general understanding that your life, for the time being, is temporary. “Home” becomes a slippery concept.

Living in the Middle East presents a whole other context to living abroad because so many people have a fuzzy concept of what it’s like – outside of the requisite media images which vacillate wildly between

Scenario A: scrubby desert landscapes populated by sand-colored compounds and military tanks


Scenario B: some sort of nonstop Sex and the City party where beautiful people pour vintage champagne in thousand-       dollar-a-night hotel rooms and everyone has their own white Bengal tiger cub –

-neither of which is entirely accurate. Living here, we are in the unique position of being ambassadors to the area. Things that we say form singular opinions in the minds of others who will repeat your reports. So, what do you say?

How could I even begin to describe it? For starters, life can be fantastically normal. We wake up, we go to the gym, we make smoothies and coffee, we go to work, we go to the grocery store, we come home, we make dinner, we watch Netflix and Hulu, we go to bed. On Mondays, we sometimes go to a trivia night. On weekends, we go to brunches or dinner parties or out to bars. We go shopping at Pottery Barn and grill out on our deck. We take naps on the couch with the cats, read books, and worry about dental hygiene. We discuss current events and go to wine tastings. We get stuck in traffic. We complain about lines at the ATM. We pay bills. We buy Starbucks cappuccinos. In many ways, we’re like any other Young Urban Professional couple in any city in the world.

But then there are the things that seemed so foreign and unfamiliar at first. The huge changes that we had to learn to deal with upon moving out here that eventually blend into the tapestry of schedules and the demands of daily life. Hot, angry winds that whip up sand storms. Temperatures in the 110 degree+ range with greater than 60% humidity. Speed limits of 90mph. Adhan, or call to prayer, heard everywhere (piped in at the grocery store, called out from corner mosques, on some radio stations) five times a day, every day. Men and women in traditional dress – dishdhasha for men and abaya for women. The metric system. (It is now beyond me as to why America does not use the metric system. I still don’t fully understand it, but I’m a convert in the sense that I really think we need to get on board with the rest of the rest of the world on this one.)

Culturally, there are so many differences. The separation of men and women in public spaces is common, the sale of pork reserved to back rooms in supermarkets that are boldly labeled “NON-MUSLIM ONLY.” Soon, I will experience my first Ramadan – a month-long religious observance of fasting during daylight hours, prayer, and reflection.

I think about these things, and about all the things I have been exposed to in the last five or so months of being abroad; political issues I didn’t know existed, world current events that don’t even ping the regular news cycle in the US, cultural clashes and new understandings that I never knew I’d have to learn to adapt to, new people in my daily life, a wanton love of Arabic sweets; and then I think about coming “home” and talking to you about relationships, friendships, work, and gossip about people we know. I crave the familiar, which I suppose is the only reliable definition of “home.” To a certain extent, home is where I lay my head every night. But it’s also in the people and traditions that I miss so much being far away. Home is a jigsaw puzzle of things, really – and I’m lucky to have such a rich, colorful one even if it does feel patchworked.

I don’t know what I’ll tell you about first. About my confusing washing machine? My commute to work, where the speed limit is 90mph? How the first few seconds after you turn on the tap, brownish water comes out? That I’ve eaten gold? Or maybe about the sand…the sand which is everywhere- in my shoes, in my bags, in my hair, in my lungs? My yet-unsettled feelings about certain cultural norms and the role of the US in world politics?

I’ll probably ask you how you are doing, and ask how that guy is, and ask if that person is still being a bitch, and ask if you want another drink (which, of course, we both will), and I’ll mistakenly ask out of new habit if you want “chilled, local water,” and then I’ll ask you if you saw the Women of SNL episode and how funny were Kristen Wiig and Molly Shannon? I might cry a little, because I miss you, and I miss green trees and thunder storms and drinking out of the tap. And, after all of that, I might begin to try and tell you about my life here, which is so far away from you and so far removed from what our normal used to be. And you will understand these things through the context of me telling you the story, and you will form ideas and mental pictures, and we’ll be a little bit more connected.

I had to die to one life before embarking on another. I had to say goodbyes and sell things and end standing engagements and cancel plans. Going “home,” now, will be strange. I will be a tourist to a former life, a visitor where I was once a resident.

But, mostly, I can’t wait. Just as soon as things are starting to become familiar here, I will head “home” for a visit. I will get to see you, and when I do, I will hug you and hug you and tell you about my adventures. And we’ll eat delicious bagels and drink delicious beers and walk on cobblestones and I will pluck a leaf off of a tree and smell it – a dusty, musty, green little thing bearing the air pollution of Baltimore, and I will love it because it is green and it is familiar and I have missed those trees.

In the meantime, it’s hammour and hummus for lunch, and the call of the muezzin five times a day, and little whirling clouds of dust and sand snaking across the roads. And, of course, some epic brunches and dinners before the city shuts down for Ramadan, during which time you will find me in our flat watching all of the shows we’ve been saving up on Netflix and Hulu, hoarding for the winter like the hermits that all ex-pats become during Ramadan.

I can’t wait to visit one of the many homes I’ve collected. Save me a bagel and some good gossip.

Much love for now and more later, Insh’Allah,

The New Glitterati





4 thoughts on ““home” becomes a slippery concept

  1. It’s so interesting to hear a little of how life is the same, yet different in the middle east. I know the exact feeling you have of looking forward to seeing home, but enjoying savouring the memory of it and making plans for the visit.

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