ghorbah

The Contradictions of What It Is to Be an Arab Living Abroad

We have a single word in Arabic for what it is to reside in a country other than one’s own. In English, expatriation might be the word that is used. I can’t say I’ve ever heard any of my non-Arab friends living abroad using “expatriation” to describe their state of being. We hear people refer to expats all the time. But that’s pretty much it in my experience. In Arabic, the word we use is “ghorbah”. If I were to look for a single word in English to translate it to, it would be “estrangement”. We Arabs use this term ALL THE TIME.

Ghorbah implies a state of being away from one’s roots. It’s a negative term that describes the hole that is left in our very hearts when we live away from our home countries. It means we will forever be strangers wherever we are in the world unless we are where we were born. It’s the antithesis of belonging.

I’m not sure what it is. We complain about our home countries incessantly. Let’s be honest, we have a lot that is worthy of complaining. People in our countries talk about moving abroad ALL THE TIME. They want a better life for themselves and their children. They’re sick of the backwardness. They’re fed up with the corruption. They can no longer tolerate the regime. Yet the second we set foot in that other country, we begin complaining about our “ghorbah” or estrangement from home. We start romanticizing everything we left behind. Well, almost everything. And we nitpick at our new countries of residence and detail everything that’s wrong about them.

It must be in the genes. We all do it. Maybe it’s a sickness we take with us from our home countries. Or perhaps we’ve been conditioned into thinking that our countries are the greatest that ever existed even when we’re running away from the very thought of them. (more…)

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My Friends Are My Country

I sit in front of my laptop, sometimes for hours, fidgeting between my blog, Facebook, Twitter, and my e-mail account, looking for any sort of interaction, mainly from people I know, although I’m always more than happy to receive interaction from complete strangers as well.

I really miss my friends. I’ve been away from Egypt since last November. It wasn’t as if I regularly saw my friends while I was in Egypt. But I could if I wanted to. Cairo’s traffic had made getting from my home to any other point in the city a grueling task that I began to avoid at all costs. I was almost turning into a hermit. Me: the woman who cannot be held down by a whole continent.

I miss getting late night phone calls and growling in anger at the inappropriateness of the time but then putting on my happy voice and responding, “Alooo?”

I miss my friends nagging me to go meet them at a coffee shop or at one of their homes. I’d decline, they would nag more, I’d decline again because I was NOT going out in that horrendous traffic, they would insist, and then my resolve would weaken and I would put on my strong face to brave the Cairo traffic. That’s how much my friends mean to me. That is what I would do for them. (It’s A LOT. Have you seen what Cairo’s traffic is like?)

I’ve discovered I’m absolutely horrible at making new friends at this age. I’ve lost the talent. I feel like I would be forcing myself on people so I don’t even try. Everyone already has their close-knit circle of friends at my age anyway.

But it’s not only that. I struggle to find things I have in common with people here. (more…)