living abroad

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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Frozen in Loneliness Without People

Sometimes I feel so lonely that I feel frozen. Are we meant to feel this way sometimes? Is it just a part of living? Is it a part of learning that the only person we really have to depend on is ourselves?

I miss having people. I remember when I didn’t have a husband I felt terribly lonely. I remember thinking that having a husband would make everything better. My husband is my best friend. But that doesn’t take away the loneliness.

I’ve had friends in grade school and university who were like sisters to me. You know, the kinds of friends you barely part with? While in university, there was one friend I’d spend hours every day on the phone with after spending hours every day with her on campus. Her father, God rest his blessed soul, used to joke about how much we talked with each other. “When one of you goes to the toilet she calls the other to tell her about it!” he’d jest. It wasn’t far from the truth. I don’t even know where that friend is in the world today. I’m not even sure she’d want to know me now that I’ve taken off my hijab. But I miss her dearly. After university we all sort of went our different ways. A few girls in our group of friends travelled abroad. We all started families. Some of us managed to keep in touch with each other. But I haven’t heard from most of my university friends in years.

I’ve made lots of new friends throughout my working life. (more…)