By Sonya Rehman
I arrived in Dubai early this month and have never felt so clueless, directionless, anchor-less in my life. At 26, I moved to New York for a year for grad school. While my year in the US wasn’t exactly easy-breezy, it was easier somehow compared to my current move. Perhaps it was because I went as a student, I was a twenty-something, and I knew I had to return home after my time was up, given I was on the Fulbright. But at 32 and employed overseas, a stone’s throw away from Lahore – I’m literally like 3 hours away from ‘home’ – the displacement feels very, very strange and real.
Why? I can’t wrap my head around it. “Oh trust me you’ll get used to it soon enough,” I’m told countless times by acquaintances and colleagues, but me being my cynical old self, I’m not so sure. How does one get ‘used to’ a new place? Should I fall in love, make hoards of friends, and psyche myself into calling Dubai home? Will that help? I feel reserved and unsure, holding on to my love for Lahore with all my might, I feel hollow and homesick and miss my family dearly. Am I being too thin-skinned and childish? Perhaps. Moving to a new country, city, is a lot like your first month in a new school. You’re the new kid on the block. And that sucks. I Skyped with a close friend this evening, her recommendation was that I get a “gorgeous, cute Persian cat” to help with my loneliness. I found that really funny for some reason, I’m so glad she didn’t recommend a goldfish, that would’ve been even sadder. What’s funnier is, there’s a pet store a minute away from my apartment building. How tempting.
Anyway, my God. Those who know me, know I am awful when it comes to air travel. Two weeks prior to my flight to Dubai, I moped around the house, my tummy doing cart-wheels at the prospect of being stuck in a death capsule hurtling through the sky. I was so nervous. “Ma, do you think the plane will crash?” I had asked my mother for the 1,000th time, so much so that the paranoia rubbed off onto her too (she’s a chill traveler and is awesome when it comes to flying by the way – oh Mum I love you so much).
To make matters even worse, that Germanwings plane crashed in late March, barely a few weeks before my Emirates flight, and it was all over the news and social media. Everywhere. Even on bloody Instagram. So what did I do? I began morbidly watching each channel, tuning into everything, reading every analytical article out there about the pilot, his motives, the crash, and so on. Everything. And then, on the day of my flight I clutched my Mum and my brother, sobbing my head off – the day had arrived, that’s it, my head was on the guillotine, I had to fly. After a terribly emotional episode saying goodbye to my family, I headed off inside, waving goodbye to my family as I went through the security check. And then, out of nowhere, the courage to fly a luxurious, A-class airline, surged within my veins. I was a samurai. I must do this. Courage, resilience. I felt like a superhero. And there I marched up to the Emirates counter to get my bags weighed when the guy behind the counter said I couldn’t board the flight since I didn’t have the Protectorate’s stamp on my passport (don’t ask, long story). It took a few seconds to register what he was saying. I squeaked. My nose twitched. That superhero feeling fell to my toes. “Hi, Ma? Don’t leave the airport yet, they offloaded me, I’m coming out.” With my tail between my legs I ran out of international departure and dived right back into my family’s arms – yipee! Only to do it all over again a few days later with my documentation in order. Cray cray, so cray cray.
The flight was great. My seat was nestled between a 15-year-old boy and a young moulvi. I felt quite safe to be honest. Until the pilot announced that we’d have to circle around Dubai for 1.5 hours due to poor visibility (thanks, sandstorm) and air traffic. I felt like I was in the twilight zone. Those 1.5 hours dragged – it felt like a lifetime, no joke. I was so delirious and sick when we landed that when the passengers scrambled towards the plane’s exit, I sat in my seat, crocodile tears rolling down my cheeks in gratitude that we had landed safely.
Anyway, my question remains: what makes a new place home? Family. Last night was fulfilling. An old friend from school and her husband picked me up for dinner. Their warmth was healing. I sat in the backseat with their little daughter and their newborn son who was fast asleep in his portable crib. After dinner, on the drive back, their son started crying. My friend’s husband said he’d quiet down if one rubbed his arm. So I did, reaching over, I rubbed the newborn’s soft, squishy, tiny arm, slowly. Sure enough, his whimpers stopped. Driving down Sheikh Zayed Road, amidst the skyscrapers, the massive billboards, weaving our way through traffic, stroking a newborn’s little arm, I realized this is what home is: to be amongst the people you love. Your own flesh and bone. That unrelenting connection – this is family, this is the shield against loneliness and isolation. Family.
Even though I’m not sure how long I’ll last here, the future’s too hazy to predict, I’ve realized how proud I am of my roots. What I have, is enough, the love is enough. Nothing, nothing is lacking. I have my nest back home after all.