Upon my return from my trip from Karachi, I pondered the question as an ex-pat.
For many ex-pats, home is a confusing term. A state of transition changes their perception of what home truly is. For those ex-pats who have not lived in one but many countries, home becomes more of a dilemma. Do you call the country you were born in … ‘home’ … or the country you got married in, or the city you had your child, or the place where your children went to school?
Having lived in Yemen, Bahrain, Hong Kong and now finally UAE, the word ‘home’ confuses me sometimes. Or at least the feeling of what makes a place home. As an ex-pat, I have left pieces of myself in every place I have lived. Every time I have moved to a new destination (i have moved from Pakistan to Yemen to Bahrain to Hong Kong and finally to the UAE), I have preserved unforgettable memories from those places.
I was born and raised in Karachi, a chaotic, bustling city with its own unique pace that can’t be beaten.
I moved to Sana’a, Yemen in 2009 and my first child was born there. Is that home? I fondly remember its quiet streets and waking up early morning for chores and for my son’s breakfast. Surely that qualifies as home?
Or is it Karachi? A place where I was a child myself and where I went to school, and college and made all my lifelong friendships? Is home the place you return to when you want to find yourself? Last week when I sat down with my college friends on a whirlwind trip to Karachi, we asked each other what had changed about ourselves in the past many years that we had seen everyone move countries, get married, have children, evolve in their careers. We sat there over a plate of lunch, deliberating our challenges and our achievements. When I got up to head over to the airport, I felt that I could not have these conversations with anyone else in the world. And while I looked forward to hugging my seven-year-old son and my twelve-year-old boy, I felt that once again… I was leaving a part of me behind.
Dubai has been home to me for the past eight years and in no way can I trump Karachi’s dirt and chaos with Dubai’s glimmer and glam. Dubai is ordered, clean, its streets are numbered and you don’t have to worry about the Uber driver kidnapping you (a horror story an uncle in Karachi narrated to me during a family dinner last week) because Dubai Police would catch the driver before he would have the chance to even consider an appropriate ransom sum. Dubai is driven and focused like many a first-world metropolis. Everything about it is futuristic and aspirational.
No one follows traffic rules in Karachi, no one wakes up before 11 am, and there are absolutely no proper systems for getting things done smoothly. People will commit and back out at the last minute and if you’re stuck in an emergency, you’re going to curse all the people who have broken the system to bring it to the place it is in now. But the same city also has joy and laughter. People will fight to spend time with you, they will load you with gifts you repeatedly say no to.
If you’re stuck in traffic, someone will help you navigate your car out of a tough spot. If you don’t know where to go, a kindly police officer will come forward and guide you. If you are stuck in an emergency, the people of Karachi will rise and find a way to help you. Emergency services in Karachi like Edhi Foundation and Chhipa are citizen-run establishments that have stepped in to help every time there has been a crisis in the city on a major scale or a minor one.
Karachi is where the foundations of who I truly am was laid. And when the world becomes too much and life as I know it attempts to break me apart, Karachi’s kindness, its hospitality, and its sheer familiarity make me whole again.
It’s almost like it’s singing the Coldplay song to me … how it will guide me home and ignite my bones and will try to fix me. As an adult, I know not every problem is fixable … but a hearty lunch with your best friends, a cup of perfectly brewed tea in your mum’s room, and a jamming session with your brother can definitely make you feel more equipped to conquer the world.
They say home is a feeling. It’s not a building or a neighborhood — but the feeling of knowing you’re safe and you’re among those who make you feel protected. Familiarity, comfort, and trust — are some of the components of what a home is supposed to feel like. But if we assume that to be true, we must also assume that this feeling may exist across various places in time and in memory. For many ex-pats such as myself, home is not a single place but many ‘haunts’ you have chosen to exist in with your family.
The UAE is home to close to 8.84 million ex-pats, which make up approximately 89% of its population. So perhaps many of us feel this way. People have lived in the UAE for many years and for them, UAE is home beyond a sliver of a doubt. For me, home is my little corner in Dubai and the many corners I’ve left behind in Sana’a, in Al Zinj Bahrain, in Tsim Sha Tsui in Hong Kong, and my little lane in Karachi. I have felt love and familiarity and comfort in all these places and they have all been an unforgettable part of me. But Karachi, with all its dirt, disruption, and unruliness … is my first love. And always will be.