I stand in my room. Very still. There was a lot of clattering and activity over the past few days. In this moment, there’s quiet. I actually feel and hear the stillness. I feel a deep sadness within. I stay still. I remember. We are moving. I know we are moving away. Far away. I don’t know what will happen next. My mom and dad say it’s time to go. I stand still.
The mattress is bare. My clothes, shoes, toys, everything is packed away. I spin on my heels and turn slowly. I look at each part of the room. I am compelled to look at everything, slowly. I don’t really know why I am doing this. Finally, I turn to the door. I walk out. It’s time to leave home.
At the young age of eight, I felt the significance of leaving what I know and of going somewhere new, different. I didn’t know what the change could be, how it would feel and what was to come next. It was a mystery to me. As a child, I didn’t question the logic of where I lived, why we were leaving nor where we were going next.
I was born in Asmara, Eritrea. For me, Asmara was home. Asmara may seem an unlikely place for an Egyptian to be born. Yet to me, it is the most natural place to start my life’s journey. Why is it so natural? I wonder.
I feel Asmara chose me. This is my destiny. I am a minority everywhere I go. The cultures I’ve experienced, languages I’ve learned, people I’ve befriended and tastes I’ve acquired are unique to me. These experiences are a part of me for the rest of my life. These events have influenced who I am and how I continue to lead in a global mosaic.
Living the first part of my childhood in Asmara, a seemingly foreign land, is what I know. It is natural to me. I embrace my life for what it is. Often throughout my life, the mere mention of my birthplace and up-bringing sparks wonder and a sense of the exotic. Yet, for me, it is quite simply, my childhood home.
Home. Home? Home is such an elusive place. With every new journey, I plant a seed and I call it home. And yet, a sense of where I belong, truly belong becomes a recurring theme as my journey unfolds.
It’s my last day at school. I feel so much pent up emotion. Thoughts course through my mind sorting themselves slowly and scattering. Sorting and scattering. It is a confusing time as I struggle to understand.
It’s my going-away party at school. I am standing in the playground, frozen in time through a silent exchange with my best friend Mirna. Her eyes speak volumes of sadness for the time to say goodbye has come. I just realize we don’t say the words, the words are unspoken. The noise of children chattering and laughing in the playground is drowned out by the silence of our moment together. My eyes sting with tears of sadness and for the joy of the time we spent together. First best-friends. That will always be and never change. Eternal. Enduring.
In those enduring memories, those moments of shadow and light, my hopes hold strong through significant life transitions.
Vaclav Havel said: “Hope is definitely not the same thing as optimism. It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.”
I wake up, feeling a chill in the air. I look around and notice the curtains drawn, flakes of white floating in the air outside. I feel a sense of excitement within my chest bubbling up to my vocal chords.
“It’s snowing!!”, I mutter with excitement.
I scramble out of bed and look out the window. Just as my eyes catch the flakes floating sideways and downwards, blinking in amazement, I wake up. It’s only a dream.
As I sit up in bed and look around, I gradually remember. We arrived in Canada. It’s the summer of 1972. In contrast to the chill in my dream, it’s a hot and humid day in Toronto. The dream of snow is a manifestation of stories I’ve heard from my cousins. Having arrived before us, they’ve lived through a whole year of life in Canada.
I’m excited to know more, experience everything, my eyes shining bright. In the next moment, I hear and feel silence, a memory of a time past. For this moment of quiet, I feel a darkness within. I feel sad for something, long for something, someone, someplace. The specific memory is elusive. I look up, searching for meaning for the sudden change, the shift from light to dark, happy to sad.
I have experienced many such moments of palpable silence, a slow motion inner stillness experience from head to toe. In these moments of introspection, I’ve connected to the most paradoxical of experiences. The experience of sureness I’m exactly where I’m meant to be and of longing for meaning and purpose.
I’ve noticed a pattern in the many ‘first year’ experiences through changing countries, cities, cultures, relationships, schools, jobs. The feeling of grief for times past mixed with an inner trust, inner conviction of the choices made for me, by me. I am influenced by the unfolding mystery, hopeful that the pieces in my global mosaic will fit into place. I know and I don’t know.
Leading in a global mosaic brings shadow and light, mystery and discovery. In traveling and standing still on life’s path, our inner light marks the way forward. I feel sureness and joy, sorrow and grief. Bitter sweet. With each experience, I’ve learned to cherish the fullness and stillness of life. The adventure feeds my soul with purpose, insight and a feeling of belonging. This is my life, a full spectrum experience of living in shadow, colour and in light; living the only way I know how, one mosaic piece at a time.
>>>> Originally published in Global Living Magazine’s EXPAT EXPOSÉ