Beirut Notebook: On Home

Why do I feel that the universe is my home and that I carry it inside me? Is that why wherever I go feels like home? Maybe they all feel like home because they all have one thing in common: foreignness.
by Zeinab Hamdar

11 February 2019 | 10:08

Source: by Annahar

  • by Zeinab Hamdar
  • Source: Annahar
  • Last update: 11 February 2019 | 10:08

She’s the only thing that makes me feel at home, remembering that seven-year-old girl who had picked her up with such tiny hands in Disneyland. Minnie-Mouse! (Zeinab Hamdar)

BEIRUT: I rush to the bus that’s about to leave— “Wait for me, sir!” but like life, the bus doesn’t wait on anybody.

I’m on the bus now, cheerfully asking the driver whether or not my Birmingham student discount applies here in Manchester before printing my ticket. “Just take a seat, will you?” he murmured, as waves of blood came crashing down under his fuming skin, eyes still, lips whispering deafening sirens of silence.

I reach my hand out to get my ticket after having paid. He yells, telling me to have a bloody seat already. I’m really tall, maybe that’s why; let’s not get too hasty with our judgments. I say we get hasty with our judgments because everyone on the bus was giving me the same look that suggested I had gotten what I deserved— but you’re a foreigner, what were you expecting?

Two minutes to seven and I’m running, shoving every suitcase out of my way, dropping every ice-cream cone in sight. No wonder children hate me. “Last call to Beirut, please head to gate seventeen immediately, last call.” Beirut; I’d kill to get there. Relax, just a phrase.

You know you’ve landed when you hear rounds of applause, everyone's taken by their emotions, cheering way too soon. I get to passport control, queuing with fellow Lebanese, bursting with joy. “Next” the officer shouts for his life with an expressionless face. He looks at the photo on my passport with utter disgust, corners of his puckered lips slanting down, eyes cold in their stillness.

I know I’m no Beyonce, but I’m no veiled Mr. Bean either—I hope. He slides my passport across the marble stand as if it had read “I’m the reason you hate yourself.” I think my ex couldn’t agree more. I take the passport and try to look cool. But apparently, ‘why look cool when you can look like a fool’ my motto read. I drop my passport and bend down to pick it up, bumping my head against the counter on my way up. My fellow Lebanese nonchalantly push me sideways so that they could get past —but you’re not a foreigner, what were you expecting?

I wake up to the smell of nothing freshly baked—I live alone here in Birmingham. What a relief being alone is. Don’t roll your eyes, it gets addictive. But I also miss Lebanon. I miss Fayrouz although I’ve never met her, I miss my parents although they probably haven’t, I miss my friends although I have none.

But I also miss the quiet. I miss the cold, damp, cloudy, sunless, dark— okay no, of all the things I miss about Birmingham, its weather isn’t one of them. Or is it? I don’t know; it’s what makes the UK, the UK. I miss being treated with respect most of the time.

I miss railways and I miss the tube. I miss ‘everyone not begging to leave’; I miss wanting to stay right where I am without the fear of missing out on the entire world. I miss how honest people are in the UK. I miss how fresh and clean the food is. I miss building my life from scratch and having enough support to do so—the support being no obstacles in the way. I wish I could have both, but I also don’t.

I break my stroopwaffle in half and hastily dunk it in Earl Grey, spilling tea everywhere, trying to ignore the million questions burning under my chest. Can you belong, and not belong, to two different places at once? 

Why do I feel that the universe is my home and that I carry it inside me? Is that why wherever I go feels like home? Maybe they all feel like home because they all have one thing in common: foreignness. Perhaps I live like a foreigner in the most familiar of places; perhaps that’s the reason why the most foreign of places feel strangely familiar.

But I don’t have a home. I don’t want to have a home, I don’t want to belong— maybe I just want to be. But am I really allowed to be? I’m a refugee of the world seeking asylum from it, in it.

I take a sip of my Earl Grey as my eyes search the room for something I forgot I’d lost: time. They set on her. She’s the only thing that makes me feel at home. I go over to her and hug her tight. I compliment her on the yellow shoes and the gorgeous red dress covered with white polka-dots she’s wearing.

She doesn’t reply but I feel her smiling at me, remembering that seven-year-old girl who had picked her up from the store with such tiny hands back in Disneyland, Florida. Minnie-Mouse! She reminds me of how I had been as a child: brave, daring, unapologetic, but also shy— very shy. She looks at me with pride in her eyes.

I could never fall asleep without her next to me, reminding me how far we’ve made it, trying to make me laugh by bringing memories—loads of them—from all the places we had lived in and all the things we had been through. Minnie-Mouse, you are my home! To some, home is where friends and family are. To others, it’s where opportunities never cease to exist. To many, it’s wherever they feel safe. Home could be embodied in different things. A book, a person, a memory, a star, a sentence or even a word, a sensation or the lack of it—all of those, and many more could be what makes you feel at home.

It’s what you want and where you can find it that determines where your ‘home’ is but remember, in the process of finding something you’ll lose other things that time proves unredeemable. What are you willing to lose?


Annahar features an occasional series of personal essays, entitled "Beirut Notebook," from our readers, citizen journalists, and our own correspondents, on their life experiences, ranging from work, travel, encounters, Lebanon living, solutions, fashion, cuisine, culture, family, tech, sport, study, and more. No politics, just Life.

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