Saturday, 9 May 2015

Longing for belonging

I drank water, flowing fresh down my throat
And it was like I tasted nothing but sewage;
Suffering beyond comparison,
Like that of a boat amongst raging ocean waves.

Elia Abu Madhi, the revered Lebanese poet, perfectly described what it feels like to be away from where you belong. Where you ‘belong’ is by no means exclusive to where you were born or the country from which your parent(s) hail; rather, it’s the place where you feel alive. Once you emigrate, the sense of loss becomes too great to comprehend, too irrational to justify. Your life away may be safer, more financially rewarding, but you’re starved of tranquility and spiritual fervour.

Having lived in India, Syria and England, and being of Iraqi origin, I've always been reluctant to put my finger on a map and wholeheartedly say “Here’s where I’m from,” as I've never felt as though I truly belonged anywhere I’ve lived in thus far. For that reason, as well as their artistic depth, Abu Madhi's words strike several, tangled chords within me.

My intergenerational and consecutive migrations have amplified the fogginess with which my unyielding heart tries –and fails- to adjust to its surroundings. It is filled with longing for company I hadn’t enjoyed, relishing a reunion of hearts with lovers I hadn’t encountered, objects of adoration whose hazy countenances were weaved together by my starry-eyed mind. And yet I dream of being there, and yearn to be with them. The precise geographical location of the place, and the identifying features of the people - aren't necessarily a relevant detail, for the heart needs no bearings once it's in a place it warms to, and in company it finds soothing and sensual in equal measure.

Not only am I burdened with a wild and wayward emotional constitution, I confess to feeling disarmed of my creative faculties, like a pelican in a pigsty, bedraggled and bereft of life. The light of my mind flickers and flashes sporadically and painstakingly, having previously assured my child-self that it would illuminate my yet-to-be-lived days.

I often wish I were able to visit Iraq as freely and frequently as my contemporaries and fellow second-generation exiles do. More than Iraq, though, I dream of setting foot in Syria once again. The dusty, overcrowded streets of Sayyeda Zaineb, the epicentre of my childhood on the outskirts of Damascus – are where I made sense of the world: in the ear-piercing cacophony of tirteras, cattle and shopkeepers. A celestial soundtrack of an otherwise mundane life.

London may have cleaner streets and a wider selection of international cuisines, but it has yet to convince me that it could stir me the way Damascene alleyways did.

Whimsical romance aside, I’ve realised that cannot afford to spend my days envisaging a parallel existence. My converse-clad feet are firmly rooted in a lively part of London, and I must work towards rekindling the flame of life within my shrinking frame. Otherwise, what’s left of my dwindling spirit will vanish into thin air, leaving in its wake a mediocre nothingness, much like the indistinguishable sound of a tirtera – forgettable in its absence as it is salient in its presence.