Sometimes you need a really good cry… and three boxes: tissues, almonds and a Friends set
Because you came back to find a world you left behind… only to find it left you somewhere in the middle
Because you came back to find a world you left behind… only to find it left you somewhere in the middle
I’m back in Riyadh. Sorry about the lack of warning… even though this is my second visit back I’m still in a whirlwind. I just took my orgo final last Monday… and now I’m miles away from Florida? Surreal.
No long stories this time… the flight was perfect. I reached here yesterday afternoon. I have already unpacked and gotten over my seven hour jetlag. I was happy to come home to a familiar surrounding - although newly designed. My iMac desktop, Shopaholic series and DVD collections were waiting for me. :) I finished Sophie Kinsella’s newest novel, Wedding Night, this morning. I have devoured the California bakery cupcakes that were waiting for me in the fridge.
I am currently wondering where to go from here
2004 brought another change: we moved to Sheffield, England for what ended up being six months of adventure. I was eight and my sister was three. During one of our last drives down Peak District, my mother told us to close our eyes and “aankhon mein bassa lo” (= capture it in your eyes). To this day if I think of it and close my eyes, I’m there. Where? How do I describe to you, the view from an eight year old seeing for the first time hills and hills of green? And not the sun-dried greying green we’re so accustomed to. No, this green is bright green. Real grassy green.
At 5:15 Edie called to tell the girls her husband came home. She never got through to anyone though. Gaby didn’t pick up because she was watching the girls take their orders. Lynette was out with Stella laughing and sharing stories and enjoying it. Bree was outside showing her future son-in-law color samples for the house and smiling politely when they disagreed. And Susan didn’t answer because she was enjoying a cup of tea and what it was like to be alone. - Desperate Housewives
I was an only child for five years: and I thought that being alone that long was enough for the rest of my life. Yet, I found myself somewhat alienated through school. I am a year apart from everyone in age, so I was interested in clothes, makeup and boys later than everyone else. I sort of stumbled through high school wondering where my interests lied in terms of my friends. But for most of my life, I was never really alone. I was surrounded by classmates, teachers, neighbors, caretakers… and although I was frustrated by being nannied, I appreciated the constant companion.
So when I moved here the loneliness was unbearable. I did not know how to be alone… which in college is sometimes quite inevitable. I would watch Netflix till I fell asleep and call a dozen friends trying to formulate plans.
It was only when I could truly be alone with myself that I completely appreciated solitude.
That gem of a quote was from my mother.
I never really had the stereotypic love-hate mother-daughter relationship with mine… ever since I was born I’ve heard that we’ve been best friends (which makes it nearly twenty years… the most stable friendship I’ve ever had). We are a lot alike: we look alike and have same perfectionist attitude and outgoing personality. But the years my mother has on me is accompanied by endless wisdom. Although I sometimes brush it off, I am definitely listening to every little bit she says. In this spring break I have learned to appreciate that everyone has fears - and it is my job to alleviate their pain in any way possible. In the case of my mother, this means helping her as she deals with the aging of her parents.
I, too, have fears. One of the prevalent ones is my fear of growing old, of aging. And now unfortunately I have to see this manifest in my grandparents.
One of my biggest fears is that someone I love will pass away before I have the time to visit them, since I live so far away from home. This fear is unfolding right before my eyes as my grandfather has progressively worse… osteophytes? Parkinson’s? Nerve damage? I choose not to listen to the medical terminology because I’d rather not be able to google and read endless symptoms and progressions.
See, sometimes, a diagnosis can be your worst enemy.
This week I am on spring break and am in Orlando with my mother and brother, who temporarily reside here. At the end of this month they will be voyaging back over the seas to Arabia (see previous blog post). Yesterday my mom had an errand to run in Kissimmee, so I roamed about The Loop @ Kissimmee for a good two hours. I thought I would spend my time in the movies watching Safe Haven or at Ben and Jerry’s making excuses for my indulgences… but instead I found solace in a bookshop with a little cafe adjoined to it. I bought two books (chicklit - of course), a small chapter book for my enthusiastic reading brother and two music score books! Finding music books is very rare in Arabia (in fact probably nonexistant) so I happily browsed through the songbook collection for at least forty five minutes. I chose two: top hits and Adele’s entire 21 album.
I was at home prereading the scores to ensure better sightreading when something dawned upon me. Is my fascination from music rooted by my passion for languages? Because when you think about it, isn’t music a language of its own?
Music is represented by notes - different “letters” that make up measures (phrases!). There are different clauses, like paragraphs, each telling a segment of a story. Music is a language in that it has different dialects too: treble, bass, alto - all of which I have ventured in. Composers and musicians alike communicate in this different language form… and as there are different ways to decipher poems in the English language, there are also multiple ways to interpret songs and how they are meant to be played. Words can bring out emotions - but so can notes. And lastly, music is a language in that sometimes it fails us: sometimes there are no words or notes to accurately depict the emotions, thoughts or concepts that we are trying so hard to grasp, to identify, to comprehend.
It is again at times like these that I am humbled by the intricate foldings of nature that perhaps we were not meant to understand.
I have journeyed quite a bit with my parents, and when we met people on our travels I was often asked the dreaded “where are you from” question. How did I respond? Because I associate most of my childhood with Saudi Arabia, I took abode in the following responses: Arabia, the Kingdom, the Middle East. When my parents were asked, I often heard them say “oh, we live overseas.”
I always thought it an odd phrase - overseas? It sounded so removed, almost fictional. Where did these seas entail? And how far over were we?
It wasn’t till one of my many airplane rides where I was bored enough to watch the airplane route monitor on my fifteen hour flight that I realized the accuracy of this phrase. As I stared wistfully at the monitor and watched the tiny airplane on the screen inch towards our destination in a curved fashion across the Atlantic, I realized that over the seas was quite literally where we lived.
- Michael J Fox
At the core of my perpetual nostalgia is my unquenched longing to hug my siblings, my cousins, my grandparents… and tell them that I love them more than the world itself. Distance makes the heart grow fonder, and makes the mind realize that the search for happiness is over: it was under your nose this entire time.
But before Arabia was a trip home to Pakistan, back to our roots. What saddens me now is how unstable a country that my parents love so much is. They had planned their retirement and future homes out. But all those dreams were lost in an intangible, unspoken abyss. Conditions beyond our control led us to search for a safer life: and that is how we ended up in Saudi Arabia.
I attended the American International School of Riyadh (then called SAISR). We lived in a housing provided apartment near what is now the skyscraper Kingdom Tower (I essentially watched the tower being built from my living room window). My baby sister was born soon afterwards. Since my mother was sick, I went to my first days of school alone, where I got lost in what I thought was a large city. It soon became something like home for me, and today I cannot be more proud to have graduated from such a school. From K through 12 it was essentially home, and now it has around fifty waving flags upon the entrance - that’s us, the kids. In our school we had representation from about fifty two different nationalities. And for that, I am thankful. The next few years passed in a whirlwind, and I grew up and what had seemed a temporary stay in a strange land turned out to be a comfortable, secure life with promise.
I was in third grade when 9/11 happened: I remember because my teacher told us to write it down in our journals, which I still have. I wish I had known that day that the world was about to change forever. Shortly afterwards, Riyadh became unsafe, the British school was bombed, and among the chaos of all this we moved to Sheffield, England.
I had flown in an airplane before I learnt how to walk. By that point in my life, I had spent so much time in the air that I didn’t know where on land I belonged.
I realize that this blog is confusing… mainly because I never disclosed chronological details about my life. Let’s start here:
I was born in Kettering, England to Pakistani parents. My mother comes from a highly influential family, both in politics and profession (it is a family tradition to be a physician). My father comes from an army home: his father was in the army and so they were constantly shifting up, down and around Pakistan. They both went to medical school in Pakistan, married, and immediately after moved to England to start their lives. I was born shortly after. The only stories I have of my childhood are those told by my parents and ones I have constructed after wistfully pondering upon my childhood photos. I was a doll: the eldest granddaughter, and the pride and joy of the household. Because my parents were busy with their studies, I went back to live in Pakistan with my grandparents for some time. I grew extremely attached to them and till this day call them mom and dad.
I then moved back to living in Oxford, England while my father did his postgraduate studies at University of Oxford, before we moved to Australia. I could tell you many stories: about my elderly neighbors who taught me the important lesson of looking both ways before crossing the street, about my preschool only walking distance from our house where I made my first best friend, about the spiders in our trees that I ran away from, about feeding a kangaroo and seeing a koala fall off a tree, about the coast and our adventures. But what I’m going to tell you is the most memorable aspect I remember: the fireworks. To this day, I will never forget the fireworks I saw on New Year’s at the sydney bay bridge… my four year old eyes were open to a colorful, new world.
But things change and life happens and we had to move back to Pakistan, where we only stayed six months. And then, before I knew it, we were moving again: this time to the vast desert of Saudi Arabia