Where’s my home?
Home. A controversial word that mesmerised people over ages and ages. For me, home is where I find peace. Peace is when you feel satisfied and unexplained happiness.
For some people, home is their country. For others, it is the house or flat. Sometimes, it is your room. And every now and then it is when you’re with someone else, you just feel home. Yeah, “feel home”. Home is a feeling, not a place, not a country to which your nationality is tied. Yet, I’m going to go through each and every point of view that defines “home”.
My dad. He was born in Syria in 1941. By the year 1965, he left everything there and moved to Egypt. The reasons behind this remain a mystery for me as he has a long story related to politics. But the obvious, clear reason for him to move to a whole new country at the age of 24 back then in the sixties is that he felt he wasn’t home. He didn’t find what he was looking for. He didn’t find peace. And his dreams were to be achieved in another country.
A lot of times throughout these long years people would tell him you are not Egyptian. But I’ve always loved his answer. He says,” you were born and you found yourself Egyptian… I chose to be Egyptian”. And since then, since he moved to Egypt, he never went back to Syria, although our family is still there. He chose a new home and he didn’t give in to the fact that he was born somewhere where he didn’t belong or find peace of mind.
I was born in Cairo, Egypt, 1981. Grew up in a modest flat in a very nice area in Cairo, called Zamalek. Since my early childhood, I have known there were a lot of problems between my dad and the landlord. The landlord wants to kick us out, but my dad’s legal position is quite right, so they went to court long before I was even born. By my teenage years back in the nineties, the landlord used the corruption in the system in his favor and managed to kick us out. What a day it was. It was so hard to find yourself with no home. All your belongings are on the street. You have no clue where to go. Your simplest rights of even going to a toilet and having a shower were not even granted. I felt lost, confused and desperate. My dad managed to let us stay in a military rest as he was an ex pilot in the Egyptian military. We stayed there for almost 2 months. Our stuff part of it was sold, part of it was moved to an empty flat my dad owned but was not equipped for living; it only had a door!
I found such a hard time to adapt at the new place. It was just a room, with no table even to study. Specially that I was having my high school finals, in Egypt it is a matter of life or death. I used to study on a small tea table. And after 2 months, by the time I was adapting, we had to move out. The management didn’t want us anymore. So my father moved us to another military hotel. It was a disaster. We couldn’t hold on for more than a week, and then we moved to another military hotel closer to the city centre. At that hotel the rooms are not really rooms, they are flats. But we didn’t have a TV. Actually, you rent one. You don’t have a telephone. You need to call the reception and give them the number and they’d transfer the call for you. I can’t remember how many important things I missed because people couldn’t reach me for the hotel had only one line. And back in the nineties, the mobile telephones were just emerging and they were so expensive.
I adapted to that place. We stayed there for 5 years. I built memories, brought new stuff other than that that was lost in the couple of times we moved out.
But yet again, history repeats itself. The management wanted us out and everybody else who has been staying there for a long time. By that time, my dad restored our old flat in Zamalek through legal actions that proved how the landlord kicked us out and how it was illegal. So we moved again to Zamalek: My old home. But it didn’t feel like home. It’s been over 6 years since we left. Not to mention all those unwelcoming looks from the landlord every time I bump into him.
A year passed there, and then my parents got divorced. My mom moved out to my grandma’s place. That place that I spent so many days and nights playing with my cousins. I moved out with her a couple of months after she went, as I couldn’t handle my dad on my own. Once again, packing and taking my stuff from one place to another. Adapting to a new place, and trying to feel home. I stayed there from 2005 till 2009, when I got married. First night for me in that flat felt so strange. But yet, I was used to that feeling and of much experience about it. I adapted to it and once again, the same old process of having my stuff there, building memories and the whole nine yards. But once again, my destiny and fate was not to stay there for long. I got separated from my wife. She moved at her mom’s and I moved back to my mom’s place. And I did the drill once again. Packing my stuff, taking the important stuff, and leaving the less important stuff to pick up later.
Since then, I’ve been staying with my mom. I don’t need to mention how I feel knowing that my stuff is scattered all over the city if you know what I mean. Seriously, a lot of my stuff was lost and not found. Sometimes I need some important stuff and I can’t remember where exactly it is. So I have to go on a treasure hunt at my dad’s, my mum’s, the flat I was married in, the flat that we first moved our stuff in. Damn, it is so hectic and tiring. Not only physically, but emotionally. When you go through old stuff it just revives memories that are related to places you once called home. That t-shirt, that toy that you used to play with. It just makes you realize how time flies by. How fast we get old. It makes you realize that home is not a place. It’s not a country and not a house or a room.
I used to love a girl. I loved her more than my own soul, more than anything in the world. With her, I truly felt home, regardless of the place. I remember that I used to put my hand on her chest and tell her,” that’s my home, that’s where I belong”, for I felt home in her arms. I felt peace, I was at ease. I was simply able to be whatever I want when I’m with her or in her arms. I was the child, the father, the friend, the lover. I was the hero, the king, the fool. I was everybody and everyone I wanted to be. My soul, heart and mind were naked with her. No barriers, no limits. And each and every place we went to together was my home, for my home was always next to me, with her. But then again, my fate won’t let me enjoy that feeling for too long. After one year, full of smiles, laughs and tears, we broke up and each went on their separate ways. I remembered that very first time we were kicked out of our flat in Zamalek. I had the same feeling of being totally lost, confused and so sad. Only this time I was kicked out of someone’s heart and life. This time I wasn’t packing my stuff, I was packing the broken pieces of what’s left of me in a dark worn out sad soul.
Looking back at all these situations, I realised that home is within, it’s inside each and every one of us. We call a place home because we feel safe, we feel comfortable. And where else could we feel safe, comfortable and peaceful except within ourselves. We are our own best friends, our own lovers, family. We are our own home, and no one will make us feel home except ourselves. No place will make us feel home except ourselves. But first, we need to find ourselves. Only then, we find home.”
Mohamed El Babi is a writer based in Cairo, Egypt.