An international student studying in the capital of the United Arab Emirates reflects on her personal life she’s spent in a place she both loves and hates, one to happily enjoy and to sadly demure, and also one she never really calls it ‘a home’ (as she says most of the city’s inhabitants, mainly consisting of temporary migrants from hundreds of different nationalities), but one with an everlasting knock-of-heart on her chapters of life.
You can read her touching, honest essay in one of The Rumpus’ sections, Last City I Loved.
I fly often too, although I get no joy from it. I fly long distances—fourteen, sixteen hours at a time. What do I do on all those flights, hours of my life being whiled away on nothing? I sleep, mostly, and do not dream. Sometimes it feels as if time doesn’t pass up there, as if we were stuck in a different dimension, far away from any notion of real life.
But then, real life often seems to me more of a dream than anything I could imagine. I have the habit now of tracing foreign words on surfaces in my own made-up Arabic calligraphy. The curling letters, the way they flow into each other like rivers joining to meet the sea. Although I know the Arabic word for dream, I prefer my own. I trace mine over and over again, thinking it, an endless script in my head. I feel a warm affinity when I hear Arabic being spoken, a sense of familiarity.
And yet my sense of home has somehow melted away. When I am in Abu Dhabi, I miss New York and Chongqing and Buenos Aires and all the other places in the world that mean something to me. And when I am in those other places, I miss Abu Dhabi. What a terribly strange thing it is to always be missing someplace wherever I am in the world. What a terribly strange thing it is to belong nowhere because I could, if I chose to, belong anywhere.
At the same time, my wonder at seeing new places has also diminished. The more places I go, the less charm travel holds. That awful human trap: becoming used to wonder. The ability to travel is an astonishing gift that I should never, ever take for granted—and yet, I do, sometimes. Often. Of course I do. It’s not new to me anymore.