Hope and Hopelessness
Every migrant has the thought: what if home were better? This personal story offers an answer from my own experience.
“Egypt is the mother of the world” (مصر ام الدنیا).” A typical Egyptian sentence my grandpa would say when I asked him why he did not migrate elsewhere like all his siblings. “Couky, I could not live somewhere with no dirt, no noise; I love it here, I simply cannot leave.” His answer always puzzled me. I never understood why he pointed out the flaws when he could give me a more appealing explanation. I would laugh at him as if he were making a joke, and he would laugh back. But something in his eyes told me he meant every word.
Maybe one day I will understand, I told myself.
Home is Union
It all started when the Arab spring hit Egypt. We were not allowed to leave
home after 5 pm; fear and division settled in the country. Businesses shut down, government buildings were burnt down, and people protested until their last breath. The spirit of nationalism sparked everyone. Chanting “The People Want to Bring Down The Regime” ( الشعب یرید النظام اسقاط), protestors from every part of the country gathered. With the government shutting down the internet and mobile services, and with hundreds of people dying, nationalism was at its highest. Even my eight years old self, my six-year-old sister, and my four-year-old cousin would go around the living room chanting “الشعب یرید اسقاط النظام.” The idea of bringing down the oppressive regime led to festivities all around the country; people took to the streets to celebrate with Egyptian flags waving everywhere. The smell of fire and the sound of fear had begun to flow away, but no one knew that the worst was yet to come.
Home is Kicking People Out
When president Morsy’s election was announced, it was the first time I saw fear in my dad’s eyes. Everyone started fleeing the country; my cousins left for France, and my friends to the US, Australia, and Holland. Festivities turned into disasters, with church bombings and terror taking over the streets. My parents were thinking of fleeing when the army organized a coup and Al Sisi was elected president.
Things eventually returned to normal, except for the economic state of the country.
In 2018, after my dad was offered a job in Canada, we packed all our belongings in two weeks and just left. At that time, I realized how lucky I was to have connections that made goodbyes very hard. Facetime calls have become integrated into my routine; my phone has become my friend. I would call my grandma, and we would spend hours talking about Egyptian food. I tried to stay linked to everything I left behind. Through the years, Canada did not seem that bad, but I always considered it a temporary habitat. I was careful to distance myself from everyone I met and to never get attached to anyone or anything.
Home is Hope
Summer came, and I was eager to return home, to where I belonged. I had missed the dirt, the noise. The family gathered around, and friends welcomed us at the airport. I remember the hot air I felt once I took my first step out of the airport, the crowd, the Arabic language surrounding me everywhere, and the heat, not the one coming from the radiant sun but from the people around me. The coldness and the distance felt in Canada had turned into heat and warmth at Home. My life has become a continuous cycle of zigzags between Canada and Egypt. One place that held my future and another that held my heart.
Home is Hopelessness
2020, a year that affected the whole world. The pandemic has caused migrants worldwide to be separated from their homes and their families. With the borders closed, going back to Egypt was not an option. I had to spend my first summer in Canada. The friends I had been pushing away started to become important to me, but this emptiness still inhabited me.
Egypt was not doing well, with hospitals overcrowded and people being unable basic hospital care. My grandpa got sick. He was rushed to the hospital after reaching out to multiple connections to find him a spot. Facetime calls had never felt so sorrowful. Seeing my grandpa at the hospital, not being able to touch him, and seeing my dad watching his father dying while confined miles away has led me to rethink the meaning of Home. Home for my grandpa meant the bad and the good. He had learned to love the bad in this country before the good. He had learned to accept the overwhelming heat, the noise, the poverty and the crowdedness. Maybe it was a good thing or a bad thing, but all I know is that he loved both sides of his Home.
Home is Hope and Hopelessness
I finally understood my grandpa: loving something means finding the good in the bad. Loving something means appreciating the bad before the good. Something you love can be bad, but it can also be good at the same time. Good is not always a total separation from bad, but it can be an integral part of the bad. Home can be both bad and good; Home can be hopelessness and hope. Home can be the noise in the streets that keeps me awake till three in the morning, but Home can also be the sound of my grandma singing traditional Egyptian songs. Home can be the smell of waste that takes over several blocks of streets, but Home can also be the smell of salty sea water that tangles my hair. Home can be the over crowdedness in every street, but Home can also be the overflowing love that fills my soul. Home can be the poverty that takes over thousands of people’s lives, but Home can also be architectural accomplishments and the richness of traditions. Home does not have to be perfect for me to love it. Home can be hope and hopelessness.
Home can be hope and hopelessness, but still I wonder, what if Home were different? What if Home did not repel its people? What if Home were not constant economic instabilities and poverty? What if Home fostered love and unity? What if there were no noise from the street, keeping me awake on a Monday night and making me wish I was living elsewhere else? What if Home were the only hope, without hopelessness? Will I love Home as much as I love it now? After spending over four years in Canada, I realize that I miss the noise, the overcrowdedness, the nauseating smell, and the dirt in the streets. I have come to understand my grandpa.
What if Home were better? What if people were not dying from hunger? What if I could dress as I wish at Home? I wish Home was better. If Home were better, I would not have to leave. I would wake up every morning to the smell of homemadeفطیر that Teta would make. If Home were better, I would always be surrounded by cousins and family love. But Home is not better. And Even if Home is not better, it is still Home, with its bad and good. If Home does not improve, I will still love it because Home is where my heart will permanently reside.
Photo by Simon Berger on Unsplash
Jeff GandellMay 2, 2023
Great piece, Claudia! Congratulations!