“Write an essay about your culture and what you love the most about it,” my grade three English teacher said. I sat for almost half an hour not knowing what to write. I was out of words, out of ideas, and not a single thought had crossed my mind after I was assigned that homework.
The teacher came up to me and said, “All your classmates are almost half way through the assignment, why haven’t you written anything yet?” and my answer was: “But miss, I don’t know which culture I am supposed to write about, I’m Syrian, but never lived there. Do you think I should write about the Qatari culture?”
I left my hometown when I was about five years old, and I never got to know so much about it. I lived most of my life in Qatar, but before that, I lived in the UAE, Yemen and Kuwait. Doha was my family’s final destination. I never got to celebrate Eid in Syria, and to experience what it feels like to celebrate with my relatives.
This caused a lot of confusion in my head as a child. I knew I was Syrian, but I knew almost nothing about my birthplace. I had no childhood memories there, no sense of what it feels like to have a place I can call “home.” And I never realized it until I was asked to do that assignment. It gave me an awakening desire to know more about the place I came from, to understand myself more, and fill the void that made it feel like a part of my life was missing.
I want people to know about our traditional sung poetry that’s called “Muwashshah” and how it was influenced by Al-Andalus, namely Portuguese; I want them to know about all the civilizations my country witnessed thousands and thousands of years agoAhmed Ali
Thankfully, my teacher didn’t punish me for not completing the assignment; instead, she gave me a book about the history of Syria and asked me to read it, and that was the first book I had ever read in my life. I was blown away by the beauty of my country and its rich history and culture.
The book gave me information about all the big cities in Syria, particularly Aleppo (my hometown) and Damascus. Through reading that book, I got the chance to know so much about my background, a lot more than what my relatives who live there know! It was a turning point in my life, because that book made it feel like I had lived my entire life in Syria.
It helped me envision the history of Syria and live in its present. After I read the book, I wrote a long, detailed paper about my country and got a full mark in the assignment, but what made me feel so elated wasn’t the grade; it was the fact that I got to know where I come from, my roots, and the place I belong to. I no longer felt lost!
Ten years after leaving Syria, my family thought it was about time we visit our home country. I still so vividly remember what it felt like to witness everything the book talked about, and feel that sense of belonging people feel in their hometowns.
Everything I imagined in my head became a reality, and was far more beautiful than what I anticipated it would be. “I am home,” I said. I said it for the first time and it was magical. I said it as I felt its embrace. I closed my eyes, and felt it, I felt the warmth of home, and listened to the sound of people, churches, and mosques.
Everything I imagined in my head became a reality, and was far more beautiful than what I anticipated it would be. “I am home,” I said. I said it for the first time and it was magical.Tweet
I am like everyone else now; I can go back to Qatar and tell all my friends about it, tell them I visited my hometown, met my relatives, and had Friday dinners with them. For the first time, I felt like I no longer have to stutter every time someone asks me about the place I come from, I no longer have to fake knowing what it’s like to have a home, a home with childhood memories of late night parties, weddings, and celebrations.
Syria is now mostly known for all the political conflicts we see in the news, but I want the world to know that my country has so much more to share with the world than what we read on the internet or hear on the radio.
I want people to know about our traditional sung poetry that’s called “Muwashshah” and how it was influenced by Al-Andalus, namely Portuguese; I want them to know about all the civilizations my country witnessed thousands and thousands of years ago; I want them to know the way Syria went from being part of the Ottoman (Turkish) empire to being under the French occupation and still kept all the unique aspects about its culture; I want to tell them about the beauty of the old streets of Aleppo and Damascus that date all the way back to 6000 B.C! And most importantly, I want the world to know how valuable it is-to have a place you can call home.
Today, after living for more than 17 years in Qatar, I consider myself part of two amazing cultures; the Qatari and the Syrian. People might think that it’s almost impossible to be part of a new culture and still keep your hometown culture alive inside you, but that wasn’t the case with me. After I moved to Qatar, I was privileged enough to be friends with so many people from all around the world who introduced me to their culture and made Qatar feel like a second home to me.
This wonderful experience opened my eyes and mind to the world, and it made me realize that living outside my country was never an excuse for losing my identity; instead, it was a chance to learn more about it, and get to be part of another culture that made me grow a lot as a person. I now realize that home is where it feels like home. I don’t have to be living in my birthplace; I can be in any place in the world and turn it into home.