Everywhere and nowhere: The life of an expat

Where is home? A question that has been haunting me for the past 13 years. It all started when my parents decided to leave my native country Lebanon and immigrate to Canada. I was 17 years old when I arrived to Montreal, this gorgeous city where I knew no one at all. A couple of years later, I found myself moving again, to Quebec city, 3 hours away from the circle I finally built. Then I met my husband, and followed him to Saudi Arabia for a couple of months only to move again to Dubai a year later. Even mentioning this just like that feels a bit heavy on the heart. How come emptiness feels so heavy? Yes, emptiness. I would lie if I say that through all those years life has been full of discoveries and exciting moments. Most of the times, it wasn’t. It was lonely and cold. Somehow making friends became more complicated especially after becoming a mom. Being an expat mom rarely gives you any breaks. How many days I wished just to take the car and drive to see my parents, enjoy my mother’s cooking and leave my son with his grandparents so I can rest a bit. How I missed Sundays with the family and hanging out with friends. I even forgot when was the last time I had a date with my husband. With no one around us to watch the baby, and having troubles trusting nannies, our nights were almost the same.

I was physically somewhere, had my heart everywhere, and felt that I belong to nowhere. I expected my husband to play all the roles missing in my life: my parents, my brother, my bestfriend, my coworker and on my bad days, my punching bag. That was obviously impossible no matter how much I love him, I was missing all of the above.

It took a toll on me and I found myself struggling to accept the present, always planning the next trip home. But again, where is home?

We have family both in Lebanon and in Canada. So let’s see, where do we spend Christmas? How do we split the holidays when both countries are 17 hours flight apart. Do we have enough vacation days to make it everywhere? And if so, how long can we still afford it as our family grows? If we spend all our trips visiting family overseas, when do we get to travel for leisure and tourism? Where do we celebrate births, baptisms etc.? Will everyone be there? What about the kids’ birthdays? Are we going to be alone again? Don’t they deserve to feel loved and surrounded by more than their parents? Oh am I missing someone’s wedding again? And all those birthdays and happy moments with people I love, will I ever get the chance to live them again? Tough decisions to make for very simple situations that we would have never thought about hadn’t we left.

Then came the pandemic, and even trips became impossible. The lockdown brought us closer together and made us realize that we are never alone as long as we have each other. Expat life might have made me feel lonely most of my days but it also made me stronger and more independent. I am grateful for all the opportunities I have been exposed to in all those different cities but it still hurts when someone says “You’re lucky you left” because it doesn’t always feel that way. I would give anything to be surrounded again and not split in between. Expat life taught me to struggle, to fall and always try to rise again I have learned to appreciate the simplest things: a lovely weather, that green grass after the snow, nature beauty I have learned the joy of altruism and its importance.

My experience of immigration made me give up a huge piece of me. It took a part but made me discover many more. I have learned to understand myself more and stop searching for external sources of happiness. Immigration taught me resilience. It taught me that life is not steady: we move once but that's not it. We move again, people move too. We do whatever it takes to follow our dream and build our future and our family. We get tied to our new home but no chains attached. So there will always be some goodbyes, some mixed feelings of both sadness and excitement, and we rely on this resilience to help us adapt and make us stronger. But home is where the heart is, home is within and no matter where we are in the world, we will always carry it with us. -The Caterpillar Mom

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