Hijrah Diaries: Bittersweet Nostalgia

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Khadijah Stott-Andrew offers advice on maintaining positivity  while suffering painful and isolating homesickness.

After a big move abroad, it is normal to become caught up in the whirlwind of organisation as you try to find your feet and routine. Once the adrenaline dies down and your routine settles into habit, you are given little respite before the next challenge sets in – homesickness. Regardless of what and who you left behind, there will be something you miss. Adapting to a new environment will contrast with your old life, sometimes quite drastically. The challenge of being without friends and family aside, the main cause of homesickness is the yearning for familiarity.

Family and Friends

Whether it’s parents, siblings, extended family, or friends, you will miss the ease of access to loved ones, no matter how close or far apart you were in the past. It is expected to feel left out of home festivities. My husband and I always felt a pang of sadness when we heard about family gatherings and BBQs. I remember feeling like I was missing so much as the babies we knew became toddlers and the toddlers became children – we were out of the loop!

Replacing experiences

Missing friends is always hard. It’s the same longing for familiarity that makes being away from family so hard. Your usual companions, your weekly get togethers and shopping trips were all part of a former life that you are no longer able to live. Whilst your friends cannot be replaced, the experiences can be. As mentioned in a previous article, my life in Qatar has introduced me to friendships I never thought I’d have. With new friends came new experiences and traditions. The weekly playgroup became my breathing space between  hectic days. My habitual trips into the city centre in the UK became replaced with trips to the souq to enjoy ice cream by the coast. All of these adventures became routine and my sense of familiarity began to change. I was settling into my new home and the new experiences were key in making that happen.

Keeping the connection alive

Technology is another sakina (small blessing)  in the life of an expat. At first it may feel strange; talking to a screen can seem like a poor replacement for actual human contact. But you will get used to it, and once it becomes a habit, you will value those times you get to relax and catch up with your loved ones. I treasure the times I can put the kettle on whilst my son naps and video chat with my mum. It became a new routine for my mom and I. So much so, that the waitress at my mum’s regular coffee shop once put her head in the screen and exclaimed, “Hello, daughter!” Everyone knew my mum was Skyping with her daughter in Qatar over toast, coffee and cake.

Document everything

Being abroad is a fantastic and exclusive experience Allah SWT has blessed you with – don’t let it pass you by without you capturing these memories. Documenting your travels and new lifestyle can be an excellent distraction from homesickness, an innovative way to discover your new home and even a gateway to a new hobby. Whether you choose to blog, use photography or even launch yourself into filmmaking, make sure you put in regular effort in order to make the most of the project. You’ll be amazed at how much you enjoy it.

Aside from this column, I also chose to document my time in Qatar by making home videos of my children. With them being so young, I didn’t want them to forget their time in Qatar and what it was like when we first moved here. Documenting children is another great way to stay connected with family. My parents and in-laws loved receiving videos and photos of the boys’ antics and it prevented them from missing out on special occasions such as my son’s first day of school and his sports day.

Let go of your reservations

The most important thing to remember is to remain open minded to new changes. It can be terribly hard to accept and adapt to an unfamiliar way of life and environment, and missing home comforts is inevitable. But you have two choices: either remain closed to change and continue yearning for a lifestyle that isn’t currently possible, or you could open yourself to all the new and wonderful opportunities that are knocking on your door. Believe me when I tell you, it won’t be long at all before these new changes become your new home comforts.

Sweet nostalgia

Another key mentality to hold onto is an unwavering acceptance that your home will always be your home, regardless of why you left or how long you are away for. One of the beautiful aspects of an expat life is the memory lane you get to skip down when thinking about your homeland. The negatives disintegrate and you are left with all the positives and fond memories, This enjoyable feeling is intensified if you ever return home, even for a short visit. For us, returning to the UK over the summer was filled with jubilation and excitement as we were reunited with family and shared our tales with friends. Even a trip to Asda was thrilling –  how can you not get excited over 69p juice?

Even if returning home is not immediately possible, you don’t have to completely turn your back on your former life. During the time of the prophet Muhammad SAW, the sahabah yearned for Makkah whilst living in Madinah. This yearning was strong, despite the torture and persecution they had suffered at the hands of the Makkans. Madinah, although it was located in the same country, lacked the home comforts and familiarity that made Makkah their home. But they had patience, and with time, were able to return to Makkah triumphant and relieved. Although, it is interesting to note, that not all the companions returned to Makkah. Some remained in Madinah out of choice.

Anywhere on Allah’s (SWT) earth can be a home for any member of mankind, regardless of their origin. It was created for us, and not with the intention for us to remain rooted to the same location our entire lives. Live as a traveller and marvel at the wonders of Allah’s creation; there is so much more to the world than the town you live in. Keep this in mind as you set up your home and build your new life – you’ll be surprised how comforting this one positive thought can be.

This article was originally published in the July 2015 issue of SISTERS Magazine.

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