Then there are the inevitable changes brought about by rapid urbanisation. In my old neighbourhood, most of the grand old buildings typically named ‘Paul Mansions’, ‘Lee Mansions’ and so on have been torn down and the ubiquitous multi-storied honeycombs have taken their place. There are flyovers all around, ‘Bypass’ roads (intended as expressways), nightclubs called Venom and so on - unthinkable in my teenage years when entertainment meant some nice restaurants with jazz singers.
The first time I visited my hometown after a gap of almost ten years, and not having lived there for 17, on coming back to Muscat I realised that I had a lot in common with the expatriate kids who are born and brought up here. They believe this is their home.
Home for me has always been where I live. So when I think of going home to sleep in my own bed, I mean it in its literal sense. The biggest advantage of this is that wherever we are, being homesick (for where we originally come from) never enters the equation. Some think that’s strange (especially since I do have relatives and friends like all of you), because in a way it could be defined as being rootless.
I think being rooted is about being happy in the environment you live in. If you are forever waiting to be somewhere else to feel settled and happy, you are losing out on today and that wonderful tomorrow may not turn out to be quite the way you imagined. It’s like waiting for your kids to grow up and relieve you of the tensions of teething, adolescent tantrums and teenage sullenness. Then one fine day, you wake up, they are gone and your house is just possibly, a bit too quiet.
But today, believing your home to be where you are is important for a different reason. In the last year and a half, I have said goodbye to more friends and acquaintances and heard about more people leaving than I have in the last decade. Given the economic downturn, it is a reality that jobs are disappearing and people are having to look elsewhere. It’s not fun for the children who are uprooted, and moving and making new friends is always hard for the entire family.
Some have reacted with positivity, others with a ‘Why is this happening to us’ attitude, and yet others who are angry and say they can’t wait to leave. This is my first stint of an expat life and I have no first-hand experience about whether this is the norm everywhere or if it’s just Oman that people seem to find so difficult to leave behind.
One friend says she would be back in a heartbeat if her husband was re-employed here, even though she seems to be having the time of her life travelling around. There are others who continue to post pictures of Oman and life here as if they still live in the country, though they seem to be living in places that are equally postcard-beautiful.
Oman is incredibly easy to settle down in and of course, it helps that it takes 14 minutes to travel 15km. On many levels, there is an element of a Peter Pan-like existence that is probably the one thing that people leaving here hate to lose. Isn’t it true though that quite often we tend to paint what was in rather rosy hues just because we are uncertain about what’s ahead?
I don’t know where we will be in ten years but then neither did I know where we would be ten years before we arrived in Muscat. I was excited and scared about living here (probably more scared than excited), but ended up loving it and this is home now. Instead of believing that home is where we want to be, why not make peace with the fact that home is where we are now?