x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

The Ali Column: Home is much more than a house

Home is where the heart is, and it might not necessarily be where you're from.

If someone were to ask me "where is your home, Ali?", I would say: "It's here right before your eyes. The UAE is my beautiful home country, of course." For me, it is clear as the blue sky that the UAE is my home, but if you think about it, not everyone feels that way about their own home. I have met many expats who are uncertain about their roots; their family has such a mixture of cultural backgrounds it makes them feel torn between two or more cultures. At the same time, it's fascinating to me how so many expats actually call the UAE their home even though they have cultural roots somewhere else. Feeling torn culturally is not easy, but most don't realise that you can have a home anywhere you want to.

First of all, let's start by defining what a home is. Is it a geographical location or a sense of belonging? Well, your home is where you feel welcome and have people around you who are close to you; be it your family or your friends, right? Some are lucky to have family around them because this serves as a kind of protection from all the dangers out there. This is why, in the UAE, it is common to keep the family unit together no matter what, which also means keeping distances from each other as limited as possible. That's our kind of safety net.

Now, imagine, what it would be like if you had a home but didn't feel safe, or if you didn't have a home at all? Wouldn't that be scary? Some people live with this fear every day. They don't know where they belong. They might not even know their biological parents, or they might experience some kind of political hardship in their home country. Living in a place also has a social component. In western countries, there are multiple family structures. This can have advantages and disadvantages. Even in the UAE, many expats work here, while their family members remain in their home country. For us Emiratis, this is very unusual. If we leave our family behind it is often due to studying abroad. Valuing family and staying close together are the values that are maintained. Many expats are quite surprised if we Emiratis ask them if they are married and have kids. See, this is a question that helps us connect with others. Your family background reflects so much of who you are as a person and helps to identify the type of relationship we want to build with you.

Having a home is important for every person in this world. The place you live in might not be the place you grew up in. A new home can be better than an old home. What is most fascinating about us humans is that we are able to create our own home. We can imagine it, we can draw it, we can write about it, we can even build one; starting with our parents and later on with our spouse. Building a home is important for children to feel safe and protected. Meeting those needs takes a lot of time, patience, courage and investment. Therefore, encouraging family gatherings with traditions such as weddings is always a blessing for us. It reminds us of how important family is and why we need to support each other during good and bad times. So, let's keep the UAE as a home that is open to many others. This way, we can grow together as one big family. Home is where the heart is, isn't it?