x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Home is where the clutter and chaos is all your own

We are living in a world that is increasingly defined by what surrounds us, tactics of self-identification that work well for deciding how we fit into the world. How we define ourselves behind closed doors is another matter.

We are living in a world that is increasingly defined by what surrounds us. People divide themselves into different groups, and draw on past memories to forge a common, if somewhat fabricated, reality.

These tactics of self-identification may work well for deciding how we fit into the world. But how we define ourselves behind closed doors is another matter.

One's home is where one's needs and comforts are met. It is where your identity is in harmony with its surroundings. Most important, though, a home is personal, individual and infinitely unique. Defining "home", therefore, is no easy task.

For some, home is only familiar if it's cluttered and chaotic. A friend of mine once said she can't work in an organised room; she needs chaos. That's how she draws her inspiration - from the mangled shelf for the onions in one corner, the messy magnetic towel hanger in another.

Other friends of mine are more nostalgic. One family has childhood pictures of them playing at the volcano fountain that used to be on the Corniche before it was torn down. That structure formed part of how they defined their home, how they defined Abu Dhabi. They remembered the steps we climbed up and down as kids. Now that this landmark is gone, a piece of their home is gone, too. How do we define our Abu Dhabi when many things we knew are being torn down?

Like our collective cultural identities, home encapsulates the nostalgia and history of bygone days. More than that, though, it is a place where the heart returns to find memories, to smile as you look at that tree that you climbed as a kid screaming (and cursing) at the passers-by.

And what if that space or that home was a place you lived in your whole life? Does that change the perspective on what home means?

All the corners of one's surroundings hold some sort of memory that aren't acknowledge, until something is changed. People tend to make changes here and there to accommodate their lifestyle, all the while walls are torn down and more storage is built around them.

My house is just like yours. I used to have a full size mirror as I walked into my home. It was there for as long as I remember. Now, it is gone. I can't really remember why or when it was moved. But every time I walk past that space, I feel something is missing.

And yet, even without that mirror, my home is still mine. It embraces me, shelters me like an old friend. It's a safe haven where I don't have to deal with outside forces, and can close the window to block out the elements - the light, the rain and the wind.

Distance from home has its challenges, too. For many living abroad, going "back home" can produce feelings of estrangement. For these people, home might feel familiar and yet, like no place they've ever been.

Home is a place where you own the right to narrate. It might be a place that is the antithesis of insecurity, uncertainty and doubt. Imagine, then, those born in a warzone with no nation, and no home to return to. Many in this region face such suffering; identity and the sense of comfort most of us take for granted from having a home is not always a given.

Maybe, then, I need to redefine my definition of home even further. Home is, after all, all of these things and so much more.

Perhaps home is not always a place you return to. Maybe it is the place where you took your first breath. Or, perhaps it's that place where, when you fly over in an airplane, it pulls on you like a magnetic field - the smell of humidity, the salty air, the whirling sand that yanks you back.

Or maybe, just maybe, it's all the places in which a person grows up and develops. Just like one's country, history, and "imagined" self - home is what we make it.


Hissa al Dhaheri is an Emirati social commentator