“You are an expatriate. One of the worst type. Haven’t you heard that? Nobody that ever left their own country ever wrote anything worth printing. Not even in the newspapers.”
“You are an expatriate. You lost touch with the soil.”
And I thought. All the great writers in the Middle East, the likes of Mahmoud Darwish, Naguib Mahfouz, Muhammad Al-Maghout, Nizar Qabbani to name a few, have never left their country, their place of birth. The difficulties that the people face every day from a land that is being occupied to the political shifts, to the different curfews and sanctions imposed upon them. They cannot not write about it. These problems that the people face every day have shaped their thoughts and made their writings sought after. Would they have been this understanding of the people’s aches and sorrows had they lived outside their country?
My daughter came to me the other day and said “You know mom, there is a term for us now. My brother and I are TCKs, third culture or trans-culture kids.”
And she started telling me about this article she had come across on the internet, explaining that:
“A third culture kid (TCK) is someone who, as a child, has spent a significant period of time in one or more cultures other than their own, thus integrating elements of those cultures and their own birth culture into a third culture. Such children usually find it difficult to answer the question, “Where are you from?” TCKs have a globalized culture. Others can have difficulty relating to them. They often build social networks among themselves and prefer to socialize with other TCKs. They develop a sense of belonging everywhere and nowhere. While TCKs usually grow up to be independent and cosmopolitan, they also often struggle with their identity and with the losses they have suffered in each move.
See? I told you we belong everywhere and nowhere.”
“Hmm, didn’t know they even categorized within categories. Interesting.”
“What would you be called then mom?”
“Don’t know, let’s see. I was born in Lebanon to Armenian parents. I was raised valuing both cultures. I lived as an expatriate in Dubai for more than two decades and now I live in Montreal and am a Canadian citizen. What would that make me? It’s complicated, isn’t it?”
“Guess so. Anyways, have to go work.”
And I thought. All those years that my husband and I lived in Dubai we were nothing but expatriates. Everyone who came to live in Dubai back then had to have a work permit, and accordingly have a residence permit. Every now and then we had to renew our permits, a kind of reminder that we were always the expats. But did we totally belong there?
The irony is that every time we went to visit our extended family in Lebanon we felt we didn’t belong there either, not anymore. See, in Dubai we were spoiled by the high living standards that we felt were lacking in Lebanon. We did not feel comfortable there. Did we belong the way we had belonged before?
And now that we are Canadian citizens living in Montreal, we still feel that we belong to a minority. So where do we belong?
He pushed her slightly so they could move ahead and they walked, not looking back until they reached the other side where cars and cabs were waiting for people like them. Samer spoke with one of the drivers while she stood there and looked back. She had left her friends there in the West; her closest friend, with whom she had shared the worst moments of her life. She had left without even saying goodbye to Hayat or Maha, without kissing the little boy, without even seeing her friend’s baby girl, without even knowing whether she would live or die. They had to hurry; that’s what Samer had said; that’s what Elie and Kamal had said. This was her country, the place where she belonged, the place where they belonged. She was going to a place she had never seen before. Would there be a place where she would belong, the way she had belonged to her country, she wondered. Trying hard to hold the tears that were choking her, she took Samer’s hand, sat in the back of the car with him and they drove ahead. (The Lost I)