Growing Away

Being homesick is like a strange spiky ache that’s both caught in your throat and deep in the pit of your stomach. You can’t breathe, you can’t eat, you can’t speak; all you want to do is go back home. Everything is a fast, tall, shiny, confusing, intimidating tangled mess. The sky is steel gray, the buildings are tall, the people are rushing everywhere. Home is warm, yellow-beige, humid, dusty, traditional laziness.

I just want to go home.


But I live in a multicultural city where I disappear in the crowds, where I’m not known as flanna-bint-altana (the wife of flan), and where there’s no index of appropriate behavior to follow or rebel against (at least that I can detect), and where I’m also a little bit lonely because the friends I grew up with are miles away living their own lives.

When I was a kid, I could be saved by my imagination. I’d imagine grape juice was wine, stick wafers were cigarettes, tictacs were ecstasy pills, and soft drink cans were beer. My imagination protected me from the reality that while being home was comfortable, it was still a little bit boring.  Here was a safe way to make things just a little bit more entertaining. Now that I’m older, my imagination is more curse than salvation. I imagine that the home I’ve left 14000 miles away is still the happy carefree place that I grew up in as a child, even though the chirping of the birds that I woke up to daily is now stifled by the sound of discontented chants, exploding gas cylinders, police sirens, and helicopters overhead. The comfortable, humid air that I breathed is now laced with the stench of tear gas baking in the sun. I imagine that the weather here in Toronto is not -4 degrees celsius but 40. I imagine the greasy messy rice that I’m eating is my mother’s oven-baked fish and rice. I imagine that Skyping my best friend every few days and showing her the rain boots that I bought a few days back is the same as a weekend brunch-and-shopping trip. If you daydream long enough and often enough, it stops being a coping mechanism and you become a little delusional.

My mother’s famous hammour

One of the worst parts about growing up is realizing that day-dreaming won’t change any of the decisions you’ve made and won’t make the decisions that you should make any easier. And the absolute worst part is the realization that you need to make those decisions so you don’t end up blaming other people for them.

I grew up relatively protected from responsibility and the harsh reality that things are sometimes as beige colored as the dust covering the houses where I grew up. Everybody chose the path of least resistance: the one dictated by your parents, your teachers, and “They”. They knew which friends you should have, what clothes you should wear, what TV shows you should watch, what books you should read, where you should go to college, and what you should major in. Not only was it easy, but it was safe, to go with the flow. There was also the added benefit of having someone else to blame when things don’t go exactly the way we wanted. If all else fails, blame fate, God, and the classic “What to do?”

But moving this far away has made me grow up. The fact is I chose to move here. I chose to follow a husband who is immersed in a career that takes up 80 percent of his time. I chose to give up the beginnings of a long career in b-level investment banks for the distant idealistic hope that I might either do something more altruistic, or more human. I chose to leave that fragile bubble of comfort that being “home” always brought me. Maybe it was the choice in and of itself that was the catalyst, or maybe it’s the distance emphasized by the 7 hour time difference, or maybe it’s the sense of freedom from knowing that nobody is watching.

Nobody’s watching in TO (credit: )

This move has been a revelation to me. I’ve realized that since my mother can’t cook for me, that I can take her recipes and cook for myself. The fact that it will silence my mother-in-law’s nagging about me not feeding her poor, over-worked son is just a bonus. The results are still messy, chunky, rice, but I figure genetics will eventually kick in and help produce something edible. I’ve realized that since people here are too busy to care what I look like and how I behave, that I can hide my pajamas under my parka while going to buy groceries with no makeup on, though I might be risking my life looking like a raccoon in the middle of winter. I’ve realized that the only judge of my behavior is myself so I can leave my comfort zone and try that writing class, collapse in a heap because of joggers asphyxia at the park, have cake for lunch, wear those short shorts that would brand me a skank if I were to wear them at “home”, and maybe wait a while before I start a family and instead get a puppy. I’ve realized that I want to hold on to the friends I have because they have enough insight into my behavior to withhold their judgement when they should and be harsh when I need it.

People assume that people from my part of the world move because we want to be free of religious or political differences or for better employment opportunities. I’ve moved because, as hard as it is, I’ve never had the freedom to decide what to do with my life, and have had few opportunities to jump out of the doctor-banker-teacher-engineer box. I’ve moved because my next great adventure is not in the spanking new paperback that I bought at the bookstore where I spend most of my time, but the one where I learn to embarrass myself and take a risk.


TAKE RISKS (Photo credit: fraying)


16 thoughts on “Growing Away

    • Thanks! I keep hearing my mother’s laughter at me taking the easy way out every time I consider getting one. Although it might beat her laughter at my complaints about the results…

  1. I love, love this post! I lived in Toronto for 10 years, and I remember how homesick I felt those first few years, and I grew up in Canada! I can imagine it would be so much worse coming from a warm country. There is something cold about Toronto that can make it hard.

    I love what you say about freedom being frightening – because it is! And wonderful at the same time. I can see how there is comfort in having lots of rules, and it must be alienating without them.

    Hang in there! It’ll get better, I promise!

    • This was really comforting, thank you! I have always had a hard time admitting to the fact that I was homesick since I always taught that an adullt should not give in to the feelings of frustration and just tough it out. I think overcoming the fact that I’m homesick starts with admitting that I am. I’m not entirely adjusted to being in Toronto, but I think I’ve finally begun to adjust that I’m not home, which although not ideal, is definitely a start.

  2. I feel like this post is a tease… now I want to know more about you. Who is this Saffron Twist? I can’t wait to read more.

    I’m sure you’ve experienced how hard it is to explain to people who never left how transformative it is to leave home. To not just move out on your own, but to actually leave your city/ country/ continent and live in a place where your family has no roots. You’ve done and fantastic job of nailing down some of the fear and freedom. I left my home when I was 20. For me, there was no cultural change or airplanes or anything like that. But I did leave and I went far enough away that I only came home a couple times a year. It was in that time that I learned what the phrase, ‘cutting the apron strings,’ meant. For me it was about growing up and becoming my own person. That being said I do remeber crying fequently in the first few months as I adjusted to my new life. But when everything was said and done there was something freeing about finding out who I was as an adult independent of my family.

    I returned home after 10 years and when I did I was able to do so on my terms. I could occupy the places of my youth without being defined by my youth. Coming home was one of the best decisions that I have ever made. That being said, I could never be as comfortable an adult as I am in my home city without the time I spent ‘away’.

    Maybe someday you will go home. I wonder how that would be for you. I wonder how long you have been in Toronto. I wonder if it could grow on you.

    • I love what you said about going back home on your own terms. I have yet to be able to define my own terms for being home. I’m fortunate enough to be able to visit my family twice year, and I still struggle with that concept. Away from home I’m a fully accountable, independent individual. When I go back home I find myself trying to fulfill people’s expectations of me as a daughter, sister, or wife. There’s a kind of satisfaction to the learned helplessness in a way but there’s a greater satisfaction to knowing that I can leave after a short period of time and become just myself again. I understand that sometimes we compromise for the people we love but it’s tough not to become resentful after a while, which is why I’m thankful for being away in more ways than one.

  3. Oh Saffron Twist, SO glad to have you here among the Mothers S, and absolutely thrilled to read more. Though I have never been to Bahrain nor to Toronto, I completely relate to what you’ve worked out here. I think that leaving your home and family — not in the more superficial sense of going off to college, say, or getting your own place, but really truly deciding to live in a completely different manner, really up and leaving the path you were on and bushwhacking for a bit until you find (or build!) another path — is a brave and risky thing. For one, it requires you to examine and redefine your priorities, your values even — which is both scary and liberating. I love that you say that in Toronto you lack your familiar ‘index of appropriate behavior.’ This is something that is often on my mind: if we don’t like the models we have, how do we teach ourselves a new way to live?

    What Flapper Pie said above about finding out who she is independent of her family made me think (again) about the question of community, and what happens to our community when we change.

    So looking forward to more, SF!

    • It’s strange in a sense to not have models for the way we behave. It really does force me to examine all those social norms that we hold so highly back home but also appreciate that those rules, as ridiculous as they may seem at times, made life so much easier. It also gives us such a harsh standard to judge people by, which is not something you want to carry with you. I think being so far away forced me to not be such a harsh judge of others and in turn try to be more lenient with how i judge myself. It’s a learning curve.

      I loved writing this because it forced me to re-examine things that I thought I had totally worked out or never given much thought to, to begin with. Hearing your (and others) input also gives me a very different perspective from the feedback I hear from my own community.

  4. Saffron Twist, I know what a risk this was to write this post. And as others have said, the risks you’ve taken to move (for love, lets not kid ourselves), to a whole new place, to risk making good on all that you’ve wanted and swore you would have if given have the chance, these are huge! If you think about it, it’s really remarkable, which doesn’t mean it’s easy. But maybe it will fuel you to keep going. Funny, how in some ways moving across the world was easier than getting out and walking the sidewalks in handing that application. Very proud of you.

    • I laughed at your comment about moving for love. The cynic in me begs to differ because of the perfect storm that led me into coming here. But it was a decision ultimately made for love, easier than any other one that I’ve made. It’s also definitely easier than pounding the pavements.

      Thank you! Sometimes you also have to take a risk when betting on other’s expectations of you. I’m glad that there are people that I haven’t as yet disappointed.

  5. I agree with BZ that the choices you’ve made are remarkable. Sometimes I think that moving away is a bit like jumping into cold water. Once the decision is made you’ve no choice once you hit the water but to sink or swim. In my experience, swimming requires equally the same amount of courage (if not more!) because it goes on, day after day, and like BH said… TO can be cold!!

    “One of the worst parts about growing up is realizing that day-dreaming won’t change any of the decisions you’ve made and won’t make the decisions that you should make any easier. And the absolute worst part is the realization that you need to make those decisions so you don’t end up blaming other people for them.”

    Too true! Very wise words, ST.

    “It was in that time that I learned what the phrase, ‘cutting the apron strings,’ meant. For me it was about growing up and becoming my own person. That being said I do remember crying frequently in the first few months as I adjusted to my new life. But when everything was said and done there was something freeing about finding out who I was as an adult independent of my family.”

    I liked these thoughts from FP too.

    For me, it’s been a real balancing act (and not always a successful one I might add) maintaining close connections with the people and places that matter in life, while making room for new people and places that one day might matter just as much. Having the courage to make the decisions you need to “so you don’t end up blaming other people” is both courageous and compassionate. Some people never reach that point in life – they stay victims forever. You’ll never know whether you’re “doing it right” but just making those decisions at all is a kind of victory, I think.

    Oh, and BEZ taught me how to make rice and her method has been pretty much foolproof so call her and ask her for the details!

    Welcome, Saffron Twist, I’m so glad you’ve joined us! Can’t wait to hear more from you. 🙂

    • I really appreciate what you said about “making those decisions being a kind of victory”. I come from such a closely knit community that everybody has a say in how you live your life, to the point that I felt that I was being guided in a way to make my decision to move. When I did make that decision, it took me a while to realize, that regardless of those opinions and this almost childlike urge to rebel against the norm that I ultimately made that decision, which was extremely satisfying. I could only stop being a victim when I admitted that to myself. I also agree with you about “doing it right”. Being away means being free to make my own mistakes and pick up the pieces without the scrutiny. There’s something so freeing about being able to take a risk and being your only judge.

      I’ll be sure to ask BEZ about how she makes her rice. I’m getting tired of pretending that the mostly mushy stuff I’m making is fit for human consumption!

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