Plaxo Badge

About Me

My photo
Vancouver, Washington, United States
Click here To read a short biography of myself.

Subjects covered:

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Reflections on being an immigrent

“ملّيت أنا ملّيت من الغربة, وتعبت من الترحال ... وقاسيت حياة صعبة وقضيت ليالي طوال”.

These are words from a song called “mallait” sung by Warda Aldjazairia.  I’ve been looking for this song since 1992 when I first heard it on an Arabic radio station on Shortwave shortly after I migrated to the United States.  I haven’t heard it ever since, and I managed to find it yesterday by pure coincidence.

It was a beautiful song when I first heard it, but now it’s much more than that – it’s a reflection of so many of my sentiments and those of numerous others in my shoes.  I remember playing it early in the morning yesterday and nearly crying.  It was so easy to listen to in 1992 back when life was simple and when my knowledge of the world around me was quite limited.  Now I can only marvel about the complexity of the song and its lyrics.  The music, however, is still as beautiful now as it was then – perhaps even more.  Click here to download and listen to the song.

“I’m so fed up of being away from home, and I’m so weary of my numerous travels.  I have lived a tough life, and suffered so many sleepless nights”.

The lines above struck a chord with me, but I’d like to believe that with wisdom, faith, endurance and toughness I’ve been able to get over them.  It’s the next few lines that hit me like a ton of bricks.  They have always been true, still are, and I have a feeling that they’ll always be:

“من غير حبايبنا, أيه يسوى تغريبنا, وأن كان معانا المال ... دحنا في غربتنا, لو لحظة تعبتنا, تبان همومنا جبال".

Translated, they read:  “What’s being away from our loved ones worth, even if we have so much money, for if one little setback faces us, it always seems like mountains”.

Whether you like it or not, being extracted from your home, your childhood, your family and your loved ones places a huge burden upon your shoulders.  You will always carry the burden, and though your body might get used to it, you only need to add a straw to be reminded of its heavy weight.

The song goes on to say:

"الحلم خدنا معاه, وسافرنا ورا دنياه, وصحينا ولقيناه, حلم وسراب وخيال".

Translated: “the dream seduced us and took us with it, and we traveled and ran after it, and when we woke up, we realized it was an illusion, a mirage, a mere fantasy”.

I wondered about that for a long time.  When I came to America, I had a lot of dreams.  I dreamed of glory, money, status, happiness, and a life full of excitement.  While I’m proud of all that I’ve achieved, I often wonder if it’s worth the price I’m paying?  The fact of the matter is, I miss my family, I miss our neighbors, I miss my childhood friends, and I want to be with them so desperately.  The passion of such longing lights an ever lasting fire in my heart, and I have yet to learn how to extinguish it.

Though we are not from the same country, the singer and I come from the same part of the world and share a similar culture.  Despite the economic, political or social problems which plague this part of the world, the concept of community and roots is very strong.  Your roots are your family, your parents, your neighbors who cared for you just as your parents did, and your childhood which bonded you to them and to so many others.  Our countries were small, and you therefore scarcely moved, thus giving you the opportunity to experience the true meaning of human bonding.  When you’re extracted all of a sudden, whether fleeing a hated condition or merely chasing a dream, you experience the pain of extraction first hand.  You experience an almost lethal type of loneliness, and you experience certain feelings hardly familiar to the average human being.  You make friends, but you wonder, as our singer does in the next few lines:

“مالناش هنا أحباب, ... مين يعشق الأغراب, ... ألا ألِّ له أسباب, مهما حلف أو قال".

Translated: “we have no one to love us here, for no one loves a stranger, except those who have their own reasons, no matter what they say and by whom they swear”.

This brought tears to my eyes.  I don’t know if it is true, but I’m terrified it may be!  I’d like to think that my relationships with people which I have developed over the years have been based on a mutual feeling of our common humanity and thus on love and respect for one another, but is that really true?  I’ve developed strong relationships with people for the sake of doing business, so business was the common interest.  Some of these relationships outlived the purpose for which they were formed.  Some bonds were formed because of attraction to a member of the opposite sex, and these are usually over when the attraction is over, assuming a life long bond wasn’t created, or one that was created later became broken.  

I can’t help but ask myself, What is it then, and how does it work!  Are you, at the end of the day, when all is said and done, are you just a stranger, a drifter, one who doesn’t belong?  Can relationships formed with people who do not know the meaning of bonding as you do sustain difficult times?  Isn’t this just part of growing up, regardless whether you left your homeland or not?

Perhaps the question is not so simple, especially when you start to look at relationships amongst people of the host culture in the context of the culture itself.  You cannot judge your relationships in that culture with your own standards, you have to judge it with theirs.  If that’s how they treat each other, and if they’re not treating you any differently, then they’re not treating you as a stranger!  While this enables me to put the relationship in context, and while it gives me great comfort, since it affirms my feeling of taking part in fair and equitable relationships where everyone is doing their best as they understand it to be, it still nevertheless doesn’t dispel my feelings of estrangement.  I cannot help but feel that these are cold and unrewarding relationships.  This is how it feels to me, but ironically enough, this is not what it is.  The problem is that I’m trying to play the game with my own rules, and when I fail to win because I couldn’t quite understand the new rules, I feel sad and broken especially since I was a master of the game when I played it with the rules I knew.

The last segment of the song says:

"آن الأوان يا زمان, نرجع على الأوطان, ناخدها بالأحضان, دَالبعد عنها ضناء".

Translated: “Now the time has come to go back to the homeland, hug it and take it in our arms, for being away from it is like an unquenched thirst”.

Those lines used to invoke strong emotions when I first heard the song 14 years ago, but now they bring tears.  The painful conclusion I had to drive into the inner dungeons of my conscience was that the homeland disappears off the map the minute you leave it.  I know that this is very difficult to understand to those who have never left their homeland or to those who left but never attempted to return, but I assure you it is the truth, the painful truth and nothing but the truth.

The fact is that the world never ever stops, no matter where we are and what we do.  While wrapped up in our own affairs, we forget that the world doesn’t stop for others just the same.  Your family, childhood friends, the neighbors, the people you bonded with all went their own way.  The neighbors you knew moved away, grew old or died.  The little ones you left crawling grew to become adults, and the adults you left became old.  Each and everyone gained a different understanding of life through their own, often dissimilar, experiences, and without sufficient communication as there is when distances are not so vast, you grow apart without even being conscious of it.

When you leave, you leave with a certain image of the homeland which stays frozen in your mind through out the years of your absence.  As you start to experience the pain of being away, this image becomes idealized, such that you only retain the wonderful things you used to love, and forget the things which drove you away.  Similarly, those whom you leave remember you the way you were when you left, and your image is frozen in their minds just the same.  When you go back, you’re looking forward to finding the home you’ve been missing throughout your years of absence.  When your people see you, they remember the person who left them so many years ago.  The disappointment is sometimes mutual when you do not find the homeland you left, and when those who were waiting for you see a different person than the one they were desperately missing.  Compounded by the overwhelming realization that home is not the ideal place you dreamed it up to be, the experience of going back may prove to be quite difficult.

For anyone who leaves home for an extended amount of time, it is difficult to define home anymore.  For an immigrant, it is even more difficult, since they have to struggle to reach that definition.  Whether people end up staying in their newly adopted country as I’ve done and making it home, or whether they go back as I tried to do, the strong emotions and sentiments expressed in this song will always be there, keeping a supply of tears just below the surface, waiting to burst whenever an event, a word, a poem or a song strikes a chord and touches that sensitive nerve which you often forgot existed.


  1. Asalam ALiekum
    I also live away from my homeland and sometimes miss it terribly. Especially as I put up with the "Arab" (no offense) way of life. However I have been taught this life is fleeting all including me belong to Allah. Try to turn to Him. Your home is with Allah. I know this is hard because I struggle to live by that when I get fustrated by the schools, traffic, or the service at Dubai Airport. Because when you go to your real home it will be better then you imagined. Insha Allah

  2. I think the interaction between the immigrents and the hosts in a host culture is always going to be full of challenges. When you are away from home, you are away from home, and this alone sets dynamics in motion which are sometimes hard to predict. Thank you my friend for your comment and may you find nothing but happiness and success in your life.