“The ache for home lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.” – Maya Angelou
I miss the Middle East. So incredibly much. This would seem quite odd to most people given the horrendous ordeal I had there. I’ve often wondered if I’m the only person who has experienced this feeling about a place where you have been stuck in a nightmare. Perhaps it is some variation of Stockholm Syndrome, although I was hardly taken hostage or held captive – even if it did feel like it at times. Despite and because of that, it became my home…the place where my story began.
There are days when I crave the humidity because it felt like the thick, heavy air was the only thing holding me together. I would sit outside in the near 50-degree heat because it was the only way I felt like I wasn’t going to physically fall apart. I didn’t have anyone to hold or comfort me so I found that support in the fat, wet atmosphere instead. When I returned to Sydney I thought I was going to crumble into pieces and I started longing for the winter to return, thinking that if I wore layer upon layer I could somehow prevent my impending collapse.
I yearn to be standing in the middle of the desert. It’s where I can breathe and have a sense of true peace and connection to the entire universe. When I’m there, it is almost as if I have been transported to the very beginning of time, yet I am still present here and now. Everything becomes still – even sound. The desert is mysterious and otherworldly, yet it’s the single place on earth where I feel grounded.
Apart from the desert, the only calm I found amongst the chaos was the spellbinding melodies of the Call to Prayer. I would go out of my way to ensure I was somewhere I could hear it. I headed to malls or to the more traditional areas where I was surrounded by minarets – the bigger the mishmash of noises, the better. There is something mesmerising about the silence between the sounds. I still listen to it when I need to find some calm.
The sickening (and sometimes headache inducing) smell of oud in the air. The sound of stray cats begging for food. The wonderfully friendly Pakistani taxi drivers playing me their favourite song over and over. Giving way to camels crossing the road. The paradox of the extreme heat outside and the icy cold air inside. The constant fear of dying in a high-speed crash every time I was on the roads. Sand. Contradictions. Locals floating around in their abayas and dishdashas. These things are home to me.
I fought to get back to my family in Sydney with a strength and ferocity I didn’t know I had, and I will never forget how I felt when I safely cleared customs and saw my parents for the very first time in what seemed like an eternity. It was the most harrowing period of my life yet I long to be back there.
One day I will tell my story – the adventures, the heartbreak, the nightmare, and the joy. I’m not feeling quite that brave just yet so until then I will occasionally and tentatively take the odd peek at my photos, all the while longing to return home.