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HOME LOCAL MIDEAST ASIA WORLD BUSINESS SPORT OPINION WRITERS
Sara Al Mheiri: No Place like Home
November 28, 2014
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I was so tired. Actually tired doesn’t even do justice to how I felt. I was exhausted, drained and ready to pass out right there. Pressing the button to summon the elevator was the equivalent to pushing a giant rock uphill. The people standing next to me were peering at me, wondering whether to call security or carry me to my bed. I looked like a mess. My left eye fought the battle bravely against staying awake but lost miserably.  The harsh wind blew my hair up into an unruly mess and dried out my skin. My lips were cracked and hoarsely crying out for some lip balm. And now I only had one eye barely open.

After what seemed like eternity, I heard the magical sound that only heaven can produce: A ding. The doors creaked open slowly as the light shined through. The last ounce of energy my body stored was used in shoving the people aside and running inside. I didn’t notice until later that the man I pushed aside was an Arab. I am more than 90 per cent sure he was from Saudi Arabia. Usually I wouldn’t notice and if I did, I didn’t care too much. But the minute I walked into that elevator, I was slapped in the face. Not by him, but by the aftermath he left inside the elevator. It was the distinct smell of bukhoor mixed with chicken and rice.

My fellow Americans who never grew up with this smell, their reaction was exactly what one would expect; scrunched up noses and looks of disgust. A few were even holding their breath
My fellow Americans who never grew up with this smell, their reaction was exactly what one would expect; scrunched up noses and looks of disgust. A few were even holding their breath. But turn your head a few degrees to the left and you would see me, leaning in the corner with a face of absolute bliss. All that exhaustion and tension just disappeared with each whiff. The last person left the elevator and there I was, still trying to consume as much air as I could.

Not until that moment did I realise how much I missed Dubai. My home. When I moved to America three years ago, I was an eighteen-year-old who had never been more excited in her life. My American friends often recall the early days and point out how, even in the photographs, you can see my eyes shinning and my smile was always the widest. I wanted to take in as much as possible and truly experience America. To do this, I rudely pushed everything aside.

I am so ashamed and embarrassed about how I did it. How I refused to befriend any Arab or go to any Arab restaurants. I wanted to immerse myself into the American culture and that is what I did.

Looking back, even though it was hurtful, I don’t think I would have appreciated the UAE as much as I do now. And as the months passed, you could see my eyes shinning a little less and my smile growing a little stronger.

The littlest things now make my heart pang and mentally I started to count down the days till I was back, standing on a road covered by sand and not wretched ice. Things such as the smell of bukhour or Indian food (that’s as close as I’ll get to biryani) wafting in the streets of New York. I even appreciate the stereotypical images of Arabs such as shisha and camels because it helps remind me of home.

In the midst of this bustling city, filled with noise and lights, my mind would be buzzing with stress about the latest test result, or how much snow is going to hit the city tomorrow. Instead, my mind will wander off to the sweet memories of driving to JBR with my best friends, blasting music and drinking chai karak. Or sitting on the ground at my grandmother’s house surrounded by all my uncles, aunts and cousins as they pass along plates and share stories. Or how everyone synched as one during the month of Ramadan, whether they were Arab, Iranian or Indian, everyone’s house suddenly became your house.

I miss walking through the old souks as my mother recounted stories of her childhood. I miss my culture and I especially miss the unconditional love everyone felt for one another. Everyone talks about how ‘nice’ the Americans are. And they are. But to me, no one will be as caring and helpful as your fellow Emirati.

Excuse me whilst I go dry my eyes and book my flight back home. That 14-hour direct flight doesn’t seem so bad now.
 
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Sara Al Mheiri is a young Emirati woman who is currently living
in Boston, USA, where she is specialising in media studies with a
focus on women's studies. Sara is the ultimate nomad who flits
between countries observing new societies and their culture.
 
 

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