Friday, September 7, 2018

That time when home feels more strange than away

Me and my dad, Larry, on his birthday. 
There are a million great things that have come into my life ever since I left Canada for the UAE more than 10 years ago – a trip I thought might last a year or two, tops.

I've been aware that the experience has altered me totally and completely for most of the time to varying degrees. (I often liken those first few months to having my personality disintegrate, and then the rest of the year as me rebuilding it into something I could vaguely recognise. It's something else, leaving one life and building a whole other one for yourself.)

For a long time time I've felt as if I have feet in both the Middle East and Canada, but at the same time, nowhere and everywhere. I try not to wonder what would have happened if I didn't leave, because it goes nowhere, and anyway, generally I've decided the million and one crazy-cool experiences I've had, the financial gains, the career advancements and let's not forgot the array of friends make up for any stability I forsook when I upped stakes on Ottawa, Canada.

But this trip. This trip home. I'm a freelancer and my own boss now – more on that story later – and due to work volume I was stuck in the UAE heat for most of the summer. So I decided I would come home for almost a month and work remotely. It's a long time to be out of your life, that's for sure, so probably one reason for how I'm feeling.

It's been great. I took my 8-year-old niece and 6-year-old nephew away up north to a cottage for the weekend, just us three with some of my university friends, was there for their first day of school, partied with my brother and took my dad out for beer and snacks on his birthday.

I also have a palpable sense that this time I have crossed over into a sense of "other" that is very profound. I always joke that I'm like Balki from Perfect Strangers when I come home, befuddled by debit machines and ringing up my own groceries and even pumping my own gas. But now I feel like Balki emotionally too. Like, nothing is making any sense. Why is everyone renovating their perfectly nice, perfectly-sized houses? Why are some of my friends talking about retirement? Why don't people seem happy? Why is everything so expensive? Why do the buses have giant ads on them promoting snooping services? Why does every second woman have semi-permanent fake eyelashes? Why is everyone wearing workout clothes? Why do people have remote control golf carts? Why are there so many massage therapy centers? Why am I not interested in any of the news in my hometown newspaper, the one I was dying to work at for several years at the start of my career? Why do I have zero answers, after all this time, when everyone asks me "do you know when you think you are coming home"?

I do know my dad has taught the work "inshallah" to all his golf buddies, and now they say it all the time when they are taking a shot, except he taught it to them wrong and they "ahhhshalla" and when I dropped him off this morning one of his buddies yelled it at me happily and I cracked up.

Basically I have gained a decade of worldly experience by packing it all in for the unknown: 40-plus countries, wild adventure, love, deep learning, a total metamorphosis and some betrayal and heartbreak thrown in for good measure. Sure, Canada seems weird to me. So does the UAE. That's just the way it's going to be, I think. And as for my head? Well I've learned enough, and experienced enough, to realize that I know nothing and I question everything.

Pretty good investment, I'd say. And that's really all I'm sure of.

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