Saturday, November 7, 2009

At Home With Homelessness

Back in the 80s, I was a skinny teenager with long brown hair and oversized, rolled-up tees. Home was the only place I was born in, grew up in, and went back to everyday.

Then came the 90s and we moved to the other side of the Nile. It felt like my whole world as I knew it had ended; though it was just a few minutes’ drive away. I don’t remember that I liked the move that much. I thought I had lost my home, my friends. But in reality, all I lost was the rolled up tee.

But I do remember that a couple of years later, I slowly grew attached to my new hood and with all the confidence a twenty-year-old can master, I called it home. By then, I was wearing tight fitting tees and low rise pants. The hair was still the same.

Then I met my husband and decided to spend the next two decades at least, roaming the world with him. The prospect of living abroad seemed fascinating. When he proposed, the prospect turned into a much anticipated reality. Then we got married…and reality hit!
I had physically relocated with him to Indonesia but the rest of me stayed firmly rooted back home.

“Home is where we both decide to live for the moment.” He would try to convince me after every emotional meltdown. I still remember the sneers I gave back, the snappy comments. Home was exactly where I had left it, I would reply; thousands of miles and oceans away. It was where my friends and family were and life there was moving on… without me.

Then came the 00s and we moved to New York City. I was warned: you can never be neutral about the City. You will either love it or absolutely hate it.

It didn’t take long to fall in love…with New York.

I eagerly started to grow some roots and shoot them downwards to establish a solid foundation for my new-found home. The tees were out and camisoles took their place. Surprisingly the hair style survived yet another move.

I went to school for my graduate studies. I started a family and had two lovely boys. I made friends. This was home, I was sure. This was where my family was created. This was where true memories were made.

Then we moved to Jordan.

Now, if you’ve never been to Jordan, it would be hard for you to understand. It was the best place to raise a family, pursue a promising career and make some wonderful friends who, like me, brought along various parts of the world they lived in. I called it home. My kids did too. My husband was too wise to get attached.

We moved again.

“Home is where our family is,” I tell my kids now. They both shake their heads and give me the SAS…silent angry stare.

My 6-year-old refers to his future by saying: “When we’re done with NY… .” and My 4 year-old simply wants to go back in time. He’s still too young to understand the concept of a future. Let alone a future of homelessness.

So we have no real home. Every place we left behind has changed. People have moved on. We’re strangers when we go back. We’re strangers when we move forward.

I looked the word up in a dictionary hoping to find a definition for Home that would suit my lifestyle. A definition I could share with my boys to help them cope. There were at least ten options, none could define our lives.

So last night I looked at my son from the rear view mirror of my car, tucked my still-long brown hair under my ears and I answered his question.

We don’t really have a home the way your friends do. We are homeless people! We don’t need roots to survive. We’re campers and we’re explorers and if we spread a map on the wall and put photos of all the friends we make along the way, we will feel quite at home with our homelessness.


  1. Laila, you have great passion, and it makes you unique, special. will keep reading, so keep writing.

  2. Laila you are a great writer - I can't relate at all to your situation (I spend lots of time saving money so I can travel maybe once a year) but your writing made me feel your pain. I can't believe that there's no support group for other people in your situation - but maybe your blog can be a first step to creating one to remedy that situation.

  3. Laila,
    Great piece! Very touching and engaging. I think it's my favorite thus far.

  4. Laila,

    Reading these accounts always educates me more and more about the thoughts, feelings, fears and emotions you harbor deep down inside about the manifestations of the life we lead. While as your husband, we may live through, appreciate and share these "rootless life" experiences on a daily basis, understandably they affect us in very different ways and so the way we cope with them is also very different. I know it is easier said than done but the only advice I can offer is to always look at how much richer we become with this worldly experience we derive as we move from one place to the next. We make new friends and still get to keep the old ones, we discover new places and learn about new cultures in a manner that is so much deeper and more meaningful then when one just travels through a place as we live and breathe these new experiences, it broadens our minds and in so doing it humbles us making us more appreciative rather than judging of so many other things we experience along the way. These are just some of the up sides of this rootless life we have chosen for ourselves, and I think a perspective that looks at the glass always half full goes a long way in helping to keep our eye on the ball. This is my 2 ccents worth. From this eternal optimist of a husband of yours.

  5. Laila,
    Tho' I haven't been in the chat rooms, I've been trying to keep up with some of the writing. Now I'll post some posts-- and some comments, starting with your blog.
    You know, I find your way of talking about this roaming experience to be thoughtful, engaging and poignant. I am extremely sentimental -- not just about people, but about places and possessions . . . not for what they are worth, but because of whose they were, the memories they engender. My son no longer plays w/ his "friends" (stuffed animal menagerie) but I still know the names we gave them 15 yrs ago.
    All by way of saying that I admire the strength you demonstrate. Perhaps it doesn't feel as if you're doing anything "admirable." But to me it looks pretty damn difficult to be a "trailing spouse" (great label, huh. I read it in a story about diplomats' wives. . ).I don't know if doing it w/young kids makes it easier or harder.

  6. Thank you for opening the doors to a flood of literature on "trailing wives", it's not just a great label, it's a great blog name, maybe my sequel if I survive this one :) At least Diplomats get to go home between posts, we don't. I'm not sure if that's better or worse but I can tell you that it used to be easier before the kids.