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"Can't Leave, Can't Stay" Syndrome

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Opinion Homeless Diversity Arab Migrants

Wednesday 22 May 202410:06 am
إقرأ باللغة العربية:

متلازمة "لا قدرانة فلّ ولا قدرانة إبقى"


I no longer know my loved ones, nor do they know me. What stays with me is the version of them from just before I left. I departed with just a passport in my suitcase, one that allowed me to travel after a thousand obstacles and feelings of shame. No matter how much you believe that this small booklet doesn't determine a person's position on the dignity scale, you'll find yourself compelled, under the policies of the world's airports, to comply and bow your head, no matter how proud you are. All I carried was that suitcase, some cash, and the thought of my loved ones, as I knew them in my mind.

After the airport (if you're one of the lucky ones), because even in exile and asylum there are "favorites and outcasts," whether you are one or the other, you will be separated from those closest to you, just as you were separated from them the first time after the umbilical cord was cut. In both cases, there is no difference in the intensity or severity of the tears, except that in the first, it is done unconsciously. Then begins the journey of diving into the seas of emotions and the depths of the self, and sometimes you float to the surface after finding yourself and having kind people around you.

Before I went abroad, I thought the matter was merely geographic. But unfortunately, it is not just that; it is a state of spiritual loss. We find ourselves strangers to our own homelands and strangers to those closest to us, no matter how many daily voice and video calls we make.

Only then does the expatriate begin to realize that there are ways to fill their void, whether through travel, nightlife, or even through excessive overconsumption... among other ways.

The main thing is that after exile, we live in a somewhat complex state, one beyond the understanding of doctors and therapists in our land of diaspora. A difficult state known as the "If I return, I'll go mad; if I leave you, I'll suffer. Can't leave, can't stay" syndrome, and we ask Fairuz to forgive us for borrowing this phrase.

Many who seek asylum or become expats, estranged from their families, homeland, and dreams, suffer from this condition.

We end up living in a somewhat complex state, one beyond the understanding of doctors and therapists in our land of diaspora. It is a difficult state known as the "If I return, I'll go mad; if I leave, I'll suffer. Can't leave, can't stay" syndrome, and we ask Fairuz to forgive us for borrowing this phrase.

The symptoms of this condition are difficult and many – most manifest while in bed and can be felt in the stomach. The condition deteriorates after calls with the friends and family we’ve left behind, and especially after being asked the usual, "How's everything? Tell me how you're doing?"

Before I went abroad, I thought it would merely be a geographic, spatial, and temporal separation. But unfortunately, it is more; it is a state of spiritual loss. We find ourselves strangers to our own homelands and strangers to those closest to us, no matter how many daily voice and video calls, which do not compensate for our need to have them around, to share in our joys and sorrows.

When we find ourselves alone in a land far from home, we realize that we have lost something that we do not know, in the people closest to us.

The questions multiply with each day that goes by, especially after one secures residency and begins to gain stability, becoming integrated. One of the most pressing questions for me is: Have I changed, or have they? And is this change the result of a shift in personalities or in circumstances?

This question tickles the depths of my heart, as I dig deep into memories of my loved ones to search for the answer. This inner dilemma might be the inevitable result of living far from home, imposed by time, a new place and different companions, or it might also result from personal growth. But we find ourselves alone in a land far from home and realize that we have lost more than we know, in the people closest to us. We find ourselves trapped in stages and phases of change and growth, and we no longer know our old selves, nor do we know our loved ones the way we thought we did, but we still hold onto what we once knew, and eternal love.

I no longer know my loved ones, nor do they know me.

Exile here represents an inner journey more than a physical one. It is a journey towards the self, a journey towards a deeper understanding of our essence, of who we are, and a journey that forces you to become your own family. Depending on the situation, you switch on your maternal side when in need of affection or love, play the paternal role when your home develops an electrical fault, and embody a sibling when you need a hug that makes you forget about being strong, even if just for a few seconds. A neighbor to yourself and your new neighbor, where you share food, tears, secrets, and a bit of rebellion against white society’s rules, and you sit on the bed and chat all night without having pencilled this time in any calendars or agendas.

I am one of those who emigrated young. No matter how knowledgeable we were, or how enriched with our social and cultural values and customs, we left our motherlands before learning to be muwajjab, or obliged. Such obligations are one of the pillars on which our interconnected community is built, and we must practice them to succeed in building relationships with Arab families abroad. They aid when facing our estrangement from the homeland, and only with them do we have a share in weddings and gatherings, and in "I saved this dish for you, come on over," besides them being metaphorical family here.

With every day, the questions multiply for the expat, especially after one secures residency and begins to work on gaining stability and becoming integrated in their new home. I often wonder, who has changed most after all these years? Have I changed, or have they?

Before leaving, visits to sweets and florists used to go unnoticed; I never paid attention to what color flower is given in the event of illness, or which type of baklava is served at which feast. Now, I am the one who invites and chooses to stand by his chosen brother in illness: What should I give this person? What should I say upon entering his house?

Over time, after many "Why did you go through the trouble to bring this? You shouldn't have!" remarks, I found myself seeking solace from TV shows and friends older than me, borrowing their words and style in congratulatory phrases and phone calls, or in inviting people at the door.

On the phone: "Hello Auntie, congratulations on the new arrival, may she grow up in your grace, I’d like to do my duty and come congratulate you."

At the confectionery store: "Hello mister. I don’t know what they bring or what to say, can you pick something for me, I'm going to congratulate someone on a new baby. They are a family of five, and also, can you tell me what to say when I enter the house?"

And so, we become somewhat muwajjabin, ensuring our sense of belonging to a similar community despite being far from home.

We will love here and there, we will love from here and from there, and we will miss them more for who they were before our travels became frequent and many.

In the end, after many meetings and encounters with my fellow expatriates and refugees, we can be categorized into two types. While one seeks to fill the void with endless projects and self-entertainment, the other surrenders to the bitter reality, allowing the local derogatory view of refugees or expatriates to imprison them in their body. Despite all the pain caused by the split and estrangement, for both parties, there is one painkiller that helps: discovering new parts of the self and forming new relationships that revive the spirit and once again bring feelings of tenderness and affection.

We will love here and there, we will love who’s here and who’s there, and we will miss them more for who they were before our travels became frequent and many.

In the end, remember that this was the path given to us, we were meant to be from a sad geographical spot, which despite all its sorrows, is beautiful. And we are somewhat forced to live with the syndrome of "If I return, I'll go mad; if I leave, I'll suffer. I can't leave, and I can't stay," because we have no other choice but to continue the journey. Despite the pain that may accompany us, we can be a little harsher and love ourselves a bit more, and allow this estrangement to play its role in shaping us, in toughening our skin, because estrangement is not for those with delicate skins.

Blessed are we and all those who are forced to be far from home.


* The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Raseef22


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