“I’d say ‘Welcome home’ but I know this isn’t home to you anymore.”
Wrong, Joel. It’s still home.
For years I trained overseas employees, warning them that the best way to derail their cultural adjustment was to go back “home” before their 2-year anniversary on an overseas assignment. I should have followed my own advice and not come back here now.
4 weeks ago, as my husband drove me to the Dubai airport I had a sudden urge to call this whole trip off. I didn’t understand it at the time. But I see now that I was afraid I wouldn’t want to go back after coming “home”. We’ve met a lot of people this past year – people from all over the world. People who’ve lived in Dubai for a lot longer than we have. And everyone we know goes “home” every year. Because the desert is not a place to put down roots.
When I stepped off the plane in Washington DC I had an experience I’ve never had in my 54 years of moving and travelling – my feet felt different as I stepped onto U.S. soil and I almost cried as I thought, “I’m home”.
Walking towards customs, there were 2 signs: “US citizens” and “non-US citizens”, with arrows pointing us in 2 different directions. The people in both lines looked the same: all kinds of faces, many races, various colors, classes and ages, all standing in a long line after a long flight, headed for somewhere. As I looked around at the people in line with me, I couldn’t help it – I cried – as I thought, “These are my people”.
When I arrived in the U.S. and it was my turn to be inspected by the officer in Washington D.C. a smiling young man looked at my passport and greeted me saying, “You’ve been gone a long time! Welcome home! And have a happy birthday next week!”
Everyone everywhere is looking for that same sense of belonging and shared identity. That’s very evident in Dubai. All kinds of people are born there. People from all over the world continue to go there. But no one really seems to belong to the place. People huddle in ethnic and language groups; they live in neighborhoods designed and built for “their people”; they work in jobs assigned according to country of origin. And eventually most of them leave.
But as I’ve shared meals with old friends here, I’ve thought about Carrie’s fabulous dinner parties and thoughtful conversations over coffee with Dawn and Christine. As I’ve worshipped with my big church family in Madison, I realize I miss singing, laughing and praying with my little choir in Dubai. As I’ve delighted in the beauty of autumn leaves, I remember with delight mornings with Dorett and afternoons with Nick & Jane.
I confess I don’t love Dubai as a city. But I do love the people I’ve met there. And the life we’re beginning to create in this unique city.
On the way to the U.S. 4 weeks ago I thought perhaps nowhere was “home” for me right now. But today I know that I belong wherever there are people I love and who love me. So today I leave home to go home.