Six months ago I came across Pico Iyer’s TED 2013 talk titled “Where is home?” A big fan of Pico Iyer myself after reading his book The Man Within My Head, I could not resist spending 15 minutes of my time indulging his thoughts about the idea of home.
As someone who finds herself often meditating on the meaning of home, I have discovered the joy of traveling and discovering new places. There is an excitement that I get when I meet new people, make new friends from different ethnicities, countries and faiths, and most importantly living and visiting new places. I have had a hard time for a while to pick the right definition for home.
Yes, all of us can easily define home as the normal concept of family and friends, brothers and sisters, neighbors and coworkers but I can’t help to define it as experiences that define who I am today. Whether it was living as a foreigner with my family in a small city like Doha, Qatar for fourteen years of my life growing up, making friends, learning a different dilate of the Arabic language and experiencing a country full of potential rising up and reaching to the stars, while struggling with the fact that I miss Egypt so much and blame my parents for not letting us live there instead, or moving back as a teenager to my beloved Alexandria, Egypt where the smell of the Mediterranean Sea and its fresh air was something that gave me hope and energy every morning as I go to school and work. Alexandria was full of all my firsts – my first car, my first group of real friends, my first surgery, my first one on one special time with my grandfather, and my first and eternal love that changed my life forever and took me to places that I never thought of going to.
As life went along and took me and my little family to cities and states across America at an early stage of our lives, I could not help myself from missing my home country, my family, my sister, and my two brothers. Nor could I forget my mother’s grape leaves, stuffed cabbage, and warm heart, my friends, the Bibliotheca Alexandrina that I helped build and was so proud and honored to be part of that legacy. Unfortunately, sometimes I get to miss the weddings, the baby showers and the funerals. I miss the happy moments and the sad moments, but that did not prevent me from being there, connected and effective no matter where life has taken me. Whether it took me to a rented bedroom in a house in Fairfax, Virginia, a fancy hotel room in Houston, Texas where we spent our honey moon and attending a conference at the same time with my husband, a small apartment in Annandale, Virginia where I had my first baby, a small cubicle office in Washington D.C. where I had my first job, a small beach house in Miami, Florida where we had our first family vacation, a student dorm room in the University of British Columbia where I attended my first conference, a hotel room in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania where I attended my second conference as a speaker for the first time or even a permanent home in Lake Forest, California where we create memories, overcome challenges and share love and faith that there is always something exciting coming up.
I see home the same way Pico Iyer sees it “the place I stand” not just the place I sleep.
Personally, I try to be always present in the moment, live in the now and leave the future to worry about itself. Thus, when I am somewhere, I am there with my full being and when I go away, I take advantage of every single experience no matter how small it is, because these experiences made who I am today and will continue to shape who I am going to be in the future.
Whether it is a small conversation in a little coffee shop with a random person who I will probably never meet again, a work related meeting, a fancy gala dinner, a visit to Disneyland with my kids or the very exciting moments when my oldest son held his hand stand for almost six minutes, my younger one winning a national championship and my daughter doing her first ballet show. I could not help but cry from happiness like all mums do, but this is when I finally realized that even though we are not physically at home as most people think and ask us that it should be hard, but this is when I feel that my family is happy and those experiences is what I call home.
Even though I have been moving from a place to another throughout my life, I have taken advantage of this movement and treated it as a fantastic privilege. I know that it allowed me to do so much that I could never have dreamed of doing.
So to me, home is the experiences that add to who you are and how great it is to be “absent present,” rather than being “present absent” in those experiences.
Photo at top: Essraa Nawar pictured with her husband, Hesham El-Askary, Ph.D., professor of earth system science and remote sensing at Chapman, and their three children, clockwise from top right, Hania, Seif and Mohamed.