Born in London
Father from Zanzibar
Mother from Pakistan
Spent 20+ years in Dubai and another 5+ years in Saudi Arabia
The above is a cognitive structure of where I am from. Or as I refer to myself whenever someone asks, as a “cocktail”. It proves to be quite the icebreaker and a great way to ease someone into my complicated answer.
Back in 1996 when I was in secondary school, a teacher asked me where I was from. Taking stock from my passport, I said I was British. Clearly that was not the answer she was looking for. She further prodded and innocently I replied London. Again, not what she was looking for. She kept digging and asking where my parents were from. After hearing that my mother was from Pakistan, she deemed to have found the appropriate answer. I didn’t understand it at the time but I felt isolated at that point. My skin colour and passport colour simply did not match, nor had any room to co-exist at that moment.
I am fond of being British. Despite the weather and the sometimes-imperfect political system, there is a lot to be proud of. Unfortunately, I am still called to question where I am from. Not so much now but still the doubt lurks in the shadows.
I live in a great place called Dubai – situated in the United Arab Emirates. I have been here since 1990 and besides a brief 5-year spell in the UK; this has been my home. I do not think I will ever belong here. Which is fine. But for now this is home. However if I am not from where my passport says I am, and I am not from here, then where?
As a child a lot of my holidays were centred on spending time with my cousins in Karachi. I never felt a sense of belonging there. It was convenient, fun and a not-so-expensive getaway. I don’t speak Urdu, I am not a big fan of the food (chilli’s are a no go area for me), and I am clueless about Pakistan history and culture.
My grandfather hails from Zanzibar, just off the coast of Tanzania. I have been there as a baby but my only memory of visiting it was in 1994. I do want to go again, sooner rather then later, but again no sense of belonging.
This comes back round to the UK. If ever the proverbial s*** hits the fan and I need to find refuge, it would be there. Why? Well where else? My sister stays there and my dad has a house there. I am familiar and comfortable with London. But as that is not my current situation or a scenario that I see in my near future it begs the question of who am I? Because isn’t knowing where I am from, as important as knowing who I am?
The answer is no longer yes. Migration and foreign opportunities have meant 220 million of us are staying away from where we were born. That’s not a small number. Marriages are now between people like myself. We will have kids whose own question of who am I only grows more complicated.
I guess the question of who am I may no longer be where I was born; where I live; where I want to live; where I see my children growing up. Who am I then? Well for me I am my goals. I am my dreams. I am a husband. I am a friend. My passport is great but this question that as a child I shied away from so much is something we should embrace.
It is an eternally beautiful complicated question.