Om Kalthoum, Jasmine and Coffee

My friend explained to me today an idea he came across about cultural intelligence. In simple words, he said that humans have two levels of attributes; core and flex attributes. the core ones are the ones we believe that if we give up, we are no longer who we are, whereas the flex are the ones we are willing to negotiate or compromise.

My friend’s idea left me with some thoughts about what my core is. I left a big part of me in every house I lived in, but I was also lucky to be able carry parts of my houses everywhere I went. As an architect, think a lot of the three-dimensional space, I always check places around me and analyse how designers think when they build things. I evaluate and compose a silent opinion about everything. It is annoying sometimes, but it also makes me feel special in a way. However, I believe that the emotional and the sensual dimensions are more significant to the space. I am starting to recognise this in London, especially in evenings like this when I open my window and a breeze brings the smell of the rain into my brain, “oh God! This smells like our village” I think. then I realised that places also can travel 🙂 .. In moments like these, I play Om kalthoum and I can grow roots wherever I am.

Well, there might be three dimensions for a house and five dimensions for a home… I started to recognise the sensual dimension of our home from the moment I started to be aware of who I am. I remember that our house in Damascus smelled like a specific soap. that smell was home, until spring came, then the Jasmine blossomed, and our windows would always be wide open and our house smelled like jasmine all the time. Evenings and mornings smelled like a mixture of Jasmine, coffee, and lemon blossom.

Om kalthoum’s music takes me back to the time when I was six years old playing in the yard while my parents listened to her songs and had coffee near the Jasmine tree. Familiar music notes pile up, they hold each other to build walls and ceilings, they build a home, a womb where I hibernate. I remember that I used to dislike the music my parents listened to; Their taste made me think of them as old backward couple.  Tonight, I couldn’t spend an hour at a club with my friends. I told them I have to work tomorrow then returned home to play my parents’ “backward” music and grow my roots again. After seeking change for a long time, we then seek familiarity.

looking back now, back to my friend’s idea about cultural intelligence, I think my core is not made of big ideologies or beliefs, instead it is filled with om kalthoum (in relation to my family), jasmine, lemon blossom and coffee …

my favorite tailor

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It always impresses me how Picasso’s “La guernica” portraits me, and almost all of my close friends who have been through the same path more or less, except we look normal from the outside, the mess is only from the inside. I recognise how fragile my balance is when I can not engage in a conversation about how difficult it is to have your mother visit you over Easter while you have too much to study… my mom can’t visit me, that nice old lady will not see the beautiful red London buses or the stunning architecture. So yeah, I have more time to study; I will not have to be her tour guide in London, I will not take her to the Thames or London Eye. She will not see my room or the garden where I read my books.

My colleague was complaining how she doesn’t have time for her mom’s visit, while all I said was “Yeah, I know it must be difficult”, I showed a fake smile of sympathy and thought to myself, is it my fault that I don’t sympathise or that I get angry at this type of problems? I know that everyone is fighting their own battle, but why should my battle be this difficult? Why can’t I worry about my food not being organic enough or not having my vacation in the best island in Greece or even spending my birthday alone! These are the kind of problems my colleagues complain about on a daily basis, while I stay silent fearing if I talk about what worries me, I will hurt their feelings or ruin their evening. It worries me not to have a place to go to after I finish my masters because my country is not accommodating and is not a “pleasant” place to live in. It worries me not to ever see my mom again. It worries me that I don’t have a place to call home, the uncertainty, the loneliness, the exile of everything and everyone I love, death worries me… life too does… I wish I can just worry about global warming, then I would go every day to protest in front of Westminster with those nice people, but I am too broken to worry about the Earth. I wish I am that sane and sweet, but I am neither. If I am given the choice, I would probably choose to complain about the amount of field work I have to do, that I have to travel 70% of my time despite being paid three times more like that guy I met today, but I know I would be grateful to get a job unlike these people who would seize every opportunity to complain. I am not like them, I am broken. I would like to believe that I am unique because I left my pieces behind and tried to stitch myself nicely. I stitch myself on my own, I am not a good tailor, but I do my best. I do my best to be nice, to sympathise, to understand, and appreciate. I am not always a good tailor, but I am my favourite tailor.

I am sure that to other people in my country, I am like my colleagues who complain about spending their birthday alone. I live in London and I share nice photos on Instagram, oh God! We are all broken, but do I want to be fixed?

No, I don’t…

What is home?

I stopped writing a while ago because the theme of my blog was meant to send my voice from Syria to the rest of the world. I moved to Turkey and had to make myself a new life in a country that was very close to home, but also very far. In Turkey, I always felt that this was not my final destination. I learnt enough Turkish to survive, buy my food, and have enough conversation while having a good pretext to not discuss politics, Syria, and what is happening there. Once I am asked about these things I smile and say “excuse me, I don’t understand Turkish well”.

This September I also have to reinvent myself, the idea of home and relationships. I was lucky to get a scholarship to continue my master’s degree in London. The process took a whole year but I got my visa very late so I had to leave Turkey in two days. I was left alone among all the things I have bought to make my house feel like a home. Around me were The small Christmas lights that I use throughout the whole year, my nice blue carpet, my pink glass light that I bought in one of my trips to Cappadocia, my sticky notes, the love letters (yes I am old fashioned), the toaster which means a lot to me because that was the first kitchen piece I bought to feel home, and etc… I had to pack one suitcase of 30kg including my winter and summer clothes in one night. I didn’t have time to think. I gave away everything and kept my warm clothes because I will need them in London. I tried not to think of the sentimental value of things and be practical otherwise.

In two days here I am, in London. Although I lived in Istanbul before, but London seems to be more daunting, colder, and less welcoming. I get into my room. It has a big window that has a view on a park and a desk near the window. I have been here for a week now, and I didn’t buy any of the essential things I need. I don’t have a mug or a plate. All the little things that we think are little, they matter in the end. The salt and pepper jar, the spoons and forks… I have to start all over again, and make this room be my new home for the next year. What will happen after this? I don’t know where my home will be.

I started with hanging the only artwork I brought with me, which is a calligraphy in Arabic that says “Love is my religion”. I hanged it and looked at the wall, but it still looks empty. Then on another thought, I decided to keep this room as it is; cold, beige and soulless. There is no room for more emotional attachment to things and places. I should focus on doing what I am here to do and think of the room as the physical space that allows me to do what I am doing… Is this right? No. Am I going to really do this? Again, NO. These are just the frustration thoughts of my first week here. In the End, I will fill this room with colors and lights, and then I will leave it with a heart break.

I think my relationship with homes and cities is like love relationships. I always want them to last forever, but they won’t and they can’t. They will break your heart and ask you to leave. There is a piece of my heart in every house I lived in, and in every city I lived in. I hope London will be nice to me when I give her its little piece…a new place to call homelove is my religion