“So here you are
Too foreign for home
Too foreign for here
Never enough for both” —- by Ijeoma Umebinyuo
I often get asked, as most people ask this question out of habit, where I am from. Sigh. Where indeed! Am I supposed to simply state my nationality? Or am I supposed to mention the place where I grew up right from infancy to adolescence and more? It’s difficult to explain, especially to people who have no sense of plural identities. As a child I avoided the question by letting my parents answer it for me, looking reservedly up to the seemingly scary faces of (often Desi) strangers.
Now however, because of some incomprehensible concept called adulthood, I must speak for myself—because apparently adulthood comprises of some more vague concepts called responsibility, and what my parents deem as “learning to survive”. So sometimes I keep things simple and tell my interrogators I am an Indian. Sometimes I risk sounding a stuck up, snobby Dubai girl and explain the entire ordeal.
It doesn’t stop there though. There are more questions, designed to put me in a fix, for the sole entertainment of the questioners. “Which one do you like better? Dubai, or India?” Unable to offend, I used to simply say India. No justification, no explanation. Just a word, “India.” But now I’m more open in what I feel and think and more likely to explain myself better. Such is the life of third culture kids, always being asked difficult to answer questions—for no actual reason.
Stop. Rewind. Pause at “third culture kids.” Who, or what exactly are they? A quick look at Urban Dictionary tells me that a third culture kid (TCK) is “a person who’s personal “culture” is a fusion of two or more cultures to which s/he was exposed during childhood.” In other words, TCK=me. I love my salwar kameez, but I love my abayas that are so distinctly Arab in style. And now that we’re in the holy month of Ramadan (yes, I say Ramadan instead of Ramzan), I love my pakodas, mirchis, and haleem. I pick and choose from these cultures as I like—because I’m so close home to both of them I feel them to be at my disposal, that I have a right over them.
And oh, did I forget to mention that my passport is the soul of my identity? The funny thing about my Indian passport is that it was issued in the U.A.E, after I came to Dubai. It’s a long story dating back to 1996; I’ll save that for another time. But my passport(s) I keep close to me, as anyone living outside of their country would. And yet, there are instances that are so peculiar to the Arab states, that they are almost unmatched in other countries. Every time one has to make a new one or renew a document (driver’s license, ID card, tenancy contract, etc.) my father insists on carrying photocopies of the passport. Which is perfectly a reasonable thing, except that he wants me to carry copies of all the previous, and expired passports along with my current one. “We never know when they might ask for what” is my father’s logic. TCKs have the luxury of narrating such quirks, but Buzzfeed here does a nice job of summarizing our lives.
I have to say that balancing my mostly Indian, but also a very distinct Dubai culture has been somewhat of an identity crisis. Elsewhere, I would have received another nationality and have fit right in—but that is not the case here. The thought that one fine day I’ll have to suddenly pack up and leave the country (for various reasons) that has been my home for 20 years freaks me out to say the least. I will then, go back to my passport country, with fond memories of childhood and adolescence. Perhaps those of an adult too, if I’m considered one; or if I stay here long enough. And I fear that I may not fit in there either, because here I am. I’m too foreign for home, too foreign for here, and not enough for both.