Guest Post: Diary of a Serial Expat
Today I welcome Jameela Deen of Diary of a Serial Expat back to UrbanDuniya! You might remember when, a year ago, Jameela nominated Mecca, Saudi Arabia as her favourite city in the world. Today she is back, and talking about her life as a serial expat, and how she came to fall in love with a country that nowadays isn’t quite the tourist hotspot it used to be (sounds familiar!).
Hello my name is Jameela and I’m a serial expat.
Well, at least that’s what my website says.
Not sure if this defines who I am but it certainly describes the way I’ve chosen to live for the last 18 years of my life. Ever since I left the family home to go to university at the age of 17 (are you doing the maths?) I have moved on average once every 6 months to a year. Yeah that’s a lot of moving around. At first, I moved around my home country: France. I just couldn’t wait to check out the next city, to rent out the next flat, to lose myself in new streets and alleyways. I have always loved that feeling of being new in town, no roots, no strings attached, no past and a whole range of new opportunities with nothing holding me back from making a fresh start. Not that I was hiding from the past or anything, more like an artist who finishes a piece of work and cannot continue on the same canvas. A new canvas means a different start, a white page and you the only one dictating the rules of this new piece of work.
What a feeling!
Soon however, all the cities I called home in France started to feel the same, people were too predictable, life started to feel once again like a finished piece of work. Luckily for me, my studies allowed me fantastic opportunities to move abroad for a year…. or so they thought. I planned my first move abroad knowing full well it would be a permanent one. And so started my life as an international serial expat. Sounds glamourous doesn’t it? Well, it kinda is I’m not gonna lie to you guys. The feeling of starting from scratch reached a whole other level abroad and I knew I had found my way.
So I kept moving around England and Wales for close to 10 years, cherishing every minute of it until came a day when waking up and going about my daily life became too hard. It came as suddenly as a word on a page:
The UK had become home: I knew everything about it (I know, people are a bit presumptuous at times, right?), I knew what to expect of tomorrow, the foreign culture wasn’t foreign anymore and just like that came the feeling I knew all too well: a kinda hitch to pack again, a thirst for something unknown, a strong desire to reinvent myself… that’s right I needed a blank canvas.
It wasn’t long before new opportunities presented themselves and in less than 4 months after waking up with a serious case of travel bugness (if it’s not a word then it should be) I had sold everything and packed my life, which this time included a husband and 2 kids, in a few suitcases and we were on our way to Libya. We first lived in Misurata, then Zawia. I can’t say that I enjoyed every minute of it though.
We only stayed about 18 months, pushed out by the impending war which started again in 2013, only 2 years after the revolution of 2011. Life in a post war country is not fun every day, tensions are very real and life can get a little… well… colourful. Still, my experience in Libya taught me loads, I gained some valuable professional experience and I was actually happy there. Good times overall but it was time to leave.
And so here I am now living a new life in Jeddah in the mysterious Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. In terms of blank canvas, it doesn’t get any better than this as very little (facts) are known about this country. It’s got to be one of the most misunderstood and misrepresented place on Earth. I have felt privileged to be allowed access to a place like this. I mean, no one can know what Saudi is like until they have lived there and here I am, making it home, with the chance to explore a really unique country and culture. Every day I wake up feeling like I couldn’t be happier. Jeddah is that good and the opportunities I have been given are truly amazing and I know for sure that the day I leave for good I will miss this city tremendously.
Because of course I’m gonna want to move. I’m a serial expat remember? But maybe not for long. Because I fell in love big time. Head over heels in love. Crazy in love, ready to do anything for my love: Tunisia.
That’s right, I fell in love at first sight with Tunisia back in 2012, I went back many times and the feeling is still going on strong. So strong that we have decided to call it home. For good. We are actually in the process of building a house somewhere in a little town in the south of Tunisia, not far from the desert, not far from the sea, in a spot unknown to tourists and even most travellers.
That’s right, it seems like I’m ready to finally settle down in one place and what a place! It doesn’t have the postcard appeal of Hammamet in the north or the adventure calling of the desert, it’s only a typical small town, where most people live simple lives, struggling often to make ends meet as Tunisia is not a rich country.
The charm lies with the people. Seeing what France have become in the last 14 years, I really can’t say it’s my country anymore, it’s too different or maybe I’m too different now. Living in England, I had come to accept the fact that people were strangers, kept to themselves and didn’t really bond with foreigners. In Libya, I got a taste of a simple life that revolves around family and friends but the war didn’t leave us enough time to make it home. Life in Saudi Arabia is easy, sweet, rewarding, pressure free but that’s never gonna be home: we will always be foreigners here.
They say home is where the heart is and for a while now, my heart has been longing to go back to Tunisia. I see in white and blue, a sound, a smell… Everything keeps reminding me how much I miss it and I long to go there. And now that a little house is waiting to receive my family there, the appeal is stronger than ever.
I’m not looking forward to stop being a serial expat, in fact I don’t think about this aspect of my life once I move to Tunisia for good. I prefer to think about the blank canvas waiting for me there and this time I’ll have brand new tools to work with: those of a settled expat.
If you’d like to read more from Jameela, go to her blog Diary of a Serial Expat.