Growing up in a small family, I used to think Eid, birthdays, and special occasions should be about having as many people around you as possible. Even on normal days, I felt like a huge chunk of something was missing from my life but special occasions only compacted this belief.
As children, we would get dressed up on Eid and for some reason feel excited about a day on which there’d be nothing to do, no-one to see and nowhere to go. Although my paternal grandparents sometimes (when they could be bothered to) claimed they loved us all the same, it was obvious my brother and I were the black sheep amongst the grandchildren. There was always a deliberate difference in treatment and the hierarchy was clear for everyone to see. You see, as adults we think we are clever when placating children into believing the lies we feed them. Sometimes those lies are told with good intentions, perhaps to protect children from something that may hurt them. At other times, the lies are simply a convenience for us so that we can cover up ugliness, so that we don’t need to explain examples of bad behaviour from adults who should know better, so we can continue the facade that serves only us. We adults forget that children, being excellent manipulators of truth themselves, have very strong sensors in detecting bullshit; children can recognise the good and evil in people long before being able to verbalise it.
These are two reflections from this year’s Eid. The first, when parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents treat young, innocent children differently for no apparent reason but to discriminate against some and favour others, it is usually a reflection of their own inner state. Nothing that child does will move them to change the amount of affection they display.
And second, Eid isn’t about having a tonne of family around you, it’s not even about dressing up in your finest garments. Eid cannot be a happy occasion unless you find peace within you; you cannot look to others to give you your own security. Sometimes the most memorable Eid days are the ones where you’re dressed in your jim-jams because you don’t bother getting ready until 8pm, and you spend the day content and laughing, even if it is just with a handful of people. Our Eid was something like this.
This was our second Eid in Qatar, the first had been almost immediately after we arrived in Qatar. Most of our friends and colleagues were leaving to spend the occasion in their respective homelands. As school is out for the summer, our Eid celebrations continued into the rest of the week as we became tourists again, explored Qatar and spent quality time with newly found friends – another Mancunian couple.
Us girls laughed into the early hours of Eid morning talking about everything home and Qatar related, while Hubby and his friend scouted the best barber shop for a UK-style haircut. Our Eid festivities took us to Katara, Corniche, the Souq and more. Although we were miles away from home and we were not family, we had a great Eid and enjoyed each other’s company. Why was that? Hubby’s friend suggested we had hit it off because it was an Oldham thing, that the community spirit never leaves you even if you leave the town. That when you hear someone is from Oldham, you instinctively open your arms and your home to them.
I wonder though, is it just an Oldham or Northern thing that makes us offer our home and hospitality so freely? Or is it more than that? Doesn’t it transcend the idea of a shared hometown? Yes, we have shared a journey from England to Qatar and we find commonalities in our experiences, but not long ago when the first wave of Kashmiris came to England we shared a journey then too. We are descendants of immigrants who knew how hard it was to give up your home, your comforts, family and friends in order to start all over again. We are descendants of people who may not have had big homes, but they definitely had big hearts. Perhaps our hospitality stems as much from our ancestors as from our hybridity.
I often think about my grandfather. I think about how he left his home in the green mountains of Kashmir to arrive to the ever-cold and rainy Northern mill towns of England. You can call him what you like – immigrant or expat – it is essentially the same thing, it’s just that the former bears negative political connotations and the latter affords privilege. If I had known him like his other grandchildren knew him, perhaps I would have asked him to tell me stories of his journey. Perhaps today I would remember him on more occasions than when he appears in my dreams.
We laughed at the irony of it all: an expat or immigrant’s life always seems glamorous to those left behind. If we go to Kashmir, we hear ‘Get me a visa/Sponsor me,’ but if we go anywhere else in the world, we are still bombarded with the same requests as if we, the children of immigrants, have any power to persuade the embassies of various countries. Honestly speaking, I don’t think everyone is cut out for a life abroad but some people need to experience it to truly understand it.