In 2013, after more than 30 years of service in Qatar, my dad finally decided that it was time to go home. In his mind, he had a very clear idea of where home was. It was back in Bangladesh. It was the place where he was born, it was where my grandma, uncles and aunts lived and it was the only place where he had a house he actually owned.
For me it is an entirely different story. Up until my dad's retirement, I happily called Qatar my home. I was born here. My mom and dad were here. Almost everybody I grew up with lived here. Bangladesh is where we used to go on vacation. I liked it as a place to stay for a couple of weeks but I could never imagine myself living there. But make no mistake, Bangladeshi culture is something I am totally immersed in. Bengali is my first language, I like Bangladeshi food, clothes, songs, literature and everything else. In other words, I would happily identify myself as a Bangladeshi, but I am skeptical about calling Bangladesh my home.
If things were that simple, I would just call Qatar my home and that would be the end of this post. But who would've thought that a simple concept of "home" could become so complex. After my parents left I was truly living alone for the first time in my life. At that time I also happened to be traveling a lot for work. I spent months at a time in Italy and used to wonder, why would I ever go back to Qatar? I had no one I loved over there. I began visiting Bangladesh more often. Sometimes even up to four times a year. I got to spend more time with my family. But it still didn't feel like home. I had a vague idea of my surroundings. With the help of Google Maps I could easily move about in the country. But I never felt like I knew the place. I couldn't tell you which obscure street shop sold the best coffee. I didn't have that special place where I could go when I needed time away from the crowd. It was such an unfamiliar place.
After I got married, I got introduced to people whose idea of home and cultural identity was even more complex than mine. At my in-laws I met people who were Bangladeshi by origin, immersed in Indian food, music and culture, and adopted a subset of local Qatari culture. I now had a brother who had spoke fluent Arabic, dreamt of taming falcons, and obsessively perfected his way of wearing the Qatari national attire. I had another brother who spoke in an amusing language soup of Hindi and Bengali. Except for my father and mother in law, all of the children strongly identified Qatar as their home and had no intention of ever living in Bangladesh. On the other hand, getting married gave me back a reason to hang on to Qatar. I now have my wife and a loving family of in-laws.
So far I only thought about home in the context of family, cultural, and geographic familiarity. But as soon as my father-in-law approached his retirement age it became very clear that a home also had to be "permanent". As per local immigration law, you can only stay in Qatar if you are employed. That includes not just my father-in-law. But also my mother-in-law and all 3 of the children. So when my father-in-law finally boards that plane to Bangladesh, my brothers and sisters have to think very hard about where there next "home" will be. From my own experience, I saw this day coming from a distance. I managed to convince my wife that we need to move to Canada where we could live permanently. We were both sure that we did not want to move back to Bangladesh after I retire. Up until the day my father-in-law leaves the country, my wife and I still have ties left to this country. But when our family eventually leaves, we will be left wondering again, where is home? Will Canada become our new home? Perhaps not immediately but I hope it will eventually grow on us. If it doesn't work out, I hope our moving to Canada will make our future children not have their notion of home be in a continuous state of change.