It would seem that a life of being constantly on the move, never having the chance to settle in one place for too long and get to know your surroundings, is a recipe for disaster. What’s more, forming long-term meaningful relationships with people becomes impossible. Knowing that you are unlikely to be in a place for too long, almost stultifies any desire to make an effort to do any more than is necessary to get by in life. Is that always the case though?
In the time I have been on this Earth, I have lived across different continents, cultures and climates. I have, indeed, been a modern-day urban nomad. During the 18 years of my past married life alone, I lived in as many places! There is no denying that always being on standby, ready to pack up and move onto the next destination, does take its toll. The physical job of collecting one’s worldly possessions and transporting them across the miles is, in itself, an arduous one. Then, arriving at the next temporary stop, there is no choice but to unpack again and go through the cycle once more.
Arguably, there is also the emotional price of not settling in one place for too long. For those who have experienced this kind of life, we know too well the challenge to incentivise ourselves to make new friends. The desire to invest too much in a place where we will not be stationary for long is usually lacking. My own children have often complained of this problem. Shifting between schools in different countries, they have not been able to plant their feet firmly on the ground before it has been time to move on again.
Despite their complaints and the real drudgery of a nomadic life, I have still managed to see the benefits such a lifestyle has given them – and me, Alhamdulillah. I myself was uprooted from London as a child and spent three years abroad. At the time, I resented the decision my father had made. Now, in retrospect, I see it was perhaps one of the most enlightening experiences I have ever had. Ostensibly, my childhood peers were more fortunate given they enjoyed a static and sheltered life. But this dull continuity has rendered those same people unable to cope with anything outside the familiar, especially in later life.
There is also the idea that it is difficult to carry friendships forward through time when you have been uprooted too soon and too often. Whilst I don’t deny this is a real issue for many people, Alhamdulillah, I have been fortunate enough to have stay connected with several quality friends who all sit on that linear thread through my life. Others have fallen by the wayside but isn’t that true in any person’s life? It is up to the individuals involved to make it work and in the internet age, that task is made even easier.
Even my own children, who lament the instability they had growing up, have actually managed to keep in contact with friends from different phases of their lives. True, those friends are scattered across the world and meeting up in person hasn’t been possible in many cases. Yet, there is communication still and I have seen how enduring and enriching these friendships have been. They have found a commonality and a cultural exchange which bonds them across the miles.
As with my own life, I see my sons learning to take the best of each society that they have been exposed to and internalise it. They don’t recognise that now but I do. I will not pretend and say that none of those encounters with other communities have caused derision on both sides. Yet, I am philosophical about life and I strongly believe that even the negative experiences are part of the enriching and character-building process of the individual. I believe it is too early to expect my sons to appreciate that stance now.
Travel is, I believe, the best form of education a person can wish for and to live not as a tourist, but as an ordinary citizen in a foreign land, is an education not to forfeit lightly. Invariably, the people I have also met, who have allowed themselves to be immersed into other cultures and societies, are some of the most well-rounded, respectful and interesting people I know. This is not to denigrate those who have not had exposure to other cultures etc. Yet, I can often identify someone who has lived in different places. They exude an aura of respect and tolerance and are quite frankly, in my opinion, just alluring. It’s clear they have surrendered the dogma of their own societal traditions and opened up to other possible ways of doing things. It is this lack of arrogance which is the most endearingly palpable characteristic that comes through each time.
So, yes, living temporarily from place to place is definitely physically and mentally challenging. However, I have seen and experienced alternative ways of living and being. I consider myself a very amateur anthropologist in this regard. Above all, the greatest advantage I have over those who have never experienced the inconveniences of this itinerant lifestyle is that I am constantly reminded of the ephemeral nature of life itself. I have not allowed myself to lay firm roots anywhere and this is what the life of a Muslim is anyway. We know the final stop is not in this world. With this in mind, I hope to always have my sights set on a permanent home elsewhere which far supersedes anything this life can offer, Insha’Allah.