LEAVING HOME FOR HOME
The ‘double life’ of an expat BY Monita Pesumal
It is two weeks before I’m due to take off on annual leave. This time, I’m headed home to Sri Lanka to visit the folks. My mind is in a frenzy. And my otherwise ultra-neat apartment looks like a torpedo hit it. Even several typhoons.
There are bags everywhere – and I don’t only mean luggage. Gifts of kaftans, Arabian oud, Middle Eastern snacks and baklava fill every empty space. I make a mental note to begin packing.
Going home always fills my head and heart with mixed emotions.
For starters, there is exuberance at the thought of being able to see my friends and family.
Then there’s unwarranted stress: will I be able to complete my shopping list on time?
And there’s concern too: can I submit all my work before the deadlines so that I’m not disturbed while I am away?
Finally, at the back of my mind is another feeling: I’m not certain if it’s sorrow or merely anxiety but each time I have to leave my second home in the Gulf – whether it’s for business, a vacation or a trip home… it is always there, tugging at my heartstrings.
It’s departure day; time to leave my cosy nest. I switch off the WiFi, appliances and lights, and lock the door (and unlock it to make sure it was locked the first time).
I whisper a silent prayer as I head down in the elevator: “Please God, let my home be safe while I’m away.”
Hours later, I land. It was a redeye – I’m lacking sleep, have a splitting headache and am longing for a shower.
But none of that matters as I hug my parents at the airport in Katunayake. I’m finally home!
I feel so safe here. Sri Lankan faces and smiles are so comforting. Being in my country of birth gives me a sense of joy that words cannot justify. To use one of the most overused phrases on Instagram, my heart is full.
The first week passes slowly. There is catching up on storytelling on both sides. I eat as many Chinese rolls and as much ribbon cake as I can. Lamprais, hot butter cuttlefish and string hoppers (my favourite dishes) make it to the dining table every meal, and I relish each and every bite.
This week includes making calls and arranging to meet friends; and visiting all my favourite cafes, restaurants and stores, and trying to spot signs of change from my last visit.
There is a lot keeping me busy. I haven’t even thought about the Gulf or my life there this whole time.
Life is so different in this part of the world. It is simpler and people are in no rush. It’s like they have hours to kill to spend doing the things they love with the people they love. This isn’t the rat race I’m used to. I slow down and my mind slows, as my mum and I enjoy foot rubs at our favourite local spa.
It’s week two and we’re off to Kandy. “Gosh, how beautiful the route and scenery are,” I tell myself at least a dozen times along the way: “This country is divine. I’m blessed to have been born here. Every opportunity life has given me has been created from Sri Lankan soil.”
Gratitude fills my heart as we make it to the hill station. Spending a couple of nights in an upcountry resort, I couldn’t be happier. Now I really begin to feel like I’m on holiday.
But I use the high-speed WiFi to check work emails. I’m suddenly reminded that enjoying a view of the Mahaweli River isn’t my reality.
The third week is chaotic…
Where has the time flown? Am I leaving in two days? Does Aunty Priya really want to meet me today? When does the bank close? Why does my boss keep messaging me on WhatsApp?
And just like that, it’s time to head back to my ‘other life’ – where work and solitude fill my days; and the race to succeed is cutthroat and you’re told to either go big or go home. Because if you fail, there are 600 others from around the world waiting to take your place.
I land in the Gulf kingdom. It’s past 10 p.m. Other than unpacking, I have so much to put in order when I reach my flat. What’s more, it’s a working day tomorrow so I must wake up super early.
Despite my tiredness, I do a little happy dance when I get to my living room.
I’m finally home.