“Where is home?”
“Home is where the heart is, of course.”
“So where does your heart lie?”
Despite being nationally Singaporean, I spent most of my life in the glistening metropolis situated in the ocean of sand that is the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Yet, regardless of the number of years my family and I spent there, it never really felt like home. Maybe it was the fact that everyone around me was also an expat and treated the country as a pitstop rather than the final destination. Or it could have been because it felt like I was living a fantasy, where almost everywhere I went to, was the epitome of cleanliness and luxury, apart from the slums of Satwa and Naif where it occasionally served me as a wakeup call from the sparkles of the skyscrapers tearing up the sky.
Of course, I am grateful that I spent my childhood there. It spared me from the stress of the competitive education system in Singapore, and I got access to many opportunities I do not think the average Singaporean was able to, such as the lack of restrictions for wearing hijab and avenues to travel to many different places. However, I didn’t tie many strings to the country that would make me gravitate back there, especially since I didn’t make that many friends there and the ones I did went overseas after graduating. I also hardly left the house unless I needed to go to school or to a shopping centre. Instead, I wanted to experience something outside the unwritten timetable of my life which repeats the steps: wake up, go to school, procrastinate on assignments and sleep.
On the other hand, it feels wrong to call Singapore truly home since I have hardly lived here. Although I have visited here multiple times and I don’t necessarily feel like a stranger when walking down the streets of Singapore, at times, Singapore feels, in a way, foreign to me in a way I can’t describe. Hence, due to my lack of attachment to the UAE and an ambiguous relationship with Singapore, I’m floating between the two locations, unsure which to call home. Singapore, to me, feels like I’m floating above a body of water, where I’m unable to touch the bottom no matter how much I stretch my body. Yet, from my position, if I hold my breath and look down, I’m able to capture and admire momentarily what I see Singapore to be.
To be honest, despite living a fantasy, Singapore was my childhood fantasy. I admired the sense of community that came with the country, which I couldn’t feel back in the UAE and the fact that the people seemed freer in a way. After all, they didn’t have to rely on using a car to go anywhere; instead, they had public transport readily available.
After moving to Singapore for university, I’m grateful in a way; I feel less restricted in how I can move around and go to places, but nothing really has changed. The feeling of being a university student still hasn’t hit me, and just like before, my life is processed as an unconscious schedule of waking up, going to school, going back home, procrastinating on schoolwork, sleeping, and repeating. It could be because I’m not doing anything significantly different in my life or because I adjust to change fast, but I’m in a state where I’m adjusted but not necessarily attached.
This feeling of safety made me realise that I would probably never really find true belonging in either of the countries I have lived in since I’ve not felt the sense of accomplishment I yearned for in a certain place or community. But I think that’s all right. While my heart does not necessarily lie anywhere and I don’t have anywhere I’ll truly call home, I appreciate the memories and experiences I made back in the UAE and am looking forward to the ones I’m going to make in Singapore going forward. Of course, it will take more than words to find my true belonging, but I’ll try taking small steps, doing something new and hopefully learning more about myself.