In Pursuit of Home – exclusive by Jamal-e-Fatima Rafat

Part 1 /2

I come from two generations of refugees. Both my parents and both sets of my grandparents had to flee a country, where they were born and raised, and forced out in their mid-teens, mid- youth to another place to build a life again and find a home again.

In 2007, my husband and I moved to Canada and settled in Regina. We chose a home for ourselves but it took us multiple trips back to our country of origin, Pakistan, to realize what is home. We went back to Pakistan four times in six years of living in Canada. We didn’t take any breaks initially. We wanted to see more of Canada so we traveled to Saskatoon, Winnipeg, Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver, Victoria, and the Six, Toronto.

When we traveled abroad, we traveled to Pakistan. For six years, that’s what we did, until slowly and gradually, Pakistan became different for us. I don’t remember exactly which one of those trips, I realized, the friends from uni have moved on. The neighbourhood my husband grew up in has changed. The memories of us being part of it, has faded.

For a lot of us, newcomers, even though we move to a new country, the definition of home remains the country of birth.

We cling to its memory.

We grasp at the imagination of moving back there with slippery fingers as it continues to move away and become a distant dream.

We went through that experience as a newcomer couple settling in Canada. We returned from the airport on one very cold blizzard night in January to the barren land of prairie skies, with heaps of snow on our drive way that no one had shovelled for ten days, we entered our house in northwest of Regina. I stepped into my kitchen that we had designed and built with a lot of love. I say hello to the vines of this tropical plant called the Devil’s Ivy that my husband had nurtured over the years and which had taken over our dining area and living room ceilings. As I touch the leafs of the plant, I could feel they missed us. And I missed them. I walked up the stairs to our master bedroom and lie flat on the bed. Other than the fact that we had been travelling for 30 some hours and hadn’t lied down on a flat surface for a while, it felt like calm. It felt good. It felt like love. It felt like an embrace. It felt home.

Finally, after returning from one of those trips I think in 2012, Pakistan wasn’t home anymore, Regina was.

You see refugee parents teach a lot to their children. They teach them strength, they teach them resiliency, they teach them to work hard really really hard because nothing in life comes easy but they also transfer this trauma of losing home to their future generations. Our parents moved around, they traveled but they always traveled when they were looking for a home. They always traveled when they were forced to. They never traveled for pleasure or leisure. So we didn’t know how to travel for pleasure. Until very recently.

In 2014, during one of our trips to ‘back home’ we spent a 12 hours layover in Turkey. We did a hop over to the Sultanehmet mosque/blue mosque and the Egyptian Spice Bazaar and since then that country had captivated us. When we returned to Canada after that trip, we ached to go back and visit Turkey and experience it to its fullest. We thought we would be able to return in a year or two. First it was the obvious cause, the money. We both worked fairly good jobs but there was a commitment to another journey we had made much earlier in our lives as a couple.

We had battled with infertility since 2007. We didn’t know we had it at that time. Ten years in silence, three rounds of IVF and two miscarriages, losing three, made me look at life in a very different context (more on that journey here). 2016 and 2017 were very difficult years in particular. The details are fit for another story night. My parents moved to Canada to join us in early 2017. By that time, I had come to terms with leading a childless, yet a fruitful life. I was happy and then during a routine physical exam that I took my mother to, eventually lead to her being diagnosed with breast cancer. She was lucky they caught it earlier. She went through a mastectomy in August 2017 and fought with a grace and brevity that I never knew existed. Post her surgery, just when we thought we could finally plan a trip to Turkey, life threw us a curve ball yet again. What now? My husband’s job changed drastically. That meant he had to make some life-altering choices. WE had to make some life-altering choices.

Long story short, we moved to Fort McMurray, Alberta in Feb. 2018. Turkey was on the back burner once again. Once again, we were living a life my parents had lived, my grandparents had lived. Moving to find a home. That home was snatched away from us because of life’s circumstances.

But it felt very different this time. We were exhausted. We were heart-broken, We were older. This move was void of any excitement and it was painful to look for a positive side. I was looking for anything to hold on to and in that pursuit, I tried making new friends. I failed miserably. It took me back to high school days where you feel you are the centre of everyone’s judgement. Speaking my truth became a frightening reality. I never felt exposed to vulnerability this much in my life.

I promise there’s a light at the end of this tunnel I am making you go through.

To be continued.

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