Arts & Culture The Traditions Issue

How I made my own traditions when I moved abroad

It took moving to the other side of the world for me to realise that setting my own traditions can be a beautiful thing.
What I’ve also come to realise living away from home is how food is such an important part of who we are.

My interpretation of tradition is the little things we do that keep us connected to who we are. I have always thought of tradition as something that has been determined by family or by society and I was simply following along. It took moving to the other side of the world for me to realise that setting my own traditions can be a beautiful thing.

The day I moved away from home was hard. I cried when I said my goodbyes, I cried on my way to the airport and I cried as I stuffed my face with airplane food. Those first days I was overwhelmed and somewhat lost on how to lead a life so far away from everything that was familiar. The days turned into months and months into years, and today when I say goodbye, get on a plane and see the wide green fields of Germany, my heart smiles. I still miss my family and friends every day, but I have been given an opportunity to live life differently and it’s truly exhilarating.

Ramadan in Europe consists of insanely long days and almost everyone on the streets eating ice cream on a sunny day. But what really got to me was the absence of Ramadan vibes and rituals. Instead of lying around daydreaming of my mother in-law’s famous vine leaves, I decided to create new Ramadan rituals for my little family.

 I decorated our apartment with lights, printed out greeting cards and placed them on the dining table and cooked one healthy meal as opposed to the six- course deep-fried iftar we were used to. My husband and I prayed together, read Quran together and truly appreciated everything Ramadan represented.

What I’ve also come to realise living away from home is how food is such an important part of who we are. Recipes have been passed down generation after generation, ensuring that the essence of our culture can be tasted through our food. So naturally when I set foot into my kitchen to make a meal I felt the pressure. I had a long list of recipes of all the dishes my mother and my husband’s mother considered proper meals: machboosbiryani, lentil curry and a whole lot of other rice-based meals.  After a few failed attempts, I realised that I could make my own version of these foods. I replaced white rice with brown rice, which is surprisingly easier to make, and grilled some salmon and vegetables. It was so good that it has become one of our weekly meals.

Every now and then I go back to the recipes and try making something from home, but I’ve found that the more twists of my own I include, the more I enjoy the food. Cooking has really been one of my greatest achievements and adaptations to living alone because three years ago, I could barely make a salad!

My favourite tradition, though, is our commitment to giving to others. For as long as I can remember we have always sent food to mosques, donated clothes in donation centres and helped workers on the streets labouring under the hot sun. I thought that was something I wouldn’t get to do in Germany, but I was pleasantly surprised.

There is a little town just 20 minutes away from the city that has hundreds of refugees and immigrants. They live in small apartments and houses provided to them by the government and are given a salary every month. However, they are not allowed to work, so they can’t make any extra income.

During our first year we bought a lot of stuff and we had a baby, so the stuff just kept on piling. I felt so guilty that all these good quality products I no longer needed were going to waste. That’s when we met a young man from Gambia called Abdulla, who introduced us to the refugee complex he lived in.

It was a sea of men, women, and children of so many different nationalities all living side by side trying to survive. It’s a beautiful thing to be able to see the impact of giving to others things they need and want first hand. These things weren’t going in boxes or to agencies that would later distribute them; they were being given directly to the people.

Living in a new country can be tough and confusing. People make different choices on how they decide to live their new lives. Some start over, cutting all ties with their previous home and just immerse themselves in this new experience. Others fear the change and hold on tight to what they know. They stay friends with people familiar to home, do the same things and eat the same food. I think those of us that choose to live in the middle, enjoying a little of both worlds, get the full experience. Whether permanently or temporarily, being relocated can be an exciting and wonderful opportunity to discover yourself. I know I have.

Mariam Al Hosani is an Emirati storyteller living in between the UAE and Germany.