Arts & Culture The Home Issue

How TV is my connection to home

"It has to be put on this one specific channel."

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By Noor Al Sayegh

I was very excited to live abroad for a year and take part in a writing course. I shopped for clothes months before my flight; long black boots, skirts that look like they came from a 90’s chick flick and  leather jackets. I’ve always thought that leather jackets were cool. I still do. Perhaps this idea came from John Travolta, when he played the leading role of Danny Zuko in Grease. A new way of dressing was one of the things I really looked forward to doing in London.

I love dressing up in general. But what excited me was that I’d get the chance to do it in another country. I wouldn’t just explore a new place, I’d get to discover my fashion sense with it as well. In the cold! That was another reason I needed a new wardrobe. My country, the United Arab Emirates, is known for its heat. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a summer child. I love bright mornings and the beach. I love it when the sun is generous enough to place its footprints on my body and gives me a natural, bronzed glow . I’m one of those people who doesn’t feel right without a tan. But being in a cold country meant something new, and I longed for new. 

Other than clothing and the weather, I felt like I had to work on the British accent. Not for me to speak it, but for me to understand it. I tended to struggle to understand it when I watched an English TV show. So, I worried that I wouldn’t understand my tutors when they spoke to me. To be fair, the shows that made me doubt my understanding were period dramas, characterized by old-fashioned words or accents that were no longer normal. Regardless of that, I knew that what I worried about subconsciously excited me. I was heading to the new, and that’s all that mattered. Whatever new meant, I packed my bag and followed.

Being in London is indeed exciting. I love having my own place and being in charge of my life. I love that I don’t have to hear opinions that get me into fights with any of my family members. I used to get myself in trouble by stating my raw beliefs, and I would get enraged in the process. It always led to disagreements that ended up badly: the guilt trip, locking myself in my room like I didn’t care about dinner… This wasn’t something I enjoyed (especially if my dinner was a meal that I had planned to eat since breakfast). I could barely remain calm if I didn’t hear the right thing – or what I thought was right anyway – no matter how many times I tried to swallow my tongue. I always ended up spitting out all my opinions from all the build-up.

I enjoy the fact that my apartment is cozy. I curl up with my blanket, (the one I asked my sister to send me all the way from Abu Dhabi). Now, before continuing my story, I know what you are going to think: London has everything! Why did you ask for a blanket to be sent?! In my defense, that blanket gave me warmth no other blanket could ever give. So what’s the point of getting a new blanket if it’s not going to do its job right, right? Now, back to praising my apartment. It is almost everything that I ever wanted. I also have to mention that I have this habit of keeping the TV on as long as I can, even if I’m not watching it. It has to be put on this one specific channel, and nothing but that channel. I think I do it because I connect with the people on the screen. I pick the remote and raise their voices. Speak louder, I can’t hear you! I keep them talking while I wash my fruits in the sink. I keep them talking while I work on my laptop. I keep them talking as I go to my room to take a nap, and even when I work out. Everything I do, I do easily as long as they keep on talking. And when it’s 13:45 in my apartment, it shows 17:45 on TV, and I know that the sun is setting there. I know that the real actors portraying the characters that appear on TV are probably waking up from their nap. I know that they are getting ready for their fourth prayer of the day. The “Allahu Akbar” from the mosque next to my house is ringing in my ear. 

I don’t only know what is happening, I can also smell what’s cooking. I smell Arabic coffee, and karak with a hint of ginger, as they’re being prepared. I hear my nanny’s steps as she walks up the stairs with a tray of these drinks, and biscuits on the side. I hear the doorbell, and I know that it’s the grocery store beside our house delivering Kraft cheese and bread. The fact that the grocery store is next to our house makes us abuse that place. For every small thing we need, we never hesitate to give them a call. I truly believe that the baqala can survive and thrive with my family just ordering from it. I know at that particular time my mum might be hungry, so my sister ordered cheese and bread, or probably a tasbeera, because the nanny told her that they ran out of them. I can hear my sister running to her drawer to fetch some dirhams to pay for it. I hear my nanny hurrying my sister up and telling her to do it faster because the delivery boy is complaining about how hot it is outside. And I also hear myself in my room yelling at all of them to keep it down.

Artwork by Saudi illustrator Nouf Alismail.

Behind the characters that appear on my TV, I see myself sitting in my little room, in my home. I hear myself yelling at whoever is outside my room to to keep it down.

I grab the remote and press hard to raise the volume, but it’s not working. I press harder, and harder to hear them, but it still isn’t working.

A year ago, I found myself longing for new. London you’ve been a beautiful experience, but there’s no place like home.  

Noor Al Sayegh is an Emirati writer with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and human services. She has found her passion through writing and has written a collection of reflections while she lived shortly in London. Noor is also passionate about charity and has started her own project called “Letters from Noor” where she writes encouraging words to people, believing in the Prophetic saying: “A good word is a charity”.

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