Arts & Culture The Home Issue

What is home?

Gulf residents and natives tell us.

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By Sharifa Al Badi

These lands have witnessed many changes, have come across many faces and have stood the test of time throughout the ages. New yet old, the GCC region has always been a central point for travel and trade. Its diversity is unmistakable. We discover what home and belonging means to a number of us living in this part of the world. This is the story of us. 

Chaouki Rafeh, Lebanese

Born in the mountain village of Al Basateen in Lebanon, Chaouki moved with his family to Damascus in Syria at the age of five, and  lived there until the age of sixteen. After that, he headed to the ancient city of Babylon- which we now know as Baghdad- in Iraq to work and study, and spent eighteen months there, only to return to Lebanon in 1958 due to the 14 of July Revolution . He spent some time working in Beirut, and during the Lebanese Civil War he moved around the GCC, mostly between the UAE and Kuwait, plus the US and the UK. With a high school degree in hand, Chaouki made a name for himself as one of the most prominent journalists back in the day; he has sat down and interviewed the founder of the UAE His Highness Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the late Palestinian President Yasser Arafat, America’s former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, and Lebanese politicians including Walid Jumblatt.

Retired now, and based between the UAE and Lebanon, he tells me that he never really had a fixed place which he could call “home”, as he was constantly moving. He notes, however, that “I felt like once my first child was born, I understood where my home is. Home to me is a place where there is someone you look forward to seeing and miss dearly when you are away from them. As my other children came along, I began more and more to feel that wherever they were was my home”. Married to an Emirati woman, the journalist, author, and writer cannot deny his love for the sea, saying he belongs mostly to the place where his family is and that he belongs anywhere near the sea.

Bashayer Al Nuaimi, Omani- Filipino

Bashayer is a 23-year-old architectural engineer, and a traditional and digital artist, whom upon graduating in 2019 decided to go down the artist path, and currently works as a freelance artist and is also training to be a 3D artist. From the first glance, her work speaks volumes and what makes it so powerful is her main inspiration: her fears. It is driven by the fear of losing herself and her identity, and not being able to tell her story. That is why when she creates she uses only black and white colors, as a universal visual language.

Hailing from a multicultural family, Bashayer discovered the meaning of truly expressing yourself and not creating for an audience during her artistic journey, “ When you make art for an audience you have to remember not to lose yourself…as an artist I think you have to be conscious of who you are and what you are projecting, and not lose your voice. You need to find your voice and go after it”. When asked what home was to her, she said that home is her family, her partner and closest friends. To this day she says she struggles to find her identity. Sometimes she feels more Omani and sometimes she feels Filipino, or Emirati since she has the accent and grew up in Al Ain. Currently she is living in Muscat and people always ask if she is Filipino, or why her eyes are small, or if she was not really Omani … It is so confusing that, at times, it makes her feel lost. She is still trying to find where she belongs. But she also says that she realises that she does not have to belong to a certain group or race, and that she just wants to be her authentic self.

Sultan bin Faisal. Courtesy.

Dr Ali Al Badi, Omani

Dr Ali Al Badi hails from a mountain village, and no difficult circumstance stopped him from continuing to pursue his education. He tells me that the first time he registered to go to school they had to travel on a donkey. He went from studying in Sohar to Al Ain to Saudi, only to find himself in the UK, where he did a B.Tech in Mechanical Engineering at Newcastle, then  got his BSc in Computer Science from Reading University. He returned to Oman and worked at Sultan Qaboos University (SQU) briefly and was sent to Colorado for his MA and then Florida for his PhD, but after September 11 headed to the UK where he got his PhD in Computer Science from East Anglia University in 2001.

All in all, Dr Ali grew up in Oman, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, UK and the US. Currently he is the Deputy Dean for Academic Affairs and Research at SQU. When asked what home meant to him, he believes that it is a place where one can find tranquillity and peace with the people whom she or he loves the most. He adds that although he is from this part of the world and proud of that, he feels that he leans more towards Western culture just because he  spent many years living in the West.

Tessa Sabrina, German

Tessa grew up and was educated in Germany, the UK and Austria. She currently works in the UAE as a sustainability specialist and loves exploring the remote parts of Oman and the UAE in her free time. For the future, she says that we all add a drop to shaping the world, and together we can create a more sustainable life for all. She aspires to add whatever little she can to shape the world, to improve living conditions for everyone, to build cultural bridges, and to promote sustainable living over all. She says, “We owe it to ourselves and the world to leave whatever small print we can and help shape it for the future generations”.

When asked what home was to her, she said home is not a country or a building, home is defined by the people around her, home is where her family is, and where she is comfortable and emotionally warm and happy. She believes that she belongs to the human race as a whole, and the place where her loved ones are. She does not think that classification based on race or place of origin is adequate. As we all have our differences and unique cultural aspects, both negative and positive, accepting, understanding and assimilating the positives is how she thinks we will progress collectively as a human race.

Chouki Rafeh with the late President Yasser Arafat. Courtesy.

Fahad Abdullah Al Dabal, Saudi

Fahad is from Al Hasa in Saudi Arabia, but was born and raised in the city of Dammam. He moved to Orange Country, California for his BA in Electrical Engineering. Upon completing his degree, he moved back to Saudi for three years, then moved to London to do his MBA.  After that, he came back to Saudi to work in his family business in football and entertainment. Currently, Fahad works for his family holding company and is a partner in an entertainment company First Station, and worked for four years as the VP of Marketing for the Ettifaq Football Club. His future plan is to build a legacy that will remain for centuries to come.

When asked what home was to him he says that it is where his heart belongs, and his heart belongs to his family and that is why he considers Dammam his home, and the place he belongs to.

Marija Sostaric. Courtesy.

Sarah Al Aulaqi, Omani

A pioneer of the arts, Sarah is the co-founder of Cure8 Gallery and Cure8 Consultancy based in Muscat, Oman. She says she is from all the places and spaces her parents have been to. Her father’s roots are Southern Yemeni and her mother is Omani-Yemeni and grew up in Zanzibar, and moved to Oman as a teenager. She grew up in Muscat, then travelled to Dubai and did a degree in visual communications and marketing at the American University of Dubai. She strongly stands for creativity, education and collaboration in all fields and will never limit what she does exactly because she does not know where her thought process will take her next. She has a glimmering appreciation for tradition and is a soul foodie at heart, thus why she recently launched Culinary Kulture, an Instagram accoun that aims to preserve traditional recipes from the Middle East. 

When asked what home was, she says that it is where you feel safe and where your loved ones are. Her earliest memory of home was the comforting scent of her dad’s cigar. When it was in the air, she knew he was around. Belonging, she says, is a word that gives her anxiety, for she feels she belongs to a peaceful, human race. Her future plan is straight-forward: talk less, travel more and be your own superhero. 

Ahmad Aleidan, Kuwaiti

The tea lover and enthusiast was born and raised in Kuwait. In 2016, he founded Bayan Artisan Tea after becoming a certified tea professional. The company provides premium quality leaves sourced from top private estates from around the world. He hopes to encourage our heavy tea drinking community to improve their tea consuming habits as dominant tea brands in the market today process tea leaves in a very commercial manner to cut cost, he says, which ends up cutting its nutritional value and ruining its quality.  When asked where home was, he simply says, “home is where my wife and family are, plus a good pot of tea!” As to where he belongs, it is on a tea plantation either in Kyoto, Japan or Nantou, Taiwan.

Abrar Hamidaddin, Yemeni-Saudi

Abrar Hamidadin. Courtesy.

The talented designer Abrar was born in New Jersey, USA, raised as a Yemeni and is a holder of the Saudi nationality. She grew up in Riyadh, then moved to Jeddah when she was fourteen. She completed her university studies in Jeddah and holds a BA in Graphic Design, and currently works as a freelance graphic designer and also does photography on the side. To her, home is not a place, a space or even a person but a collection of moments imprinted in her heart and mind. She always liked the idea of being in constant departure while always arriving… being present yet detached. She feels the same when it comes to belonging; she feels that she partly belongs to Saudi, and is still figuring things out with time.

Marwan Al Siyabi. Courtesy.

Marwan Al Siyabi, Omani-Bahraini

Born and raised in Muscat, Marwan is originally from Bidbid, located in Oman’s Ad Dakhiliyah Governorate. He is also half Bahraini, as his mother’s family hails from Manama, the capital of Bahrain. He is a petroleum engineer graduate from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, USA and currently works as an operations engineer at Oxy Oman. In his free time, he enjoys food styling and photography, and hopes to open his own business in the future as he has a passion for coffee, and his friends trust his café choices both locally and internationally. When asked what home is to him, Marwan states, “ To me, home is everything.  It is the place where I grew up and the school that I learned from. It is my friend that I always depend on and I am proud of. Simply it is my identity”.

Marija Sostaric, Croatian

Marija was born and raised in Croatia in a city called Cakovec. A lover of all sports, she pursued a degree in Kinesiology & Sports Science. An entrepreneur, she co-founded Tamryn , a UAE-based company that specializes in designing fitness programmes.

Born and raised in Croatia, Marija says a vast majority of people there do not discriminate by race or faith, and both of her parents rooted in her the habit of having a positive outlook towards all people, and to accept all cultures, religions and race. In Dubai she is surrounded by people from all over the world and she spends a majority of her time with local families and around Emirati culture, which she enjoys immensely and even relates to. When asked what home means to her she says, “home relates to family and being at peace. It is a place where fond memories are created with dear people. It is a combination of place, people and memory.” A strong advocate of leading a healthy lifestyle and empowering women in society, Marija wants to give back to the UAE, the place she now calls a home.

Abrar Hamidadin .Courtesy.

Sultan bin Faisal, Saudi

Musician and producer Sultan bin Faisal is a force to be reckoned with. He just completed an epic gig on December 20th  2019 at the Middle Beast Festival in Riyadh, and he has more coming up around the world. The self-made entrepreneur is a partner at GLEAM KSA, an all inclusive entertainment company and record label, and is also a DJ and film producer. He feels he belongs to the human race, just like every other person, but if we look at race as ethnicity and background, then he considered himself ‘Arabian’, he says. As for place, he feels his place is this planet as a whole, specifically Saudi Arabia, which will always be home to him.

Ghaya Al Nuaimi, Omani

Ghaya is from Al Buraimi, Oman and grew up in Al Ain, UAE. She moved to Al Buraimi after completing high school in Al Ain, where her father’s family is originally from. As an Arab with Turkish roots, she is proud of where she comes from, but she also feels she belongs to other places in the world. The wonderfully talented baker and cook, is currently the owner of Five Woks  Restaurant in Al Buraimi. When asked what home means to her, she says that home is where her family and loved ones are, and now it is both Oman and the UAE. Her future plan is to develop her entrepreneurial skills and have a chain of food and beverage businesses. She also dreams of running a large charity foundation that would help as many souls in the world as possible, mostly children and animals.

Bashayer Al Nuaimi. Courtesy.

Nathalie P., Polish- Lebanese

Proudly half Arab and half European, Nathalie was born and raised in Dubai, yet spent many years studying abroad in London, the UK. Due to the cosmopolitan nature of both cities she feels like she is a citizen of the world. She has a BSc in Bio-Medicine and Health Systems and a MSc in Global Policies , both from the UK. She currently runs her own spa, The Living Room , and also works at her mother’s clinic in Dubai. For her, home is a place of real comfort and the saying, “There is no place like home” is the perfect expression for her. For the future, she hopes to complete her PhD in Laser Physics and to create workshops related to physical activity to help communities understand what the meaning of being fit really is.

The views of the authors and writers who contribute to Sekka, and the views of the interviewees who are featured in Sekka, do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Sekka, its parent company, its owners, employees and affiliates.

Sharifa Al Badi is a published writer and author from the magical lands of Oman. She has written for Esquire ME, Khaleejesque and The Culture Trip. She is also the author of “Themis Aella & The Magical Forest” and “50 Things To Know As An Adult.”