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10 Lessons I have learnt from living away from family in the past 10 years.

Picture this, it’s September 2009 and a somewhat tacky, somewhat scared, nervous very confused and most importantly excited young Bangladeshi girl has arrived in the UK with her mother. They arrive in London and then are received by her mother’s brother, who after a few days, drive her up north of England to Hull – a place they had not heard of until she got into university there. So they make their way there, the mother unsurely leaving the daughter on her own, for the first time. The daughter, while confused about life in general, was sure about one thing – that she wanted nothing more than to live on her own and finally be independent. And thus began the journey of this girl, who overtime because a lot less tacky, much bolder, more confident, a little less confused and much more excited as she moved from country to country. In case, I was unclear, the ‘girl’ i speak of is me and it’s been a little over 10 years since I left my parent’s home for the first time, so here are 10 lessons i learnt from living alone in the past 10 years. 

  1. Really, no one knows what they are doing in life – and that’s just fine: I think this is the most important lesson I have learnt – my 18 year old self used to think when I finish university, i will know exactly what I am doing. After graduation, I thought I will know exactly what I am doing once I have worked for a few years. This cycle continued until I realised that somewhere between coffees and country hopping- i grew up, but I still did not know exactly what I wanted in life. I may not be as confused as i was at 18, but trust me, but i still don’t know what exactly I want. And that is fine. Life will unfold as we go, so long as you know what you want in the next minutes and hours – you are fine  After all – what fun is reading a book if you know the ending already? 
  2. You will never be completely at home anywhere, ever again: I read a quote that said ‘You will never be completely at home again, because part of your heart will always be elsewhere. That is the price you pay for the richness of loving and knowing people in more than once place.’ This resonated with me so much that I designed a tattoo based on it and go it on my leg. It is true, my heart is scattered all over the world, pieces of it in Dhaka, a bit in Denmark, a bit in Germany, some more all over Italy, a little more in Sarajevo, in Mexico, Pakistan, England, South Africa, Philippines and everywhere in between. So no matter where you run to, you will never feel completely at home – but you can always make a home out of wherever you go.
  3. Yet, you will feel extremely and utterly home sick at times: I have this utter longing for ‘home’ so very often. Yet i have no idea what this ‘home’ is. Sometimes, during Ramandan, ‘home’ is iftar in our big round table in Old Dhaka. Sometimes, it’s the taste of piping hot jhol momo on a winter evening in Nepal. Sometimes it’s the feeling of wind on my face as we are driving down the Garden Route in South Africa. Other times, it’s sitting in a pub outside, with friend’s in England. Sometimes it’s the people, a particular time of the year, sometimes its the food, sometimes it’s a place or a memory and sometimes it’s all of those things combined that will make you miss ‘home’ or feel homesick.
  4. Independence is perhaps the most beautiful feeling in the world: Independence is addictive and once you experience it, there is really no going back. There is no greater pleasure than being able to decide what you want to do and when you want it done with no one to answer to. As a Bangladeshi girl, i have always seen women having to answer to their parents, relatives, spouse and society as a whole for everything they may want to do. And there is nothing I wanted more in life than to not have to do that- and so i did everything I could to be as independent as possible. There is nothing quite as beautiful as feeling that freedom and independence to be able to call my shots- be it something as simple as what I will eat to something more complicated like where I live.
  5. You will feel very very lonely at times: And that is what happens when you are in a long distance relationship with your best friends and family. I have been lucky enough to make good friends everywhere I have lived in, but still, there will be days when you feel completely alone. Those days, you have to remember the first home you were introduced to, that is your body. On days when i feel completely and utterly all over the place, i seek shelter and refuge within myself. I delve into the space i have created within my head and heart, the nourishment I have been provided from my mind, the things I have created with my hands and the places I have been with my feet. Its the age old trick of carrying out a body scan to identify where your loneliness is coming from, but with a pinch of romanticism to make it a little less mechanic and little more Maliha. 🙂 
  6. No one in the world will cook as well as your mum/dad: nothing, and i genuinely mean nothing, comes anywhere close to my mum’s food. As a foodie, who has travelled the world and is known to cook moderately well herself, trust me when i say this – no one can cook as well as my mother. But i suppose thats what everyone thinks about their parents. And truly, this is because food is such a mix of taste, experience and emotion. And if there is one thing i learnt from a decade of living away from my parents it’s that, you will never be able to replace that feeling. 
  7. A little self care will take you a long way: I wish someone taught me this earlier. I wish someone told me that first and foremost we need to take care of the health of the body we came to this earth on. This is so crucial, and by self care i mean both mental and physical health. So while this may be a shopping spree or a visit to the spa. But for others, its a day off – from everyone and everything, or a trip somewhere new. I feel that a lot of different issues in life would be solved if we were able to do the very basic thing of taking care of ourselves.
  8. No matter how much you try, somethings in life will slip by you, so enjoy where you are, when you are: We all have a bucket list, while some people are modest, others like myself have the entire world in that bucket list. And in this bucket list of small things are also little things, like seeing your niece as she is born, attending your cousin’s wedding in Canada, or sitting with a hot cup of tea on a winter night in dhaka with all your cousins, playing cards – all things i have missed out in the past few years. All things i wish i hadn’t missed. And no matter how much you try, you wont be able to do it all. I am scheduling my trips around weddings and akikahs, i am trying my hardest not to miss out on key moments in the lives of key people. But somehow, its never enough. And that is the price you pay for loving and caring for people across the world, you can never be in all the places you want to be. But the most difficult thing is to accept that fate and realise that somethings will slip out be it out of your personal life or your bucket list and that is fine. 
  9. Life is what happens between time zones, jet lags and trips planned: Well, in between planning, executing, reliving and rewinding, something called life happens. My life for the past 13 years has been somewhat bi-continental, stuck between time zones and jet lags. I live in one continent, am from another continent, but have pieces of me scattered all over the world. This means long distance phone calls, schedules, sleepless nights and then somewhere in between these and the next big trip, i find myself living. And while i do let life happen to me, equally, i make life happen, to carve it as my personal journey, stamped with global experiences and memories. 
  10. You will always regret not taking a chance, so take that chance: I have regrets, i mean we all do. And most of it is centred around the chances I did not take. Because ultimately, the chances i took, the stupid things i did in life, really and truly added so much flavour to my life. I am really glad i took on a stranger’s offer to show me rome at 2 am when i was 20. I am ever more glad that i decided to go hitchhiking around Europe and made friend’s with a lovely mexican girl called Anna at the airport in Munich and then hung out with her in Cenotes in Yucatan. I am glad I got in a minibus taxi in south africa and sat in it for 4.5 hours so i could get to johannesburg. I am even more glad that I took up the offer from the lovely Enrico in Genova to stay with him because he made me fall in love with italy all over again. I am glad i decided that for my 27th birthday I will jump of a tiny plane, thousands of feet off the coast of Kenya, attached to a complete stranger. Even more glad that I decided to jump off a bridge tied to one of my favourite people in the world – Swikriti, in Nepal.  These chances I took, the friends i made, the memories I made, will forever be unparalleled. You can’t recreate them, nor can you buy them. 

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