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, scared, nervous, confused, and, most importantly, excited young Bangladeshi girl has arrived in the UK with her mother. They arrived in London and were welcomed by her mother’s brother. After a few days, they drove 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. While confused about life in general, the daughter 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, 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 learned from living alone in the past 10 years.

1. No one really knows what they are doing in life – and that’s just fine! I think this is the most important lesson I have learned – my 18-year-old self used to feel when I finished university that, I would know exactly what I was doing. After graduation, I thought I would know exactly what I was doing once I had worked for a few years. This cycle continued until I realized that I grew up somewhere between coffees and country hopping. However, 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, I still don’t know what 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 one 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, Mexico, Pakistan, England, South Africa, the Philippines, and everywhere. So no matter where you run to, you will never feel entirely at home – but you can always make a home out of wherever you go.

3. Yet, you will feel extremely and utterly homesick at times: I often have this utter longing for ‘home.’ Yet I have no idea what this ‘home’ is. Sometimes, during Ramadan, ‘home’ is iftar at 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 drive down the Garden Route in South Africa. Other times, it’s sitting in a pub outside with friends in England. Sometimes it’s the people, a particular time of the year, the food, sometimes it’s a place or a memory, and sometimes all of those things combined. These will make you miss ‘home’ or feel homesick.

4. Independence is perhaps the most beautiful feeling in the world: Independence is addictive. Once you experience it, there is really no going back. There is no greater pleasure than deciding 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 respond to their parents, relatives, spouses, and society for everything they may want to do. And there is nothing I wanted more in life than not having to do that, so I did everything I could to be as independent as possible. There is nothing quite as beautiful as freedom. Like the 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, but still, there will be days when you feel entirely alone. Those days, you have to remember the first home you were introduced to, your body. On days when I feel completely and utterly all over, I seek shelter and refuge within myself. I delve into the space I have created. Those within my heart, nourishment of mind, things I have with my hands, and the places I’ve been with my feet. It’s 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 a 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 traveled 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 that’s what everyone thinks about their parents. And honestly, this is because food is a mix of taste, experience, and emotion. And if there is one thing I learned from a decade of living away from my parents, you will never be able to replace that feeling. 

7. A little self-care will take you along: I wish someone had 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. This is crucial, and I mean both mental and physical health by self-care. So while this may be a shopping spree or a visit to the spa. But for others, it’s a day off – from everyone and everything, or a trip somewhere new. I feel that many different issues in life would be solved if we could do the fundamental thing of taking care of ourselves.

8. No matter how much you try, some things 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 on 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 won’t 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, it’s 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 challenging thing is to accept that fate and realize that some things 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. For the past 13 years, my life has been somewhat bi-continental, stuck between time zones and jet lags. I live in one continent and am from another continent, but I have pieces scattered worldwide. This means long-distance phone calls, schedules, sleepless nights, and then I find myself living somewhere between these and the next big trip. And while I do let life happen to me, I make life happen, 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 centered 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 flavor to my life. I am happy I took on a stranger’s offer to show me Rome at 2 am when I was 20. I am even more glad that I decided to go hitchhiking around Europe. I made friends 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 to get to Johannesburg. I am even happier 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 off a tiny plane, thousands of feet off the coast of Kenya, attached to a complete stranger. I am even more glad that I decided to jump off a bridge tied to one of my favorite people globally – Swikriti, in Nepal. The chances I took, the friends I made, and my memories will forever be unparalleled. You can’t recreate them, nor can you buy them.  

Maliha Fairooz is an award winning Bangladeshi solo traveler, who has travelled to over a 100 countries. Through her blog www.maliharoundtheworld.com she shares her experience of traveling as a brown, Muslim, Bangladeshi woman while simultaneously encouraging a culture of travel amongst Bangladeshi youth.

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