Here and There
As an immigrant, you automatically have two homes, or maybe one home and a house. Either way, the question “where do I find my place and comfort within these homes” seems to never end.
Just 20 minutes from Iraq’s renowned Ziggurats, the grandeur of my youth thrives in a little, slightly deteriorated brick home consisting of three rooms, a small kitchen, and a lively Dtarma*. It’s my Jadoo’s house*, which by tradition, accommodated his children and grandchildren. I head outside, where the children’s sandals are haphazardly scattered across the front door. Failing to find a pair, I let my bare feet touch the dusty, sun-baked Arabian tiles that dress the courtyard in beautiful hues of blue and red. I find myself in repose, away from the loud children, frantic chickens in the courtyard, and the backdrop of war-torn Iraq. My eyes fixate on my Grandpa. As he basks in the sun, I trace his shriveled face and feeble body, wondering how he still has strength to form a scintillating smile for his grandchildren.
A metallic knocking emanates from the courtyard’s rusted gates. “We’re here” calls out a high-pitched voice. I open the door and see my aunt and her children. She greets me with hugs and moist kisses on the sides of my cheeks, and holds a bag of fresh fish from the Euphrates river, our nation’s delicacy. We walk through the narrow paths to the back entrance, into the kitchen. Though small and run down, it embodied a cozy vibrancy that attracted many visitors. It’s almost a daily routine to have family gatherings, and nobody could complain because nothing equals the warmth that engulf our bodies during the long hours spent conversing over steaming cups of Chai alongside family and guests who traveled from all across Dikar and Basra. Enough to sprout deep-rooted love for the lively community that is present.
“Dinner is ready,” my mother announces in an Arabic accent.
After a short visit to Iraq, I’m back to the silent condo, simply living amongst my parents and 3 siblings. From the outside, it was the best house to settle in. Many envied our house, especially relatives living back home since it is the“embodiment” of an Iraqi dream. But I never saw it that way.
I walk through the perfectly symmetrical corridor towards the dinner table. I take my usual seat and fiddle with my food when served. The dining room is pale, and so is the rest of the house. I almost pity my vision at such a sight with so few colors. Trying to drift from the prosaic moods the room is creating, my mind continuously circles back to the bliss and longing of my grand family gatherings in Iraq. Life is so different in these two places. If asked which I preferred, I wouldn’t know. This is my home, but so was there.
Dtarma- a traditional Iraqi secluded courtyard
Jaddoo’s house- Grandpa’s house
Cool air hits my face as I open the front door. I’m outside, but not entirely. I turn my head to the right to face the long hallway. I have to get down, but the elevator at the end scares me from stories about ghosts told at school. I dash down three flights of stairs and dip my head to bow to the security officer ahjussi as I exit the building. Several stray cats are camouflaged between tightly parked cars, or more like tetris pieces. I turn around and see twelve floors of wide, outdoor corridors towering above – large from the exterior but housing a cozy unit within: my first home in Seoul. I’m at ease heading to school because it’s a straight path, and I know I’ll see my best friend when I’m back later on the seventh floor.
Yeouido is technically an island in the middle of Seoul. To adults, it’s better known as the finance district. I always liked the round sound to it (yeuh-ee-doh) and felt comfort in the idea of being on a separate piece of land. Everywhere, clusters of 12 to 36 story apartments stand like dominoes. I imagine one leaning over to topple the rest down. Everything is systematic, labeled consistently, and erect as expected. Here, my route is clear – home to school to hagwon, lined up as orderly as the highrises.
My home in Washington, fitting the name “Evergreen State”, is adjacent to more greenery. The neighborhood itself is on hilly terrain with tall conifers shooting above, making just walking out onto the main road a trek. I could drive myself to school, but the car would be parked there all day and we have only one.
Our house is short, just like the other houses next to us, with two floors that connect from the inside. It has both carpet and wooden flooring, a backyard I don’t dare step out to, and a wide, naked front driveway. I leave through the garage and stand on the edge of the sidewalk debating which way to go. As if the board of “Game of Life” has materialized in real life, the multiple paths form circles and loops, some straight, others winding, and at times leading to the same point that a simple walk through the neighborhood was enough to make me wonder how to retrace my steps back home.
One of the first things Alyssa and Huda connected on is this feeling of being split across cultures as Huda described her journey in the States from Iraq, and Alyssa talked through her experience of having lived in multiple countries, including Korea – her home country by ethnicity. This, along with Huda’a recent trip to Iraq over the holidays inspired this topic as she felt the instant differences in terms of familial community and the different associations she has with each place.
Interestingly, even though the writing format is the same with each of them comparing their US house to their home back home, their writing has different conclusions. Huda wrote about her internal conflict between finding which home brings the most joy, while Alyssa’s two home descriptions include an element of time and age that focuses more on the change within herself felt in the two places. However, both of their U.S. sides were less descriptive, because, in their minds, the U.S. houses are more mundane and uniform, with a lack of uniqueness or a burst of vibrancy.
Huda Yaseen was born in Iraq and immigrated to the U.S. where she resides in Michigan. Whether in books, T.V. shows, or 45-minute long YouTube documentaries, Huda cuddles up in a special corner of her colorful room where she immerses herself in a world of thriller, romance, and mystery. She is passionate about change making and bringing her voice to the table. She adores cats, is scared of goats, loves K-dramas and finds a hobby in journaling.
Alyssa is a strategy consultant in NY working on solving various problems related to healthcare. Having lived in multiple countries growing up and most recently worked in Tokyo, she comes from a global background and enjoys learning, writing, and reflecting about different cultures and experiences. Alyssa studied Philosophy, Politics, and Economics at the University of Pennsylvania, where she also enjoyed taking classes in literature and creative nonfiction. In her free time, she loves being active outdoors, exploring the city, and learning anything and everything about food.