I’ve lived in Turkey now for over 5 years and one of the hardest struggles that I have faced is being away from family and friends. On occasions like Eid (for non Muslims thats a Muslim religious holiday) its an even more bitter pill to swallow. For my first two years in Istanbul I couldn’t get back to the UK to celebrate with my family. Instead I either booked local trips or organised Eid dinners for fellow Muslim expats that were celebrating the day alone.
Although I had chosen to move to a Muslim country I never realised that this would make Eid even more lonely for me. Maybe I had preconceived ideas of celebrating in a Muslim country and enjoying an Islamic festival in a real islamic environment. Unfortunately I realised very quickly that my romantic notions of Eid in Istanbul were actually miles away from the reality that I faced.
During Eid Istanbul empties out as families head back to their home towns or to their summer houses to celebrate. What is left in Istanbul is a ghost town filled with the scraggly left overs of lonely Muslims reaching out for some sort of companionship. I never fully realised how much I would struggle or how empty I would feel on such an important day. Even traveling with my friends didn’t do anything to alleviate the sadness I felt in my heart.
Luckily for me in the last few years at least one Eid has fallen within the Turkish school holidays and I have been able to return home to celebrate. I cannot describe to you how easier this made the pain of being away from family for the rest of the year. To be able to wake up on Eid day and come down stairs to see that my Mum had made the ‘Zahir’ household’s traditional Eid breakfast. (We normally eat sevian which is a traditional Pakistani sweet dish made from vermicelli noodles, brown sugar, nuts and raisins.) It lifts my heart to be able to go to the mosque with my family in the morning for Eid prayer. It makes my eyes swell with tears to see how my Mum always proudly shows me off in the Mosque and tells everyone. ”Here’s my daughter who lives in Turkey. She is home for Eid”. Its great to see how proud my mum is of my achievements and my desire to see the world.
Nothing beats over eating with the family and rolling around on the sofa after and watching movies together. We are a small family and Eid is a very simple affair for us. It’s not about how much we spend, the presents we buy or how much food we over cook, its about having those precious moments with your family. I don’t think we realise how important these moments are until there are barriers preventing us from experiencing them.
Coming home for Eid really reminds me of those Christmas B movies where the main character is trying to make a long and arduous journey to get home to open the presents under the Christmas tree. Its exactly the same for Me abet the crazy capers. This year I literally finished the last day of school, got driven home grabbed my bags and called a taxi to the airport. I felt exhausted. My hair was unwashed and I looked like an extra from the walking dead but I made it. landing at Heathrow to see my Dad waiting for me was such a happy moment.
Whatever we do tomorrow doesn’t matter one iota. What matters to me is that I’m here, I’m home and although there are no presents under the tree there is my family and my place at the table.
I guess what Im trying to say is no matter where I end up or what part of the world I’m exploring I need to maintain this connection, to hold on to my tradition. I need this nourishment to my soul in order to keep progressing and moving forward.
It’s never going to be an easy leaving your comfort zone and everything you know to become a digital nomad. There will be moments that you feel alone or moments where you long for something familiar. Missing birthdays, births and marriages is hard. Spending important days alone is even harder. So flying home for Eid for me is keeping that connection with my loved ones alive and making sure I never forget who I am and where I come from.