Rupture and Renewal: Two Years Ago, This Very Month


“I see the American experience as being defined by the immigrant paradigm of rupture and renewal: rupture with the old world, the old ways, and renewal of the self in a bright but difficult New World.” — Ayad Akhtar

“Home is not where you were born; home is where all your attempts to escape cease.” — Naguib Mahfouz

August 1st, 2014 was a beautiful Vancouver day beaming with sunny ways. It is a day that will forever be seared into my memory. For in all the days preceding it, life was always vastly different, stifled and fragmented.

Despite 10 years of living in Qatar, I was relegated a foreigner.

Despite 17 years of living in Malaysia, I was still relegated a foreigner.

Despite 27 years of life as a Sudanese Afro-Arab, even in my city of birth, Khartoum, I was still also relegated a foreigner, (while America deemed me an “alien” every time I visited family there).

And yet, I’ve still got love for all four: Sudan, Qatar, Malaysia, and America, even though, we, the relegated too often aren’t loved back. There is a term in the Arabic language for such people. For people like my father (now a retired Professor) and my mother, and the men and women of their generation who joined the Diaspora. A term for those who leave their homelands in search of lives abroad. They call them “The Estranged” (المغتربين). And so, The Estranged they became.

In their act of leaving while hoping to return someday, The Estranged took with them the values of their day, and embodied them like a living, breathing, warped time capsule. But someday never came. For even when they returned and took us with them, temporarily, for visits, they increasingly struggled to recognize the deteriorated lands they left. Consequently, as their estrangement continued, it became ours, my generation’s. Passed on, to us, the ones disinherited from having a home to which we could fully belong. And so, we too, became The Estranged.

I wish it had stopped there. Alas, my own estrangement ran deeper, and grew heavier. For I grew to have much contempt for the ways of the Middle East, the Arab world, and North Africa. But only because I cared. In particular, I detested the cesspool that is its body politic, one intertwined with that other cesspool that is the region’s politicized organized religions. Sadly, Malaysia is no longer different in this regard, despite being afar in Southeast Asia.

It is a sad predicament, but one must learn to continue to love on, as well as move on. My fellow writer, Nesrine Malik, a Sudanese-British journalist who writes for The Guardian noted it aptly. Commenting on the predicament of courageous Arab women and heretical dissidents outside the mainstream, she observed that being an outsider:

“… is a position that is bittersweet: you are denied the cushioning comfort and acceptance of an extended circle of friends and family, a warm cocoon of predictable familiarity… but also given a vantage point, from which to criticise and point out the truths that others cannot.”

She notes:

“… we should also celebrate those who had been doing that when there were no comrades; those who are rejected by mainstream society yet still maintain love for their countries.”

Indeed, we should celebrate them, and that includes me celebrating my former self, for there where times when I could not escape him even when I wanted to. He was all I knew: the estranged one.

Thankfully, Vancouver held a new promise. They said the city, nestled somewhere amidst western Canada’s majestic mountains, lush greenery, and blue waters, is serene and beautiful. On that day, unlike the many days of limbo preceding it, my friends’ words rang true and right.

As my recently arrived fiancé and I got in the cab on our way to the downtown offices of the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, her hand kept mine assured and less nervous, but nervous it still certainly was. I loosened my necktie, and slightly opened my backseat window, allowing the early morning’s gentle breeze in.

Once at the premises, I made my way into the empty hearing room, together with my lawyer, and waited for the session to begin.

Moments later, he emerged in the room — he, the Presiding Member, the man who would judge and decide — entered from a different door, next to a Canadian flag, to take his seat, facing the two of us, the culmination of months of enduring and waiting.

With his microphone now turned on and recording, the Presiding Member began speaking and rendering his decision orally.

“I find that, due to the extensive amount of documentary evidence… it was unnecessary for me to hear extensive oral testimony from you in order to find your allegations credible.”

I was pleasantly shocked. I had come prepared to be grilled, and yet I wasn’t going to be even asked a single question.

From that point onward, I sat in disbelief, suspended in an empty space between anxiety and joy. Between rupture and renewal, his words inaudible and hard to follow, until he said “Therefore.”

“Therefore,” the Presiding Member spoke. “In conclusion, I find you are a Convention refugee and I therefore accept your claim. I’d like to offer you my congratulations and I wish you the best of success moving forward with your life in Canada.”

Likewise, dear Canada, I’d like to offer you my thank you. Thank you for taking me in during my time of crisis, accepting me for who I am, and enabling me to restart anew: better, wiser, and stronger than ever before. In you, I at last belong, and to you and your democratic institutions and values, I pledge my loyalty.

Truly, rupture and renewal.