Relocating roots

September 24, 2017
Relocating roots
Mahmoud Ahmad

MOST of us must have seen, or at least heard of, the 1977 famous TV series ‘Roots’ by Alex Haley’s that is based on his famous 1976 novel. Roots portrayed the slavery trade and the hardship a slave goes through from the moment he/she is kidnapped from Africa and shipped to America to be sold in the slave market, through the life and the story of Kunta Kinte.

My point here is not about slavery at all, but about the word ‘roots’. What I would like to emphasize in this column is the word ‘roots’ here and nothing else in the book or the series. For wherever people go, mostly today for economic betterment or intrinsic opportunities, many seem to forget about their roots by being totally immersed in the route they have taken, or face a totally changed scenario back home, their roots, when they either are forced to revert back to their roots or make their way back home of their own volition.

What I am going to talk about here is of people who are forced to leave for back home out of filial sense or a change in the economic landscape following their long stay in the country. In the duration of their stay the easy and comfortable life they enjoyed when their services were needed also made them slowly forget their ‘roots’ and this had made it difficult for many to return to their original countries, as they have come to believe that their ‘roots’ are here.

What inspired me to write about this phenom is a conversation I had with an Arab expat friend of mine who spent all his life in Saudi Arabia. Like the hundreds of thousands of similar cases out there, they were born and raised in this country when their parents were working in local companies. Some parents came with the dream to work in Saudi Arabia for few years and ended up working for as many as 20 or 30 years, enough for their children to reach adulthood while in Saudi Arabia and to become deeply rooted to this country, without an inkling to their original ‘roots’.

This friend of mine told me that his family had decided to leave Saudi Arabia before paying SR300 a month for the visa fee. He told me something interesting when he said that his biggest challenge now would be to relocate his roots to a country that he never lived in before and, adjust to its accent and customs. He said that there is a big difference between being originally from a country and to have deep roots. According to him, this is what creates the dichotomy in people who have had a long stay in the country without nourishing the connectivity of their ‘roots’ in their country from where they had come from.

Like in his (my friend’s) case he is deeply rooted in Saudi Arabia, where he lived and grew up with the customs and traditions of the land, yet he is originally from elsewhere and of his ‘roots’ he has no clue. This is a very deep-rooted situation, in which the family needs to play a key role in allowing for their progenies to know their ‘roots’ and value them. This I would advocate for the Saudis too, who are out in other countries, for they need to teach their children about the country in which they have their ‘roots’ so that they are well-versed with the area, tradition, customs and cultural values.

Many of the people, who have had a long stay in the Kingdom — be it Arabs or non-Arabs, that I spoke to have told me that they are preparing to go back to their country leaving behind their beautiful memories in Saudi Arabia. While recollecting their golden times here, they also looked inward at their negligence in not instilling the idea of their transient nature to their children. They felt their biggest challenge now is to prepare their children, who had been born and raised here and lived most of their lives here, to a new reality that there country is elsewhere and not Saudi Arabia.

Like my Arab friend who has decided to pack his bags and go with his family home, there are many other friends — Arab and non-Arabs, who packed off their families but willed themselves to stay on in Saudi Arabia. This action brought about mixed reactions with many of the families complaining about the need to rebuild their lives at this late stage, ironically, in their own countries.

The major cases of non-adjustment or even maladjustment are from children, who find the whole experience too much to comprehend. This invariably puts them at a disadvantage in every sphere of life or action. If they are schooling the total change of syllabus, the keenness of competition and mode of transport and the distances to travel, along with the varied levels of pollution puts them off. If they are of university age, the lack of acceptance among their peers and the constant exposure to risks of temptations to go astray puts them in a quandary and many lose their way, and if they are at the employable age, the cut-throat competition, the lack of opportunities and the need for exclusivity in their work disciplines suddenly puts them in the crossroads of their lives, making them wonder whether they can take root in their own country.

At this lament of my friend, I got to thinking of the discussion I had with my Indian colleague 15 years back when he sent his wife and daughters home while continued to work here. I told him that he was making a mistake by breaking his home. To that he said, no “I’m just reconnecting myself and my family to our ‘roots’ but also reminding them to enjoy and savor the bounties and culture of their second home in the Kingdom, for I’m not taking away their residential status here.”

I had asked then, why this move? To which he replied, like a tree has many branches but stands tall with its strong roots a family tree will only stand strong if all branches know their roots. I’ll be remiss in my duty and obligation if I do not allow my daughters to know their roots and the other branches of the family. And he recently told me that he did not regret his actions. To which I said how so? He said: “Today even though the family is in Diaspora with all the children choosing their lives in different countries and different continents, the cousins make it a point to stay connected, without the coaxing of the elders.”

He added: “This is the strong bond that roots bring about if nurtured timely. I allowed them to know others in the family, become independent, and thus be savvy about the changing world. Also with links to others in the family the varied experiences shaped their growth, and today they are rooted in their culture, but sway with the changes of time. They are ready to stay in step with time, not alone but together as a family. For they know togetherness in their minds, and that matters most.”

There’s some wisdom in his words and action. For I think, if my Arab friend had stayed connected to his ‘roots’, in any small way, then he would not have had so much of a problem in relocation that he is facing today. Remember that the past is the springboard for the present, which is a prelude to the future.

— The writer can be reached at mahmad@saudigazette.com.sa Twitter: @anajeddawi_eng

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