Nomad or Refugee?

Reading Esra’s posts reminiscing about her athletic, idyllic years in Canada makes me envious – and identifying with her sentiments on Iraq makes me sad.

I’m from Pakistan – or at least, my family is. Wait, let me qualify that. My parents are. (Their parents were from India, so that makes us three generations of immigrants – but more about that another time.) And as much as I try not to romanticise any aspect of the nomadic lifestyle – we all live with more or less the same conveniences and constraints, in my opinion – there are some things about it that make me terribly conflicted.

For instance, why I left Pakistan this time ’round. I married a wonderful guy from Karachi, who has a wonderful family and a lovely, comfortable home there – and three months into the marriage, we had moved to the Middle East. Admittedly, we have better-paying jobs and more prospects of career advancement here, but sometimes I wonder if that’s the only reason we came here – and the answer is most often a resounding no.

Just last night Pakistan reported a fresh round of ‘clashes’ between the ruling politicians and the judiciary. The papers and online news sources are screeching about “impending political instability” and “an inevitable return to martial rule”. Meanwhile inflation has hit 40%. Power outages are part of the daily routine. Public utilities such as roads and hospitals are non-existent in rural areas, and in the larger cities, creaking under the weight of an ever-growing population. Street crime and general violence and instability has become a part of people’s lives in my home town.

And yet I have friends and family who continue to persevere. It’s home, they say, though it may have its problems. Where else can one have such a fantastic support network? A roaring social life, without any effort? All the comforts and conveniences of home?

It’s questions like those that make me wonder how much of my lifestyle is nomadic, and how much has evolved out of the need to be someplace safer, calmer, more predictable, more secure, as I get older. In other words, am I a nomad, or a refugee? On the cusp of yet another executive-judiciary clash in Pakistan, the jury’s still out on this one.

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Who needs religion when you got money? I’ll tell you who.

So I’m reading a fascinating study that explains some of my own views on religion – or rather:  ritualistic practice, as I like to call it. It confirms my long-held belief that people ‘need’ religion less when they have more money. Or, in formal terms, “there is an even more consistent gap on issues tied to religion and morality. People in the global middle class are less likely to consider religion central to their own lives.” (See

A Prayer

for more)

This doesn’t come as a particular surprise to me. I spent a great portion of my young adulthood in a poor, badly-governed country that I was told wasn’t always doing so badly. Interestingly, even as a teenager, I could detect a noticeable difference in the religious values of my older family members. What’s more, my mother – a liberal, formerly secular university-educated woman now in her early 60’s, transformed before our very eyes from all of the above to a rather narrow-minded experiment in mind-control resulting from overexposure to a zealous middle-class female televangelist.

But wait, there’s a contradiction there. My mother is definitely better off now than she was when she was younger. Yet she lives in a country that is most definitely worse off politically and economically – and therefore, in an environment where religion has come to play the role of a political institution in itself. Your religiosity is almost exactly correspondent to your own shift in values in a place like that, if that makes any sense.

So to answer the question: who needs religion when you got money, let me tell you who. My mother. Because even though she now has money, what she hasn’t got, she hopes her prayers can one day provide. More evenly-distributed prosperity, with just a tiny bit of good governance thrown in.

‘Cultural’ Differences

One of the great ‘ joys’ (pun intended) of living and working in a place other than where you were born, or raised, or even educated, is getting used to the work ethic there.

Granted: some of the issues you face may be because of *you* – i.e., your own professional and cultural values are a mix of this and that, and therefore not realistic in terms of a new environment.

But sometimes the differences one faces are purely cultural – for instance, being educated in a liberal arts tradition, where everything is open to question, and then moving to work in a place with less open social values.

Or, for instance, being trained professionally in a much more advanced environment than where one ends up. Admittedly, it is this background and training that gets one there in the first place – the new employer valuing the skills learnt elsewhere, and hoping for a communication of those same values and ethics.

But any organisation is made up of parts, which don’t always add up to the whole. Barring a boring post on organisational behaviour, let me just say that things can get  challenging for a modern-day nomad in such diverse environments. I guess reading cultural cues and expectations is not something one learns in fancy-pants school!

Taking the Horse to Water

Nomadic is a particularly good way to describe my lifestyle, and if I may presume to be part of a larger demographic, other young urban upwardly-mobile (here we go with the cliches) people worldwide.

We are born in a certain place because that’ s where our parents are ‘from’ – I’ll explain the quotation marks later. We grow up in another place, ‘cos that’s where they get jobs. However, even in that other place, we inhabit yet another world – that of the expatriate. This generally involves a gated community of some sort, some variation on the theme of an American/British/Continental ‘International’ education, usually delivered along Western lines. We then proceed to either spend our childhoods in this kind of community before proceeding for the next logical destination – university in the West; or, we spend a short stint at ‘home’ while our parents emotionally regroup, build a house/buy a property, and make up for the time they ‘lost’ as expats in early parenthood.

Eventually, we graduate from college and head out again – most often to look for work in yet another highly-mobile influx to yet another urban center. Youth, jobs, relationships, promotions, higher education and often marriage and babies follow as automatic milestones. In planning for all of these life-events, we value above all else our mobility – the ability to have the best of all worlds, for ourselves and perhaps even for the children we’re planning on one day having.

Before long we realise we are nomads – or rather, beings in pursuit of greener pastures, horses in pursuit of water. Question is, once we get there, in what ways do we make ourselves drink? This is the central premise of this blog. Join us as we navigate the musings of modern-day nomads such as ourselves.