The women’s majlis: From the shadows in Australia

After a short stroll, I saw a shadow accompanying me. It was only when I paid extra attention to the shadow, that I was awakened.

It was a bright, sunny Saturday morning in Canberra, Australia – where I now live. I was walking through the greenery, enjoying the silent neighbourhood across from my new university campus. After a short stroll, I saw a shadow accompanying me. It was only when I paid extra attention to the shadow, that I was awakened. Obviously, everyone carries a shadow that moves along with them. But not everyone internalises that; sometimes, our shadow reflects our inner self.

I had everything in life in the UAE – a home, supportive family, great friends and stability. But deep down, there was a void, a missing puzzle piece that I needed to find. Often, to find an answer, I would retreat for some solitude. The next day, my busy lifestyle would take over again, and I would find myself trying to locate that missing link.

Because I was part of an overwhelmingly materialistic society, I saw myself sinking into a sea of possessions and objects. I questioned what it meant to be a full human being. Have we forgotten to acknowledge the humanity of others residing in the country because of our lavish lifestyle? What does it mean to empathise and sympathise with others, I would ask myself.

Perhaps the morning that I came across my shadow was the first time I truly met myself. The shadow coming from the rays of light introduced me to a person I couldn’t meet in my own country. It’s like the Canberrans’ way of life revealed a new shadow.

When I applied to study in Canberra, I was fixated on acquiring knowledge and experience to help my career. With my degree, I would practise what I had learnt back home. I was wrong. Universities or degrees can’t make me a better human being. Though they’re crucial, they’re not as important as finding the “real you”. There are values only life can teach us. Some people discover them earlier, others later.

When I walk around the Australian capital, it feels like I’m the only person in the city. My existence is invisible, but in a positive way. No one stares or cares about my background, and I don’t get special treatment. We all stand in the same queue.

My idea of multiculturalism had to be modified after three weeks in my new country. Chinese walking side by side with Australians, Indians, Malaysians, Indonesians. Tribalism or classism plays no part in friendships. While walking to the lake in the morning, old men and women smile at me. They see me as a human. I witnessed what it means to be a human through the eyes of Canberrans. After years, I have finally completed my puzzle.

That missing puzzle piece was “me”. That dark cloud that followed me in the UAE has finally left me. A sense of serenity shadows me. Canberra is my home away from home.

Asmaa Al Hameli is an employee of The National now studying in Australia.

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