So the concept of home has always been a complicated one. Let’s start from the basic question that I usually get, “Are you Kenyan or Yemeni?”
Starting with my family, our cultural values are more Yemeni than they are Kenyan. Naturally, because we’re Arabs and not Africans – by blood. In addition to that, our skin color, looks, and dress code also reinforces the Arab label, that when strangers speak Swahili around us in the UAE, we end up grinning in delight for the perfect camouflage. But we do feel more Kenyan than Yemeni, because we never lived in Yemen. Whenever we check the news back ‘home’, we go to Daily Nation or East Standard.
Besides that, our passports claim we’re Kenyan. That means that worse goes to worse, if we need to return to our ‘home’ country for any reason, we’ll have to go back to Kenya. But the most important reason why we feel Kenyan is because of the diversity that Kenya enjoys. What makes Kenya special is how the different cultures have become so intertwined that Arabs cook Indian food, and Indians have African cousins. Despite that, tribalism is what runs the show in Kenya especially with the elections coming next month.
So yes, to answer the question, I coined the term “Kemeni” to represent people like us; Yemenis who come from Kenya and not Yemen. So that’s to answer the basic question.
But then when I really think about it, having lived outside of Kenya my whole life, I personally don’t really feel a sense of belonging whenever I go to Kenya. On the contrary, summers for me were just a compilation of one bad memory after another. I spent a lot of my summers as a teen sitting in a chair in what I call the laundryroom crying because of something that someone did to me. The laundryroom was nothing fancy. It was just an unbuilt room where people used to hang the clothes to dry especially when it was raining outside. This was the scene from the laundryroom but I outgrew that place, and it got so dusty that I couldn’t enjoy it anymore.So the good memories I have are those with my immediate family, and I don’t need to go to Kenya to see them. So I’ve always wondered if ‘home’ is defined more by the people (basically, your family) than by the geographic location?
But then I sit and think, that maybe it really doesn’t matter where home is as long as we do the basic thing that connects us to Allah (SWT) and that’s praying the five obligatory prayers. From a dusty airport archive room to a a stairwell landing to a tailor’s shop and a store’s fitting room, as long as we find that place to heed the call of prayers and pray to Allah (SWT), then we feel the tranquility that other people relate to being “at home”.