Friendship, an Invaluable Character of Arabs in the Diaspora
By: Haneen Abu Al Neel/Arab America Contributing Writer
As the world gets increasingly international, globalized, and inevitably ridden with mass migrations due to myriad crises, we come face to face with an array of issues. Despite perhaps being caused by economic and political factors, the relationships built outside one’s home country are inherently different than those created within. The word diaspora becomes a source of relief and comfort to many whilst abroad; especially if your closest friends are part of it too.
Migrating from the Arab world to the non-Arab world can create a slight culture shock. Not for the fact that Arab people have never traveled abroad, but because the details of daily events are different from the usual. From minor interactions in grocery stores to slightly more serious decisions and adjustments like making medical decisions, culture shock often creates an ominous aura of alienation. There will be some moments that make you feel even further away from the general culture. Within the varying levels of adjustment newcomers to a country experience; there also lies feelings of loneliness, disorientation, and, most importantly, countless encounters of heightened imposter syndrome.
However, as challenging as it may be, diaspora living has provided people abroad another way to feel at home! What most people do not tell you before you emigrate is that the essential definition of home changes. Home becomes the people you find yourself most at peace with, coffees, and teas you get with friends and dinner parties where Maqloba is shared. Home is deconstructed to become the intricate cultural imprints when saying hello to fellow Arab friends and family or the way you insist on inviting someone over dinner. The fights over who will pay the bill that once was dreaded back home, become a humorous reminder of the quirks of the culture that helped shape who you are today.
When abroad, friendships become your grounding rock. The bonds you build become a powerful reminder of your culture, the good, the bad, and the in-between. All of it. New relationships can introduce a different outlook on the many twists and turns in a society. Events and traditions that once we thought of as intrinsic, can be questioned and reiterated. Far away from societal pushes and pulls, there is a space reserved for the reimagined future of a community. That space often allows for the creative ideas the diaspora’s youth come up with to either reconnect with their family’s culture and help others in the process or establish an entirely new territory in between and invite others to sit in this cultural limbo too. It is fascinating to watch the cultural identity of people in the diaspora develop and evolve.
Out of all interpersonal relationships that one builds abroad, friendship is a unique one. When abroad, the meaning of companionship takes on a different understanding. A friend becomes an emblem of home, with all its spices, aromas, and wisdom.
Among the many activities that friends can share, gift-giving is one of the most celebrated. The ritual of gift-giving can be intimidating because of the ease with which it can become costly. But that is not the point in the Levant. Whether it is kind words of appreciation or material items that embody a dimension of the friendship, gifts are loved and cherished and, most importantly, reciprocated. This generosity portrayed in gift-giving can also be reflected in the culture of food sharing as well, commonly being a table full of homemade dishes, desserts, and neatly cut fruits!
The best part of friendships in the diaspora is when there is a social event like engagements, weddings, shower parties, or even funerals. Friendships of the Arab world are the easiest way to create strong relationships that will act as a solidarity system in the face of complicated social settings. From distributing Mejdool dates and Arabic coffee together at funerals to greeting guests at the door warmly at weddings, friends become family very quickly. Having friends that one can count on during these moments can counter any isolation being abroad might generate. It’s the panacea to many of the diaspora’s byproducts.