I bet you are wondering where the heck is Baku, so I’m going to start this post with a brief introduction.
Baku, also known as the city of fire, is the capital of Azerbaijan, a Caucasian country situated in Western Asia. If you google Baku you will get pictures of pretty towers and 3D renderings of futuristic cityscapes. It was the host of Eurovision in 2012, and in 2015 it will be hosting the first European games. Pretty impressive for a city you’ve never heard of, isn’t it? But that is not my Baku, it is not the Baku I remember.
I was born in Baku in the fall of 1990 to an Azeri mother of Russian descent and a Lebanese father, who was there at the time on a med-school scholarship. I spent most of my childhood in the capital, and when I was seven, our whole family relocated to Lebanon. That was the last time I set foot in my mother’s country. I don’t have the passport (due to a series of unfortunate circumstances) and I don’t speak the language (I speak Russian but I’m not sure it really counts). That didn’t stop me, however, from feeling a connection beyond my understanding. Maybe it’s genetics, or simply nostalgia, the kind that can only be rooted in the depths of your childhood. Whatever it is, I’ve felt it for the biggest portion of my life. A calling to come back, even if for a day, to inspect what was left behind and never reclaimed. But it was always one of those things that could wait. There were always other priorities.
Over the course of the next couple of years that followed my relocation, I was constantly persuaded by my Lebanese siblings, and newly acquired friends, that Lebanon was my one true home and the only origin I should be concerned about. My other half was at a constant risk of extermination, threatened to be cut off like a useless limb. But stubborn then as I am now, I fought for what felt right and not for what I ought to believe. I knew that even though I might never call the place I left my home again, I would rather spend the rest of my life in the pursuit of belonging than settling for a place to which I don’t feel like I belong to. A place where I will always have to justify my presence, bend myself backwards for a little acceptance and probably let go of most, if not all, fundamental pillars of my personality. Let’s just say that the adaptation didn’t go according to plan and resulted in an identity crisis. The constant inquiries about my religion and ethnicity, and the local’s referral to me as “the foreigner’s daughter” (Bint el Ajnabiye) didn’t really help. It was a game of tug o’ war, one day I felt like I’d give anything to belong and the other I was certain that I will never belong there.
But Identity crisis is a curious thing. It allows you to belong everywhere and nowhere at all. Once you overcome the constant crave of belonging to something, anything, you gradually notice that belonging is overrated. It goes hand in hand with principles like duty and public image, burdening and not entirely necessary. This is why I’m beginning to believe that belonging should be a state of mind and its pursuit an inner journey. If you belong to yourself, everything else will eventually fall into place.
For years I thought that going back to Baku would also signify going back home and reconnecting with my true self. But as the concept of home shifted and remolded, and I too changed so many times that I completely lost track, the journey has taken a whole different meaning. Baku is the place where I took my first detour and ultimately, it is what brought me here. If it wasn’t for that life-changing event, for that physical distance, I would have been someone else. And I don’t know that someone, I only know me, and I like me. I like what I’ve become.
So I know now as I’m packing my bag, just like I’ve known my whole life, that the trip is inevitable. Except, the intent has entirely changed. I’m no longer going there to look for something. It actually feels a lot like writing the final chapter of a book simply for the sake of starting a new one. A book where it’s all about the journey and not the destination. And I’m ready to write that book, I think it might even have sequels.