Suitcase Mama – By Saba Malik
Their delighted giggles as a baby orangutan tugged at their father’s shorts in the rainforest of Indonesia; their eyes wide with awe as the blue whale leaped out with majesty and grace in the waters of Sri Lanka; or when my husband and I hovered nearby while they tip toed with their hands outstretched to feed the wild kangaroos on an Australian beach, are all but a handful of memories made while we traveled with our two young children around the world.
My name is Saba and for the last two years my family and I have been living out of a suitcase. I have two young children, ages two and four. They have been to a total of twenty-five countries in the few short years of their life. My husband and I moved overseas to the UAE from the US back in 2012. Since my husband changed careers, we have had the opportunity to travel to many parts of the world while our family grew from two to four.
Some thought we were crazy…many times I asked myself the same question. What are we doing raising our kids with little stability bouncing from country to country and living in hotels? But then I think about the excitement, the wonder, the pure and free ways in which they view the world, and I firmly believe it was all worth it.
The first question I usually get is how do I do it with two little ones? Well, it is not easy to say the least. I have always found the most difficult tasks make you feel the most triumphant and proud despite the tears and utter exhaustion you feel throughout the experience itself. I am very proud to have done this for myself and for my family.
Preparation, organization, consistency, but most of all our presence were the keys to success while traveling with toddlers and tikes. We had breakfast together, our bedtime routine never changed, and we planned flights for the same time. Our kids knew what to expect during the traveling, at the hotels, and during our adventures because we explicitly told them what we were doing and where we were going. Before every trip, my husband sits with them and shows them pictures of the hotels, the places we would visit, and the things we would see. Our travels and activities allowed us to give quality time and undivided attention to them, what all children desperately need and want.
When we first left the US, we never imagined we could live happily outside of our home country (as many of our fellow Americans mistakenly believe, too). Many of us falsely think the rest of the world is grim, backwards, and just barely keeping up with our superior technology, infrastructure, and so on. Much to our surprise, traveling showed us the complete opposite. The world is quite advanced in many aspects; it is far more open and accepting than we think. Our trips helped me realize a new goal as a parent; to raise my little ones to be global citizens that pave the road of understanding, empathy, appreciation and respect for other cultures and people.
We first lived in the UAE, which was a bubble of its own kind. As a young couple, it seemed like the perfect place to get started outside of the US. It was a fast growing city with plenty of opportunities for people like us, fresh American college graduates with some work experience. But soon, my unhappiness surfaced with the misguided notion we were living in some kind of utopia while the rest of the Middle East was turning upside down. I remember the loneliness I felt and the need to see and do more. It was then when we decided to put our things in storage and take some time to see the world and grow as people.
We took a break for a summer in Brazil. What a summer that was! It was the season of the Zika scare and my nervousness and anxiety were at its peak. I had many preconceived notions and fears before I traveled here, but a lesson I consistently learn is to always keep an open mind and heart. It was one of the most incredible and eye opening trips of my life. My babies were loved and adored by the people. Being the only Muslims many of them have ever met, we were shown hospitality and kindness unmatched. As our understanding of their land and their culture grew, theirs of ours did too. They took delight in watching us marvel at the beauty of their country, and how beautiful of a place it was. It was hard for us to say goodbye, but with good friends made we left knowing we would be back by God’s will.
Soon after we found ourselves in Southeast Asia. The bustling city of Bangkok welcomed us with open arms. I was flabbergasted as to how well the Hindus, the Muslims, the Christians, the Buddhists, and everyone under the sun got along here. My mind was blown as to how civil and kind the people were to one another. Color and race were not thrown at your face the same ways I had seen in other places.
We took this time to explore more of Southeast and East Asia. We met people from all walks of life. But what continued to humble me was the way in which my children saw the people around them. They did not need to get used to the cuisine, people, and culture. It was normal for people to be different. They accepted it as a norm. Despite not knowing the language, or the culture, they adapted so quickly and easily. They taught me to put my notions of differences aside and dive right in alongside them.
After Bangkok, we found ourselves with the happiest people on Earth, Malaysians. We made friends quickly and felt right at home. Malaysians are incredibly welcoming and hospitable people. Their kindness coupled with warm smiles makes you feel at ease instantly.
Despite the contentment we felt there, we were also face to face with a dreary reality of the world we live in. One of the most significant parts of our trip there were our interactions with Rohingya refugees. We would see women with small children asking for any kind of help as they lost everything and their husbands to the senseless genocide taking place in their home. My daughter would never let me pass by without giving them toys, food, or a monetary donation. During our Eid holiday, we visited orphanages filled with Rohingya children who were just happy to have our company. As young as my children are, there learned so much from these experiences and reflect over them often.
As my children were growing, my homeschooling became more elaborate. A teacher by profession, I always knew I wanted to homeschool my children in the early years. The need for that became even more necessary as they were reaching new milestones. Every opportunity was a learning one, but now our hotel living area became our mini school. My passion for education and positive parenting led to the creation of my blog and Instagram page, Marhaba Mommy. Here I shared our travels, what we learned, and how I homeschool from our little hotel room.
The life of a traveler can be a lonely one. The world can seem big, mysterious, and quite scary. Yet, with our family we found a home no matter where we were. We found friends and family in the most unusual places. We left the fancy resorts and pristine beaches that begin to blend into one another over time and ventured out to where the locals were and loved every minute of it. We learned about the affects of our decisions in our little bubbles on the rest of the world. We found an appreciation of the environment and the mark we leave on it. The lessons are endless and I hope and pray we continue to be blessed with the ability to explore, learn, and grow as a family and as individuals.
Follow Saba on Instagram: @Marhaba_mommy
If you have a story to share, that you think could educate, support or inspire; please get in touch, I would love to hear from you whether you want to share the story anonymously or not – click here to get in touch