‘Belfast has always been home, it is where I was born, where I built my life and I never really thought about what life could have been if my family did not move here’

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‘Belfast has always been home, it is where I was born, where I built my life and I never really thought about what life could have been if my family did not move here’

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Meet Dr Hibba Mahdi, the 31–year–old Belfast woman, who, like many, left Northern Ireland to attend university in England. After that, Ms Mahdi’s ambitions led her to the Caribbean and eventually to Cairo, Egypt.

‘It has been 11 months since I moved backed to Belfast. Initially I felt after living away from this city and Northern Ireland for so long that I would feel like a stranger, however this has definitely not been the case.

I am originally Iraqi, but born and raised in Belfast. My families journey started in Belfast when my father received a scholarship to complete his PHD in Queen’s University Belfast. My parents plan was for my dad to finish his PHD and return to Iraq. During this period, the Gulf war began and to return to Iraq became out of the question.

For me, Belfast has always been home, it is where I was born, where I built my life and I never really thought about what life could have been if my family did not move here. I know obviously my life wasn’t always totally the same as my most of my Northern Irish friends, but not once did anyone close to me make me feel different or from another country. That is what I have always loved about this place, yes sometimes people will say “where are you from?” but in Belfast, you always know 99% of the time it is coming from a good place.

My mother and father built a life for themselves in Belfast, opening a chain of restaurants, my two siblings and I built our lives through school and friends. At the age of 18 I decided that I would go to Brighton for university to complete my degree. Once I finished my degree I moved to London with my sister and worked there for 2 years. Throughout this time, I regularly returned home, my family still lived here and I would always look forward to seeing my childhood friends.   

Hibba (second right) with friends from her school days
Hibba (second right) with friends from her school days

While living in London I had the opportunity to study medicine which was my childhood dream. I decided to embark on this journey not knowing at the time where it would lead me. My medical journey started in the Cayman Islands, where I lived for two years. A beautiful place, but not somewhere I could ever have settled. Following this I transferred to Egypt to complete my medical degree.

I can honestly say that when I truly started to appreciate Belfast and the life I enjoy here is when I experienced living in other countries. Egypt was a challenge to me but my experience there taught me a lot. 

There were many amazing times, as well very difficult times. During my time in Egypt, I met my husband, he was my backbone during my time there. My husband did not want to leave Egypt and asked me to give it a go to try and work in the hospitals there. After a year of working abroad, I decided it was time to come home.

I had really started to miss Belfast and decided I would apply to the hospitals in Northern Ireland. Luckily, I was successful in getting a job in Belfast and started my journey back to my beautiful home after 12 years of living away. 

My husband has just recently moved over and we have just started our new chapter to trying to make Belfast home for my husband and our future family.

  My parents and sister have since moved to Dubai while I was living away, however since I have come back I hope that one day they may return too. 

I have lived in multiple cities and places and I can truly say no city has the same atmosphere and vibe that Belfast does. I found myself sitting on the Lisburn Road a few days ago and turning to my husband and just saying “I love this city”.

  My experience of growing up in is the city is that strangers can become family, you will never feel alone and not find someone to stand by you. I know that being raised here makes it easier, but I honestly think if you are willing to give this city a chance, you will fall in love with it.’

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