I woke up, not remembering where I had fallen asleep. I had never experienced being so far away from home, it smelled different and the air was thick. The curtains were shut tight, I woke up in the dark, with a little sliver of light shining through the windows.

I still remember the feeling of something being so new but at the same time stuck in a memory. I had a faint recollection of running around my Grandparent’s house at night with my cousins. It was hot and we would run in circles, some on small bikes, others by foot. My Grandmother had chips in the cabinet, inside the kitchen next to the bathroom. The bathroom still smells the same.

Waking up in my room that morning in Kuwait, I was 16. I was excited and nervous to see what I remembered from visiting as a child. I remembered the smells and places. My parents and I spent two weeks that December, eating, talking, connecting and growing with my large extended family. I continue to learn from my family, who have taught me so much through my teenage years, and continue to now as I slowly enter adulthood. With them I discovered new parts of the city and old, new foods, new customs, and new ways of viewing the world.

I was sad when we left back to California. I carried around three photo albums in a small suitcase to show my friends. I pointed out each person, each street, each type of food, the clothes, the dancing, the beach and any other details I could find in the three albums. I felt connected but America was always my home. The West is where I live and where I’m from. I have unique access to the East that is almost impossible to obtain as a person of the West. In the end there are many layers to go through and at the same time none at all.

Laila Bahman is a self-taught Arab-American photographer specializing in portraiture. In her spare time she can be found in drawing class, hanging on the beach in the bay, watching the light on your face, walking around New York City and reading scripts.