Being Here: How to Be a Permanent Expatriate

For much of his life, Alnoor Hirani has been an expatriate.


Surrounded in his cramped office by Purina pet food and West chewing gum -- products imported by his company, Europa Trading House -- the dapper and well-spoken Hirani says his travels began almost at birth, in Tanzania. Despite five generations of Hiranis calling Tanzania home, his family members, Indian by ancestry, were never considered natives by the Africans, he said.


At 17, when Tanzania went socialist and the country, overnight, appropriated his family's trading business, Hirani moved to England. After school and more than 15 years in business, Hirani's company asked him to move to Moscow with his wife, Amina, and two preteen sons, adding another element to his expatriate experience.


"I can't say I was surprised when they asked me to go," said Hirani, 42, the general director of Europa. "Moving and relocating was something I'm used to," he said. "I don't really think of any one place as home."


Despite the dislocation and feelings of impermanence, being a permanent expat does have its advantages, especially when moving to a country as different as Russia. Hirani's said his background made the transition from luxurious London to growing Moscow easy. Indeed, in many ways Hirani said he finds Moscow more hospitable than London.


"Life in the West is more comfortable," he said. "But life was becoming too stable. Coming to Russia was a chance to learn something new every day. Coming to Russia was a very pleasant surprise. I actually expected queues and lines everywhere. And if anything, I find the people much more open than in England."


Having been a transient within communities has also given Hirani a strong sense of social justice, he said. While here, he has done charity work, donating food and clothing to several organizations. He said his company also is looking forward to a long future in Russia through direct investment in food-processing plants. With his children in a Russian school and his business booming, he said he can see himself living here for at least the next 10 years.


"As a people and as a community, we always have been taught to give back to the community where we live," said Hirani, an Ismaili Moslem. "Having lived all our lives as foreigners, we have a very strong sense of needing to do what we can."


Hirani added that his background has given him a unique perspective on Russia's fitful changeover to capitalism. Growing up in Tanzania, he watched the process in reverse, as Tanzania went from capitalism to socialism.


"I can't say that one system is better than the other. Greed always affects how any change goes," he said. "Under socialism, however, it is harder for the population at large to benefit. Capitalism depends more on the individual. In Tanzania, my family worked hard for what they had and it was all appropriated overnight, without compensation. That was difficult to swallow. In Russia, now, it is the other way around," he said.


"For example, a surgeon applied to me for a job. He thought he could make more money as a salesman. To me, that seems a tremendous waste of manpower."