An Island Girl in the Global City!

Does prejudice and pride bridge cross-cultural connections?

I could not start this note without being reminded of the most cherished novels in English literature: Pride and Prejudice. If you have not read the novel, it’s a story about Darcy and Elizabeth, two individuals from different worlds escaping the warping effects of hierarchical society to realize a mutual love and compassion for each other. Preconceived ideas and pride creating large gaps between both individuals.

Now, Let me take you back to the infamous scene from Pride and Prejudice, where Darcy refused to dance with Elizabeth by making rather demeaning remarks about her while she was within earshot. And Elizabeth rejecting Darcy for an arrogant proposal. Darcy’s decision was based on his prejudice against Elizabeth’s poor social stands. At the same time Elizabeth’s pride made her misjudge Darcy on the basis of her poor first impression. Pride and Prejudice is a fictional novel, however it perfectly explains anxieties about social connections, or the desire for better social connections, interfered with the workings of building relationships. The story ends with a happy note, which Darcy relentlessly falling in love with a rebellious woman beneath his social status or lineage.

Well, my aim is not to over-analyse the novel. I am here to express my experiences with cross culture and how it evolved my personal understandings.

I would like to share some experiences of mine. I hope in this note, you will hear something familiar. I am convinced that we are all much alike than we are different. No matter where we grow up, experiences shapes us and we bring out the same human responses- of compassion- tears and laughter- fear and encouragement — uncertainty and enlightenment. I hope that you see part of yourself in me as I have seen myself reflected in every single human being i am acquainted with.

My story starts in a very small island. I have to rewind back to the early 80s. In the Maldives, southern most island of the country. Located at the west most side of the Atoll. Just 7km long. 3km wide in size. Lush vegetated with palms and shrubs, Marked by dusty roads, narrow lanes, and lean houses. With just 11 thousand residents. The island is called Hithadhoo, the capital of Addu City. That is where I was born and raised.

I was born to a very simple Muslim family. Having said that, I am afraid some would think I would have been born in a backward and oppressed household. That I would have to cover my hair, or have preconception, I would not be given the opportunity to voice as a woman. Some would be thinking this is why I left my country. Contrary to what you may believe this was far from the reality of my childhood. I would not deny the realm of Islamic values reeled around me as a child. Meditation, Praying 5 times a day. Reciting Quran, obeying to social norms was part of the process. However, I was certainly raised with values and understanding of human compassion. My family had given me the chance to grasp the importance of having an open mind.

Having said that, in the Maldives when I was growing up, I have seen the trend in the tensions between South and capital of Maldives, Male’, with each side encumbered by stereotypes. To hear some; people in Male’ would see Southern women as promiscuous and “Gold-diggers.” While some Southern girls thought that men from capital island lack direction and are not trustworthy as a partner. Due to British Royal Air force’s influence in South, most of the people in my island believed that we were superior in Education, Awareness, Culture and so forth. All of these prejudice and pride were experiences I grew up with.

However, I would say I am lucky to grow up with belief that, voice of the heart would not need any translations.

Growing up I was influenced by my mother’s extremely unrealistic romantic ideas. She read a lot about the life of Joseph and she would sigh and admire blue eyed men every single day of my childhood. Her ideal son-in law would look like a “Joseph” from Quran or Bible! Looks are essential for her. (Sorry, Mom, for saying that on a public forum.) But she is compassionate yet level-headed, straightforward and stubborn, religious and extremely culture driven. Conversely my father was a high-spirited free mind. His long exposure with the British Royal Air Force in the Maldives, ennobled him with modern ideologies and cultural diversifications. He believed living in the presence with benevolent.

I grew up with 5 macho brothers, who taught me that wearing pink shoes were not cool at all. I believed them and they taught me, there are no gender barriers for friendship. During weekends when my brothers play football, they nominate me as their goalkeeper. I thought it was a very important position to have in football. Although many times the opposition team had mercy on me and would not score. 
Those little things taught me great lengths to be around men, without having gender gaps. It had taught me that it is okay to stretch my hands towards the people I meet, smile kindly and say hello. Some of the people create false perception about me for having this set of mind.

The mixture of personalities I grew up with shaped me to grasp the importance of an open-mind. I had a good balance of bit of both of the world. West and Arab-Muslim values were embedded in my childhood upbringing.

Looking back to the early 80s when I moved to Male’ for higher education, I had experiences which were foreign and strange. I remember, contrary to all the judgements people in the South made about Male’, it was not a painful process. Most of the preconceived ideas were completely wrong. I would not deny there were some caricatures we could laugh off at. Yet, the experience revealed to be wonderful. I had an open heart, and created beautiful relationships that would last forever. I believe I had touched many hearts by being sincere and compassionate towards the people I have met.

Now, let’s fast forward to mid 2000. I left home for Singapore. When I first arrived to Singapore all of a sudden I found myself facing a great new chapter of my life. I call it “An Island Girl in the Global City.” It seemed overwhelming.

Singapore embraced me with very warm hands. I am not surprised with this because the city-state of Singapore treasures diversity and I find the entire world within it’s borders. I would not deny I was forced to confront new things. New people. New culture. New ways of behavior. I might want to believe few years ago I lived in my own realm of comfort zone. And I may have shown reluctant to change.

Let me share some stories from the decade long residency in this beautiful city state. Few years after I moved to Singapore one of my local friends invited me to have lunch with him at a local neighborhood café. When we settled to order he initiated to choose food for me and I allowed him to do so. He ordered some weird looking dishes for himself and ordered a soup for me. He explained to me that since I have a sweet tooth he would order Red Bean Soup for me. So he did. When the food arrived, I saw a brownish colored soup that was very warm. Steam coming out of it and I had to be very honest I felt strange to see this food. But not to hurt my friend for his lovely gesture, I had tasted it and I must confess I felt like floating off the ground. That was how much I liked it.

Maybe you had an experience like this too, You might think it is strange and foreign. But it eventually revealed to be wonderful. And the judgement you based on it by just the look of it were absolutely wrong.

Change is fearful. I agree. We all circle around what we know in our own realm called comfort zone. We cling on tightly to things we know and wall out what we do not know. But by doing this we diminish ourselves and deprive ourselves of life’s richness. And at worse, we perpetuate ignorance that breeds prejudice and fear.

Living in an International city brought me closer to global culture. I have crossed path with people from all over the world in different walks of life. It is an enlightening experience. It has broaden my horizon and added value to my personal development.

If I were to write about every single person I have in my life, and the values they add, I would need to write a novel…

But Let me take you to few months back with my dearest friend from Mumbai. We were catching up at a famous Friday night hang out. Few hours later we were introduced to a lovely girl from Finland. She had been in Singapore for a month or so on that day. We exchanged numbers and I had no idea I would meet her again. But one day, we decided to meet again and during that meet up we had connected so well, I had not felt it was our second meeting. We may have not known each other for decades. But from that second meeting onwards we had shared much. We weeped together at silly concerts in Esplanade Theatre. Shared our frustrations on violence, grieved on losing people. Talked about; Romance. Life. Happiness. Brexit. Tinder. We had wandered around the city for Sunday brunches in cool café’s. We strolled together for long distances, soaked wet sweaty, just to find peaceful spots on Friday nights. We had rode on 3-wheelers because taxis won’t take us to locations 100 Meters away. And 100 Meters are always too far for us to walk. We have being frustrated by each other for being too straightforward at times. We shared boring, and extremely sappy music to annoy each other. We got on each other’s nerves when I run around circles and drain my energy by hopeless ideas of romance. But when the fire breaks in our lives we call each other and crawl our legs, then we weep together and eventually break into laughter at corny jokes.

My love towards her does not hold any barriers. I see her as the same as I would see anyone from Maldives. Because she has shown me we find unity in grief, and tears are indistinguishable, that there is no Maldivian way, No Finnish, or European way of loving. “Minä rakastan sinua” my friend.

I refuse to believe that if we share these together, if the chain of caring shall reach to it’s fullest potential. If friendship has no boundaries then why must we harbor prejudice and pride. Why do we say “US” but not “ WE”? Why is the world divided?

Why would you be scared to fall in love? In a shrinking world I do not accept , “your country, my country, your religion and my religion.” Home should be where the heart is! And love should be allowed to blossom without pride and prejudice.

Stop worrying about your identity and concern yourself with the people you care about, ideas that matter to you, beliefs you can stand by, tickets you can run on. Intelligent humans make those choices with their brain and hearts and they make them alone. The world does not deliver meaning to you. You have to make it meaningful…and decide what you want and need and must do. It’s a tough, unimaginably lonely and complicated way to be in the world. But that’s the deal: you have to live; you can’t live by slogans, dead ideas, clichés, or national flags. Finding an identity is easy. It’s the easy way out.”Zadie Smith,