Identifying myself has always been a struggle. The curiosity builds within me even more after attending a class, with the subject being: attributions that form an identity and the creation of imagined communities.
The undeniable questionable issue in regards to ‘who you are?’ and ‘where do you come from?’ are placed within the system of the generation labeled as Third Culture Kids.
After moving to Dubai 3 years ago, I was always asked questions, like:
“Where are you originally from?”
With my response being, due to my passport identification:
“I am Lebanese”
Then with a follow up question being:
“oh, but you don’t look Lebanese.”
*Smiling with hesitation* I respond with a line I have practically memorized.
“Yes, because I grew up in Tanzania, so I don’t really have the Lebanese culture embedded within me.”
Then the list of 50 questions that come up after, are never ending:
“So cool! Where is that?”
“Why would you live there? Is that in Africa?”
“Why would your parents settle there?”
— Yes, so cool, wala. So cool, I am a moving human that carries various traits of identities that form who I am. So cool, to the point where I can adjust to anyone and any situation I am in. That is so cool.
Growing up in a safe community, where you are identified based on your qualities and ‘ta3amoul’*,with a blend of different ethnicities and cultural surroundings has been a worth while experience.
I was always surrounded with people from different backgrounds, that gave me a chance to see the world in the comfort of my own home.
I would celebrate Christmas with my Christian friends. Tie threads around my male Indian friends wrists — ‘Raksha Bandhan’. I visited the Sikh Gurdwara and tasted a sweet flour, oil based food — ‘Kara Parshad.’ I would attend Bohri Nikah ceremonies and participate in their religious rituals. Heck, even St Patricks Day! *Although I ended up wearing Orange on the occasion*
All this, and still celebrating my own culture, still celebrating Eid Al Adha and the Prophet Mohammad (SAW) birthday.
No doubt, I am lucky. Having the chance to experience different cultures in one country is undeniably beautiful.
But, after moving from that safe community and being exposed to the, lets say ‘true world’, alone, has confused me.
Identified with my ‘taskara’* as Lebanese and almost, after I recieve my passport, fully Tanzanian. The question of identity begins to become important to survive in this world.
But how? How does a tangible stamped book or plastic card make me who I am?
With my final years at university beginning to end, I now need to find a new land to settle in.
I constantly text my mum about it;
“Mama, Dubai has so many opportunities, I can grow so much here. I have built connections for a life time.”
— with my internal voice saying: but a 9–5 job in Dubai just for the sake of living in Dubai, what about family?
“Mama, 5alas*, I will live in Tanzania, take any job there, as long as I have family surrounding me, I would be happy.”
— but, do I really want that? with everything I have worked hard for, would I want to settle in Tanzania for a regular 9–5?
“Mama, what will I do if I get married? What if I live in Lebanon? 5alas, thats a good idea. Lebanon it is.”
— but, how do I adjust to a society that I cannot understand fully?
With these list and list of questions I continuously send my mama. She always has the best response, that I believe I am lucky to hear:
“7abibtiy*, whatever you want, as long as you are happy.”
More confusion builds within in me after receiving a response from my grandmother in Lebanon. As an Arab woman she was built based on the nation that made her. Her response is “you settle where your husband is.”
— “Cool, I can live anywhere then.”
Sawa*, sounds good. No problem, ma fi moshkli*, i’ll go build a home in someone, i’ll go create a world in a person to build my foundation. Now that location doesn’t matter, my home becomes a home in a person.
With the help of this ‘oh so’ beautiful algorithm based platforms that we call social media. We can WhatsApp audio recordings, Skype on the regular, Snapchat 10 second videos, to show what you are doing, feeling and wearing at the same time. Perfect.
But, what if that person decides to one day work late? What if they need to travel urgently? or they can’t make it to dinner, because they forgot they have a paper due tomorrow?
They become busy in their own world, they begin to forget the regular Skype call dates. They reply 4 hours later. They skip your 1 minute voice-note, replying with “I’ll listen to it later.”
They cannot become your home. They aren’t a land. They cannot be someone that gives you the rights you deserve. They can’t put you first, because they have their own dreams to chase. Where is this world where I can walk the streets and preach my religion without hiding it? Where is this world where I can have family, work and friends in one location?
Don’t get me wrong, I am lucky to have the life I was given, but it doesn’t click.
When? or Where can I settle? Where can I get first priority?
Living in the UAE, with its exceptional services and one of the best hubs for this melting pot community, it is no doubt a place that has been welcoming.
But, as a third culture kid, we learn how to live in the moment, adjust to your surroundings because we know it is temporary. We have learned how to cope with grieving.
I was asked: Why do you feel like you grieve?
“Everyone thinks grieving is something temporary, when in actuality it becomes a part of us and we begin to crave it even more.”
We fill that void, with all the cosmopolitan experiences that are in front of us. Consumed with living for the sake of showing people you are living.
Coffee meet ups, fake restaurant dates, Instagram posts for the likes,emailing to create connections, listening to music to ‘vibe’ on the same frequency.
We fill this void, without realizing, that we are forming an identity within another imaginative community. A community that will be based on who you follow and what you post.
(*Ta3moul: The way you act with people)
(*Taskara: Identification Card)
(*5alas: Thats enough, in this context ‘sounds good’)
(*7abibty: My love)
(*Sawa: Kiswahili term meaning Okay.)
(*Ma fi moshkli: No problem)