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time and timing

22 Sep

These thoughts and these words have been floating around in my head for a few months now, but I have been waiting to write them. I am not sure why exactly, perhaps to soak up exactly what it is that I have been feeling so strongly. This is what it boils down to: time and timing, both, and how lucky I have been this year for these two things to collide for me.

I have had months and months of time with my family and friends, the opportunity to re-connect in old ways and connect over new ones. And I have had the right timing to do so, but also the right circumstances, for which I only have the universe to thank for. One tiny example is that of my best friend from high school moving back to the Emirates over the same time period as me, to a neighbourhood new to us both but to a city that we left in 2003. There have been many more serendipitous ‘collisions’ such as this one and I have brought many of my ‘pieces‘ together (the Middle-East during an Arab Spring no less, Mauritania and my father, French and my childhood friends, my mother and her gentleness). Full and complete.

Now, it is time to leave. I am getting on a plane tonight and moving to a country in Central-West Africa that I have never been to before but that holds some of the ‘pieces’ I mention above (Fulani language/culture, the opportunity to speak French daily) and I am hopeful it will bring me new growth and challenges. I am moving in with a man, which is a big step for me romantically, and something that I have not yet attempted at the age of 26. Along with the hopes, I have my fair share of doubts and questions, but I would rather have those than regrets.

Here comes change!


make it meaningful

6 Sep

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, On Beauty.

Unemployment and identity

16 Oct

Young people are the same the world over, full of contradictions. Bursting with dreams and desires, endless possibilities, the feeling of being up against the world; a feeling that is as empowering as it is limiting. But I have noticed a perception that is particular to people of my generation, a sort of insecurity that is emerging.

We briefly experienced a time of prosperity and opportunity in the UK (and indeed Europe), of 100% mortgages and loans, entitling citizens to whatever they set their eyes on. We then were a part of what followed: ‘boom’, ‘bust’, ‘crunch’, the collapse of a system. People who had been fortunate enough to get jobs before this were now at risk of losing them, and what was once within our reach – property, presumed progress up the career ladder- no longer could be taken for granted. The result of the UK elections in May this year, ousting Labour and replacing it with a Lib-Dem/Tory coalition, was a reflection of how people felt: distrustful, betrayed, and fundamentally, divided.

When I talk to friends and acquaintances of my age, it is a feeling of instability that I come away with. It seems that there is almost an expectation of having to be prepared for the worst, of not knowing what we are going to lose next. Every day, in every paper, there is a twist on a story that tells us that we are ‘the first generation that can expect a lesser quality of life than that of our parents’. At a house party last July, I had a conversation with a family-man twice my age with two young daughters. He had waited to have them, mainly for financial reasons, but explained,  ‘People your age, you’ll never be able to afford the house before the kids. You’re going to have to do things differently- the kids before the house.’

As things develop and more cuts are announced, it is clear that things are going to change quite drastically. David Cameron, our leader, tells us that he will ‘make it more beneficial for people to be in work than out of it’ and by this he means that the benefit system will be stripped down in such a way that it will be impossible for the jobless to merely survive as they have done. With job cuts occurring on a huge scale, every day, it doesn’t look like it will be a case of more employment being available. However much this alarms me, I know that things as they are have been far from perfect, and that it will take so much for things to change- for the entitled to be stripped of entitlement, and for the disadvantaged to gain both socially and economically. My friend works for a government entity, with many of her clients single parents, and she told me, ‘It is hard convincing a single mum to go out there and work for £80.00 more a week. At the end of the day, she is poor without it, but the sad truth is that even with that added amount, she will remain so. She will still be poor.’ I am not sure what it will take for the balance to tip, in a country such as this, where class is so ingrained in the history, culture, and educational system.

I actually had hopes for the economical downfall. I thought it had the potential to bring people together, of creating a sort of inter-dependency, building on community and kinship rather than on the state. I wonder if this is something that is yet to come out of it, as it becomes more and more clear that the benefit system does not intend to assist people as it has done.

On a bigger scale, I wonder about the roles that people are squeezed into.  As people become more redundant in the work-force, as societal roles become less rigid, what crises of identity will follow?


27 Mar

I’ve been listening to Fairouz this morning. It is really reflective of my mood right now, the strangest feeling of nostalgia and introspection. Conflict and peace.

I long for familiarity. Home. This is part of an ongoing struggle, one that lies in knowing my identity is based on so many different little pieces, sometimes contradictory, sometimes linked to places and people I have no claim to anymore.

Over the past 6 and a half years, I have strongly connected to the U.K., where my mother is from. This hasn’t been an effort or struggle in any way (despite what some people seem to assume), and I think that is down to the logic of the term ‘mother tongue’ – my mother passed on her language, words and habits firsthand and that sort of bonding is strong wherever it is you are brought up. But when I used to think of England, it was mainly the regular summer memories in my maternal grandmother’s kitchen that would come to mind (the kitsch wallpaper and cups of tea with ginger biscuits!), and my experience has obviously expanded drastically since I have made my own life here.

My relationship with my father’s background is more complex and manifests itself differently. My father never sat my sister or I down and consciously taught us about his country, but by being around him (and occasionally the Mauritanian/Senegalese community in Abu Dhabi), it is something we felt and lived.
I have a memory of being quite young, reading a book about capital cities and realising that I hadn’t actually been told what the capital of Mauritania was. I quickly scrolled down all of the unfamiliar names, Nairobi, N’Djamena, Niamey… I came to Nouakchott, Mauritania, and thought I know. I knew Nouakchott as a word, even though I had never explicitly been taught it. And that is how I feel about my relationship with my father: a lot of the learning has been second-hand, and much less direct than what I have taken from my mother. I don’t know if this is down to male/female, father/daughter relationship, or to my dad being a very private man, but my relationship with him and consequently with Mauritania, Senegal, and Halpulaar culture feels somewhat diluted if still extremely intense.

Then there are links that do not ‘belong’ to me: the Middle-East, a French education (which created an interest in French politics, an understanding of the French way of thinking/sense of humour, French music, friends, etc…). There is something that feels difficult about being an outsider to a culture you feel very close to.

I miss hearing Arabic every day, I miss Abu Dhabi and the Allahu-Akbar call to prayer outside my apartment…looking out and seeing men spilling out of the Mosque and into the street, repetitive bowing and kneeling…. paralleling my mother’s yoga movements in the living room.

When I am in a nostalgic mood like this one, I wonder if I will ever feel full? Satisfied? I suppose my contentment cannot lie on the feeling of those pieces coming together, but sometimes I so desperately want them to.

“People are always shouting they want to create a better future. It’s not true. The future is an apathetic void of no interest to anyone. The past is full of life, eager to irritate us, provoke and insult us, tempt us to destroy or repaint it. The only reason people want to be masters of the future is to change the past.” (Kundera)