When I ask you to give me a Kleenex.. What I really need is a tissue paper.
When I urge you to hand me a Band-Aid.. What I really want is any self-adhesive sterile cover for my wounds.
Think Q Tips, Jet Skis, Tupperware, and Scotch tape… all brand names generically used for all products serving the same purpose.
Now think bigger and profound terms loosely used but actually have deeper meanings that create havoc and induce wars. Think Anti-Semitism, a term Israeli fanatics adopted to point fingers at anyone who dares criticize anything anti Israel and its people.
Now Zoom out even more and think that one word everyone gets itchy when they hear in New York.. That word they told me to watch out for when we moved to South Africa a month ago. A word everyone pretends they are passionately against but can’t concede that we are all guilty of, in one shape or form..
Living in the US you get bombarded with anti-racism propaganda. Schools work hard to emotionally sensitize kids to be tolerant, accepting and at least in public, non-judgmental!
The thing is, I’ve always had an issue with this culture of tolerance. Acceptance means that YOU DO see a difference, YOU DO feel that people are segregated by color, faith, nationality or social status.
I didn’t want this for my kids! I didn’t want them to see the difference, then learn to curb the urge to point it out.. I didn’t want my kids to be politically correct.. I want them to POLITICALLY BLIND.
And sine I’m neither correct nor blind, this task remains elusive but I’m working on it J
Then we landed South Africa and again, we were told to watch for three distinct breeds here: Africaans aka Whites, Blacks, and colored.
Naturally my kids all wondered and asked: which breed do we belong to then?? Since they caught me clueless, on yet another important subject: their identity, I had to improvise and bring out my deep voice of ‘sagesse’.. You know, that low pitch that only tells them that what I am about to say isn’t just an answer to a simple question, it’s actually a crucial lesson in life! Any mom would totally get what I’m talking about.
“We actually don’t belong to any of the three categories. We are African by virtue of being Egyptians, but we carry the mixed genes of over three hundred years of colonization. You can trace them all on the not-so-fine lines on my face.”
I was right.. but then, I was totally wrong!
What I forgot to mention was that we are a very unique and universal breed that belongs to non of the above.
WE ARE THE FOURTH BREED….. We are Expats!
It’s true.. One of the most underrated, almost completely ignored, virtues of being an expat is that you become so unique in your experience that your deep-rooted prejudices suffer some seismic shifts naturally… and you stop seeing the difference.
Every post you live through leaves an imprint on your soul. You see places, you learn languages, you eat food and you hear music. You read books, you explore environments and … you forge friendships. Then you pack up and you do it again… and again!
You learn to see logic behind actions, circumstances that shape behavior. You adopt bits and pieces and add them to your own character, and you embrace the change in you that only an expat can appreciate, and accept. Slowly you rise above geographical and mental borders and you break free from the limitations of stereotype.
So it’s not that we are Egyptian and don’t need to subscribe to any local breed we live amongst. We are a global breed that keeps morphing as it roams the earth settling temporary homes. We open up to difference and we upload some of what we learn.
In 15 years of expatriation, I am still for the most part Egyptian. I mean I speak it, eat it and act it a lot.
But I’m very much a New Yorker. My new friends here say I speak like one.. I sure act as fast as one. Very much the impatient one and easily frustrated when everything I want is not a quick click away.. Oh how I miss Amazon and Freshdirect.com.
I’m also a very proud Jordanian and if you give me enough time, I might still not say ‘EISH’ or develop a taste for Biltong, but I’m positive I’ll be very much a South African carrying the traits of its three breeds with a typical expat flare.