A Cultural Awakening
It took me 51 years and several displacements and relocations across the globe to finally compile a list of why I love my culture, my people, our traditions, and our uniquely chaotic world. It took me 51 years to declutter my mind from the nuances of popular media, colonized education systems and imported values. Yes, 51 years to realize that the lifetime search for belonging took me on a circumferential journey back to the original starting point. The list is not exhaustive; it merely captures the swirling thought bursts in my mind, and the flutters in my solar plexus:
· Neighbor: “The neighbor is for the neighbor” – الجار للجار - is a popular adage we grow up with. Beyond the veil of annoyance at that nosy neighbor who knows my daily schedule from wake-up to sleep time, a “neighborhood” is a safety net … I know that the same prying eye also watches for outliers. That same neighbor, among others, shares the bounties of the land (if available), and the gifts of the kitchen with me…all the time! She calls to just check-up on my family and drops in - unannounced – to let me know she has missed me! My neighborhood is holding my back, regardless of origin, creed, race, political affiliation, or gendro-sexual orientation!
· Food: We do not eat to live; we LIVE to EAT! We express love through food, we connect over food, we work to buy more food, and we measure success by food! I am not exaggerating. It is rare to find an Arab mother and father who confess their daily love for their children with words; they do it with FOOD! “I made this dish for you!”; “I am waiting for you to have lunch/breakfast/dinner”; “What do you want to eat for lunch?” (a question that is asked 15 minutes into breakfast!); “You are not eating! Look how sunken your cheeks are/how thin you are/how unhealthy your diet is!”, and so on and so forth. Food comments aside, demanding presence of the entire family over breakfast, lunch or dinner carries an underlying chronic guilt when one does not join the family for a meal! And this guilt extends inter-generationally. As we grow out of the “family of origin” and into the “marriage family”, we carry the guilt of not committing to cooking the daily feasts that we grow up with. “You are cooking only one dish with salad? Ya haram your husband!”; “Your children are starving!”; “You don’t cook enough meat in this house” … and the list continues…. But in all this noise, there is a comforting engorgement in the senses. A peaceful abode for the heart. An internal knowing that there is love for one and the other – as vast and colorful as the dishes and meals are!
· Privacy. What privacy? Yes, in my culture there is no such thing as privacy. Everybody is entitled to your business - like it or not. Everybody (neighbor/butcher/neighborhood store merchant/policeman/gardener, etc.) knows your life story – past, present, and future! If they do not know it, they predict it! If they cannot predict it, they fantasize it! You are a superhero if you can establish an identity that does not fit others’ fantasies! God knows I lived my years fighting for my space to be unique and true to who I am… until I realized that this bitter microcosmic reality is a funny irony of the larger interconnected macrocosm. We are all extensions of each other. The less I resisted, the more I allowed myself to flow in and out of the matrix.
· Success: In my culture, success is measured in many ways. Yes, the job, the money, the house, and the car are important, but there are other equally (if not more) important scales: 1) The husband/wife -how good the stock they descend from is. 2) The son – daughters are wonderful for a family, but the son is a different story! A woman is incomplete if her hips do not bear a son. The family name is diluted if there is no son to bear it. The son is the keeper of it all – sisters, mother, inheritance (if not all, then the bulk), and the family business. 3) The sufra (the variety of dishes that spread out on a meal table)! 4) Commitment to caring for parents/siblings – whether in old age or new, you move up the scale by the magnitude of sacrifice and care you provide for the family. Period. In hindsight, once one realizes that success is relative in my culture, the borne weight lessens. I know that whether I am deemed a success or a failure, I will always be held by those who are near and far. Judged, yes… but also held. One will never stand alone, even in failure.
· Chaos: My culture is a culture of chaos! Chaos on the roads, in politics, in governance, in the judicial system, in life… Perpetual, complex, multi-layered chaos. But in all this chaos, there is order and peace that comes from being in the eye of the storm! In alchemy, which is really the operating system of creation, chaos births matter, and matter manifests existence. Hermetic wisdom tells us that in chaos there is a cosmos, and in all disorder, there a secret order. Perhaps this is why my culture is rich and deep and divinely sacred. Perhaps we are living the peace that we have perpetually sought, generation after generation. Perhaps we are the peace that other cultures envy us out of.
After all that has been said and done, all the resistance, all the struggle and all the pain, I have come full turn to a place of peaceful being…of acceptance…of surrender. I have come to realize that it is so good to be home.