“Just who do you think you are?!”

5 April 2011 § Leave a comment

Ms. Sarah Carr over at Inanities is always dropping knowledge like it ain’t no thang, and she does it again in her post from a couple of days ago about the various struggles with being perceived as an outsider in Egypt. As with yesterday’s post I’d say just go ahead and read it all. It’s long, but it’s good. (That’s what she said!)

Anyway, obviously the issue of having “halfie” children – and in our case they’re actually going to be biologically “thirdies” and by nationality “fourthies” – is something that PG and I have discussed at length, and something I worry about endlessly even though I’m not yet completely sold on the idea of having kids in the first place. But identity is something I have struggled with all my life even though I am biologically 100% Egyptian, and though I’ve been an American citizen since birth it’s not an identity about which I’ve ever felt particularly passionate. But it remains that I do not look very Egyptian thanks to some serious Circassian or Turkish or whatever blood on my mother’s side. My aunt – my mother’s youngest sister – has got shockingly blond hair and greenish eyes (as opposed to my dark brown and brown) – but she covers it all in a nice big hijab so no one ever questions her Egyptianess, and the same goes for her 4 similarly-complexioned daughters. In any case, growing up I wanted so desperately to be seen as a true Egyptian, but I almost always failed the three tests that Sarah mentions in her post – 1) I do not LOOK Egyptian; 2) thanks to a lifetime of education in international or American schools I do not SOUND Egyptian; and 3) for whatever reason I never seem to have my national ID on me when I need it most. And now I’ve added a fourth offense to the list that both I and any future progeny will have to carry – I married a Farangi and with that comes many practical and social difficulties as Sarah summarizes:

Society has yet to catch up with the nationality law, which upholds the jus sanguinis rule equally for men and women. The default setting for halfies born to Egyptian women seems to be that s/he is Foreign Until Proven Otherwise because of the triage test described above. We fail the name test. More often than not we also fail the appearance test if the father is white – patriarchy exists even before birth and paternal genes seem often to dominate their maternal counterparts. And on top of this is a belief that Egyptian women can’t create Egyptian babies without the input of a fellow citizen.

What makes this slightly sinister is that a minority in Egyptian society seems to regard relationships between Egyptian women and foreigners (by which here I mean non-Arabs) as morally dubious. The thinking seems to be: “he is a white European/American and is not a Muslim/he has no religion. They therefore met while she was lap dancing and got married in the church of Shahira in a pagan ceremony”.

Now, thanks to the fact that PG lived and worked in Egypt for five years and also to the fact that his father was born in Egypt – along with the 4 or so preceding generations of his family – my immediate family and those who know us well insist that PG’s “practically as Egyptian as the rest of us.” Also thanks to the fact that my father is kinda the Godfather of our clan, whatever he says goes and even if there are some family and friends who question exactly how I met PG, no one is stupid enough to let Babagyptian get a whiff of such musings lest they wake up in the night to find a homar‘s head on the other pillow. But this doesn’t change the fact that both PG and I have had our own struggles with identity, which we will now necessarily pass on to our children. This issue troubled me enough that before I even told my parents about PG, I emailed my brother’s childhood friend who is a Kuwaiti-American “halfie” and asked him what it was like growing up as such. (Um, even though I could have, you know, asked PG, him being a halfie and all, his two halves are, to my mind, as disparate as my brother’s friend’s situation.) Anyway, Khaled very sweetly shared that it was at times tough, but actually made easier in some ways by the fact that his father’s Kuwaiti family didn’t really care much for them, which – hurtful as that sounds – ultimately meant that he and his sister did not have to worry much about that. And, in any case, his real problems were developing in the present as he started to think about marriage and was discovering that the families of the Muslim American girls he might be interested in were not interested in him. So…there’s that.

I don’t know why I agonize over this so much except that, well, life is hard enough without having to constantly explain to people who you’re an “Anglo-Mediterranean” and if they don’t like that label then they can shove it. I guess I’d like to think that my kids could instead spend the time they’d use up explaining who they are doing something a bit more productive, like keeping their mama company while she catches up on all the bad television from the early 90s that she missed because she was living in the heartland of crap TV (read: Kuwait) so that she can better-relate to other people. You know, something useful like that.

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