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In my last prompt, I asked you to consider what makes you feel like you belong. I noted a while ago that being an immigrant means constantly questioning whether you belong and on what conditions.
But, to be honest*, I never felt like I belonged. I didn’t feel I belonged in my family, where too much reading indicated there was something wrong with me. Not to mention loving school, being enthralled with learning. This geekiness didn’t jive with the local culture, either. When I wanted to learn both Arabic and psychology (which collided on the timetable), the school principal literally asked me why do I need both.
I didn’t feel I belonged in my country, where everyone is way too familiar with strangers, everyone is in your physical space all the time. Random people in the street comment to your face about your behaviour, from reading too much to under or over-dressing your baby (often at the same outing). I guess it’s better than talking about you behind your back, but I still find the ‘minding your own business’ approach more appealing.
I didn’t feel I belonged in university while doing my BA. Everyone else knew more than me, not because they read more but because they grew up in the city and were somehow more sophisticated and worldly. I always felt I was behind, and I read the textbooks obsessively looking for this elusive knowledge everyone else seemed to have.
I get the “outsider” feeling more often than I get the “belonging” feeling. I’m an outsider when: I don’t get the reference or the joke; I haven’t read the book (or watched the TV show or heard the song) everyone is talking about; I struggle to find the right word in either language. But I try to remember the times I do feel like I belong: cuddling with the kids in the evening; having a meal with good friends; all manners of singing—out loud or in my head, with or without music, alone or with others. I hold close to my heart these moments when I’m my true me.
*It took me years to realise that when Brits say “to be honest”, it’s a sure sign there’s something they’re not telling you. I never understood that, apropos being an immigrant. When I say “to be honest”, I am.
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