Breaking down barriers through the arts
31 / 08 / 18
26 / 04 / 18
This edition of Interfaith voices looks at this months theme, tradition and change: my faith and belief story. In her blog, Jessica reflects on her ‘racial ambiguity’ and her exposure to two different religions within her household. Her openness to belief led to a profound belief in herself that allowed her to overcome obstacles and create positive change in her life.
Where Are You From?
‘No. I mean, originally? Where are your parents from?’
‘My mum is Irish and my dad is Egyptian.’
‘Oh. Are your parents still together?’
I am asked these questions on a daily basis. For years, it never occurred to me that this is not a typical conversation. I had simply grown accustomed to it. Curiosity is not a bad thing. Nevertheless, I would never think to ask anyone if they were single, engaged or married. It is none of my business. Now when anyone asks me where I come from, I ask them, ‘Why does that matter?’
A friend once told me I am ‘racially ambiguous.’
I had not heard that term before.
Suddenly, a light bulb lit up above my head because my sister’s are never asked the same questions. Granted they take after our mother with their pale complexions and wavy black hair. I inherited my father’s olive skin and untameable curls. I do not believe I am traditionally beautiful but I do have a face that makes you stop and wonder: is she Spanish? Greek? Iranian? Croatian? Italian? Kosovan? I absolutely love it when people try to speak to me in all the languages of the world. I am often sad to say I can only speak English. I could never learn how to speak Arabic because I could barely read or write until I was eleven-years-old. I was so severely dyslexic.
My father tried to take me to Arabic school every Saturday, even hired a private tutor. Nothing worked.
My mother would read to me until I memorised every single word and repeated the story back to her. That was when I started making up stories of my own. I always had an overactive imagination as a child, loving and hating books in equal measure. Wishing above anything, I could run away into those other worlds hidden in those pages. In the end books became my refuge as well as my salvation.
My parents had faith in me. They taught me how to type these words onto this page.
They are the reason why I do not judge anyone because of where they come from.
When people ask me about my mother and father, I am happy to say they are best friends. They follow their own religions. Converting was not an issue. They respect each other’s beliefs. Their children were never forced to make a choice between Christianity and Islam. We respect both. We celebrate Christmas and Ramadan.
I am truly lucky because I get to eat the best food on earth, smoke shisha and drink Guinness. Our home has always been inviting and accepting of everyone, no matter who they are. My friends love sitting out in our garden, eating my mother’s famous lasagna. Telling my father his lawn looks just like a tennis court.
Neither one of my parents grew up with a lot of money. They take a great deal of pride in what they have now. All three of their daughters have gone off to university. Travelled the world. Never wanting for anything.
When I finished my education, I followed in my father’s footsteps. I wanted to get as many stamps in my passport as humanly possible. For work, I went to conventions in Amsterdam, Zurich and Munich. In one year, I had been to twelve different countries. Then one day I received a letter from the doctor.
I was diagnosed with the first stages of cervical cancer.
In a heartbeat, my life changed. My family gathered around me like an army. Protected me from myself. Stood by me in the hospital. Held my hand through it all. Supported my decision to follow my passion. To become what I had always wanted to be. A writer.
Questions flooded my mind. What was I going to do? How was I going to do it? I looked up into the skies for answers and prayed for guidance. For me, faith and family have always been one and the same. Integral parts of my identity.
At the age of twenty-five, I had to find my faith, not only in a higher being but in myself. Never will I forget my mother’s words, ‘You can get through anything. Believe in yourself, no one can do that for you.’
Once again, I felt like that little girl who could not even spell her own name. But my mother was right. I did get through it all with the help of my family. I am proud to have them and I am proud of where I come from. They have defined who I am and who I want to be.