If you think that you have just one life, think again. There's the life you think you have, the life others think you have and the life you really have- three lives!

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Memorable Moments #2

This one is going to take a while so please bear with me.
It's a long story but it is a story that I promised myself I would write a long time ago. Until now, it just didn't want to be written...

We, my brother, sister and I, grew up as typical Sydney wogs. By that I mean that our parents as immigrants to a new land, worked long hours to make ends meet and I was often left only in the company of my siblings. This explains why I never learnt to speak Arabic until later in life.

My sister and I were close. We're only about 18 months apart in age (she's older) and, with our parents often working shifts, we spent most of our time together and were often mistaken for twins. As we grew older our personalities and interests developed in different directions but the bond we developed as young girls remained strong. I had an inquisitive mind and would spend my time reading and studying. Not surprisingly, I excelled academically. My sister was a dreamer who would rather spend her days lounging in the sun and listening to music. She exasperated my parents, who placed a strong value on education, with her average performance at school. While I often won their approval with my glowing reports and perfect marks.

It was not that I tried to overshadow my sister or to make her look bad. It was just that I had found something that I enjoyed and that I was good at. My biggest regret is that I never noticed the pain in my sister's eyes whenever my parents yelled at her "why can't you be more like your sister".

When we started high school, my parents insisted on sending us to a posh Anglican ladies college. I didn't belong there among the girls with their shiny blonde hair that glistened in the sun. I, with my dark curls, dark eyes and dark skin which I wore like a hideous birthmark. They with their perky breasts, lean hips and big houses in Sydney's upper class suburbs. I with my breasts already so large that they strained against my school uniform, my round hips and parents with thick accents and middle class jobs. Oh how I longed to be like them. To start each school week with exciting stories of parties and boys, a first kiss, a first date. How I longed to be a part of their world.

It's not that I was unpopular. My penchant for acting, my class antics and my academic achievements made me very popular at school- but I was always an outsider. My parents were very traditional and I was not permitted to attend parties or outings with the girls from school. I would never, not in a million years, get to experience what they experienced. My world was the shadows. Theirs was the light.

We maintained Muslim traditions in our household- we always fasted Ramadan and celebrated Eid- but my parents never taught me what it meant to be Muslim or what was expected of me. I knew one Surah- the Fatiha- which my father taught me when I was 10 and one Arabic song- Mama Zamanha Gaya- which I remembered from my early years (funny how we all seem to have one song that stays with us through life). Apart from that, I knew nothing else of what it meant to be Egyptian or Muslim- I only knew that it was what I was expected to be.

As time wore on my parents softened a little in their strict restrictions on me, mainly as a result of my sister's insistence- the elder child must always pave the way and the younger ones must always enjoy the fruits of that labour.

The year I turned 15 was uneventful in most respects. I was in year 9 (Junior High) and was starting to enjoy some level of freedom. I attended a few school parties where I got to know some of the boys from the neighbouring schools. We were friends but they would never entertain the thought of seeing me as anything more than that. I was too different- and when you're a teenager, different isn't what you want to be. No, they reserved their affections for the girls who were like them.

You know how sometimes you make a conscious choice to do something and you have no idea where the consequences will lead you? You kind of take one step along a path and then it is like you are at the mercy of destiny and nothing you do can change your path- you can't go back but you can't go forward either because it is not you who is in control anymore. One night I made a conscious decision. I stepped onto a path without giving a single thought to where it might lead. I saw a way that I could be like them- like those girls- even if just for one night- and I took it.


howie said...


Looking forward to Part II...

The part of your story that struck me the most was, essentially, you referring to that philosophical/theological concept of free will vs. pre-destiny or "God's Hand". I realize this is not the focus of the tale you are goign about telling. Still...this struck me so deeply...those salient points in life that become so defining and take on a life of their own. When "free will" seems to fade and it is as if God or Karma or what have you, sweeps you along, speaks for you, places people in your life, books, a news article that carries you along. Your free will is more or less limited to your thoughts and feelings...but has little impact on this destiny.

Anyhow...after 30+ years in the psych. field...I have yet to tire of hearing about what people experienced and decided upon in terms of the shape their lives take on.

programmer craig said...

I'm also looking forward to part two, Suspect :)

I had something of the opposite problem. The first time I went to a school that was white-majority was when I was 14. I had trouble adjusting to white kids :)

The Raccoon said...

Did I mention that your writing gets better by the day? :)

It's a very interesting peek into your life, though. Interesting for me, anyway - my attitude to conformity and decision-making has always been the opposite of what you describe as yours at a tender age. That is, for me it was always perfectly understood that hunams cannot be raccoons and vice versa; hunams are unfortunate in this limitation. And decisions always were to be pondered, calculated, and acted upon only when a perfect outcomes tree is mentally penned down, with at least two back-up plans (with their own calsulated consequence trees).

I wonder if it's nature or nurture.

Looking forward to part two :)