By: Layan Adham
Hailing from a typical Arab household, where my family is about the size of an ant colony and my generation capable of starting our own mini league football team (offence and defense) I was brought up in an overwhelming society of second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth cousins and the abundance of weddings, baby showers and – in some severe cases – divorces that brought along with it.
With these massive numbers of individuals you’d think a herd like this would breed a unique gene pool of diverse global contributors but alas, you fail to recognize the key word needed to understand the dynamic of my family: Arab.
Instead of providing the world with an array of blood-related artists, lawyers, politicians, writers and the like, an Arab family’s cloning machine only has two settings: engineer and doctor. And if God forbid there’s a malfunction, you get the occasional mutant banker.
In this day and age, such an outdated scientific machine would be trashed or modified (the engineers could even help with that) but the one thing standing in the way of modern thinking in families such as mine is, unfortunately, tradition.
Our family’s near sole purpose is the reinforcement of certain values; the upkeep of traditions has always been a vital part of my everyday life, regardless of whether or not I actually understood the rationale behind most of the customs I was expected to embrace and uphold (“Well-behaved girls don’t mingle too much with boys”, “Girls should not stay out late”, “You can’t sleep over at anyone’s house, what would the doorman think?”)
It seemed as if my life was mapped out and my career path was predetermined by the counsel of elders long before the date of my birth. Yet, by some mishap either on my parents’ side or because of my rebellious nature, I decided early on to go into the arts.
It was the beginning of the apocalypse.
From the second I voiced my intentions at a family gathering, I was bombarded with a relentless current of “naïve little girl, she’ll grow up and see reason” and “it must be her liberal high school, I knew it was a bad decision” and even “your daughter is quite the comedian”.
Art was an alien concept to them, something they did not comprehend and did not endeavor to understand the logic behind. Artists did not show any financial prospects, did not possess the knowledge to build the pyramids’ successor and could not remove a placenta.
Add to the mix the fact that my genome was XX in a society with XY preference and you’ll get quite the muddy situation. The closer I got to my high school graduation, the more I grew to hate the common question: “What are you going to do next?”
In my heart I knew the answer, but my Arabic muzzle prevented me from giving it. Until finally the day came, when I decided – without the generous helping hands of my quite persistent family aunties – to let their good-Arab-Muslim-girls-do-this-not-that opinions fade into background noise, silenced by the turmoil of university preparations and the chaos of Cairo traffic.
I applied and got accepted to a university, where I could double major in Film and Psychology or, as they seem to view it, a merger of two horror tales into one enormous apocalyptic doomsday scenario.
I did it anyway.
And a profusion of jokes emerged about how my younger siblings, one of whom planned to go into finance, would be forced to provide for me, as I would undoubtedly be living in a rat-ridden container of an apartment with cockroaches flowing out of an Ibiza tower of pizza boxes.
I have to be honest. In the beginning, those unfounded comments infuriated me; it was a modern type of racism that I have christened life pathism: where you are judged for choosing a path in life that is right for you but goes against the very norms of Egyptian society.
However, following the completion of my first year at university, I came to grasp that college is when you embark on an adventure of discovery that leads to the realization of who you are, away from the relentless buzzing of the bee nest you call home.
Not who you thought you were, which was largely put together by your engineer cousins and doctor uncles, or who society shaped you into becoming or who your peers and relatives and family expected you – and if we’re honest, tried to force you – to be.
Just you in all the pure essence that self-knowledge emanates. And that once you reach that stage of self-comprehension, of self-appreciation, nothing, not even a rally of middle aged aunts and senior family members, can derail you from making the life choices that ultimately make you who you are.