I spend a pretty decent amount of time thinking about “identity”. I often have a one-to-one conversation
with myself, trying to establish who I am and who I want to be. I think it’s healthy to do that every once in awhile. It’s too easy to find yourself being what others want you to be, regardless of your own feelings and thoughts. It’s easy even not to have thoughts about who you want to be. It’s easy to just move with the flow of dictates from parents, family, friends, and whatever society you happen to find yourself in.
I find the whole topic of identity a fascinating one. I’ll often ask people that question: What do you identify yourself as? People identify themselves in terms of where they are from, where they feel at home, what religion they follow, what they do for a living, what gender they are, what sexual preferences they have, what social class they feel they belong to, what education they’ve had, and the list goes on and on. Some people identify as being many different things. Others only strongly identify as belonging to one group, tribe even, or another.
I was born in the U.S. to an American mother and an Egyptian father. I grew up in the U.S. until I was 15, then moved to Saudi Arabia for a year, then spent the major portion of my adult life in Egypt. I am now in the U.K. I studied medicine then journalism. I work as a science journalist. I’m a wife and a mother. I’m a daughter, a sister, an aunt, a niece, and a cousin. I’m Muslim. I’ve travelled all over the world and I have a few hobbies.
But if you ask me: What do you identify as? I’d tell you first and foremost I’m a mother. Secondly, no matter how much I sometimes try to avoid it, I identify very strongly as Egyptian even though cognitively I feel like a citizen of the world.
Mentally, I don’t want to have such a strong identity-affinity to Egypt. I have serious issues with the place. But it’s not only that. I also happen to think that human beings should be able to belong wherever they feel safe and at home. That would mean I should also identify as American. But I don’t. It should also mean that I’m beginning to identify as British. I don’t, simply because I’m not British. I haven’t been given that as a choice.
My dad was a staunch Egyptian. He criticized a million things about the country, its leaders, and many of its people. He did so until the day he died. Yet he refused American citizenship. He didn’t want to be anything but Egyptian no matter what the country did to him and it did a lot. My dad’s example has left something inside of me that I can’t remove no matter what I do.
But if I removed myself from my Dad’s teachings, what would I identify myself as? If I was raised somewhere else by different parents? If I lived for a longer period of time somewhere else? If I was born into a different religion? If I was exposed to different experiences? How different would I be from the Nadia I am now? Where is the core essence of Nadia irrespective of all the influences? Have you ever wondered that? I wonder about that all the time.
So I’m constantly trying to scratch beneath the surface and find my core.
In my core, there is always motherhood.
But I’m not sure I’m Egyptian in my core. I think my core is much more universal than having a belonging to one single piece of land.
In my core, I think I am a person who doubts rather than a person who believes. I am a person who has more questions than blind-faith-like answers.
In my core, I don’t even really find a woman as such. I just find a human being. I’m a human being who happens to be a woman and who happens to be comfortable in her skin as one.
Perhaps those are the values that a Nadia minus the influences would hold. Those are, at least, some of the values that I try to steer myself towards these days. And if ever I find myself going in a different direction I stop, I hold a pow-wow with my many selves, and we ask each other if we’re who we all really want to be.
Who do we really want to be? Is something holding us back? If so, what? I find that the only thing ever really holding me back from being the person I’d like to be is me.