Trying To Figure Out Where I Belong

By Menna Elnaka

I’ve never lived in Egypt. I’ve lived in Qatar for eighteen years. Then just as I was optimistic and cheerful and excited to finally get back home in Egypt to go to university there and start a new life and change change change everything in the country, I got accepted to the University of Toronto. So I chose it for a better education so I can benefit my country afterwards.

For my entire existence, I have refused to let go of my Egyptian identity. I insisted on paying attention to Egyptian politics, to learn its culture, to listen to Egyptian songs and watch Egyptian movies. I was Egyptian. No, I am Egyptian. And the country I live in doesn’t identify me, because anywhere I stay at, would be temporary. Because I know that some day I will go back home.

But now, three years into being in a first world country like Canada, I’m starting to question myself: If I want to live in Egypt and if I say I’m Egyptian and want nothing but to go back home, then why do I want Egyptians to live on my own conditions; on everything that I have learned during the time outside of my country?

Yes, I enjoy Egyptian movies and songs and try to learn them and pretend like I keep up with all the Egyptian slangs so that when I visit in vacations, I don’t feel different; or when I walk into a store, they don’t treat me differently because they instantly figure out I’m not from the area – despite how perfectly fluent my arabic is; or when I try to be diplomatic in a heated political discussion, I don’t get the typical response of “you don’t even live in Egypt to know about it;” or when I talk, my relatives don’t mock me about being a “khawaga” which is the fancy arabic word for a foreigner. I’m not a foreigner.

I live with the norms of Canadians. I’m glad I came here. I got to achieve many of goals. I became the associate news editor at my campus’s newspaper a few weeks only after writing for it, I got published by The Huffington Post and have a blog there now, I’m studying politics and professional writing – exactly what I’m passionate about – at one of the world’s top universities. I don’t regret coming here at all. But I know, and want to always believe, that deep down, I’m still Egyptianized.

Is there no way I can live outside of Egypt – temporarily – and still talk about its politics? Can’t I live outside – temporarily – and care about it? So what, if I have never lived there? I’m doing everything I possibly can to stay as Egyptianized as possible. I was part of those who started the Egyptian community at my university campus. I try to well-present my country in front of non-Egyptians. I try to succeed on behalf of Egypt. All I do is try, try, and try.

But the truth is, I feel different. Not better difference, just different than them. Different in the way I view things, the way I stick to and believe in rules, the way I talk, the way I laugh, the way I joke… I’m different. And as much as I hate admitting it here, but the more I write now, the more I realize it.
Sometimes I wish I never accepted the offer to come to university here so that I wouldn’t see different people and different cultures and a different world that doesn’t exist in my country. Sometimes I wish I never went to an international school back in Qatar in the first place. Sometimes I wish my family never took the decision of leaving Egypt in the very beginning. Sometimes I wish I saw Egypt without any of its flaws. And sometimes I wish I didn’t care about changing Egypt so bad.

So who am I? What’s my identity? Where do I belong? How do I fit in?
Is this what an identity crisis is? Am I at this phase now?

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