This is the preface to what will hopefully be an actual manual, also titled Shuffa3 Almughtaribeen. Pray for me, y’all.
A letter from the Chairman of the Invisibility Committee.
“Bita3rifi almashla3eeb?” (Do you know what a ‘mashla’eeb‘ is?)
“Tayib, algargareeba?” (How about a ‘gargareeba‘?)
“Tayib, bita3rifi alsifinja? Ma albilbasooha fil kuraa3 – altania” (Okay, do you know what a ‘sifinja‘ is? Not the one you wear on your feet – the other one)
Dear Diaspora Offspring,
These are just some of the questions you’ll hear on your first, third, sixteenth trip to the motherland
Daunting, isn’t it?
We feel your anguish
That’s why we’ve painstakingly prepared this handy manual
To ease your transition into your new place of residence
So on behalf of all of us here at the Invisibility Committee – a loose affiliate of jihaz almughtaribeen (Emigrant Affairs Office)
Welcome to hell.
You might be wondering why we call ourselves the Invisbility Committee
“Inti akhir mara taji feeha alSudan bitain zatu!” (when was the last time you even visited Sudan)
That’s why. You see
You are the bastard children of this country
Your taxation is your representation
And your representation, is in numbers
Of Dollars, Pounds, Dirhams, shiny Euros
You are a sight to behold
Not so much to get to know, though
You are meant to be seen and not heard
Much like a child who doesn’t know how to speak
Nobody really cares what you think
But don’t blame yourself!
It’s not your fault
Because it all started with the original sin
In the form of your parents’ choice to leave the paradise they were in
To seek a “better life” – whatever that means, right?
And as they tucked you into bed every night
They told you stories
Made you pledge your undying loyalty
To people you’ve never met and a place you’ve never seen
Called it ‘home’
Made you repeat it til your mouth was sore
Then sent you out you into the world
Carrying a box of memories you don’t own
And on those days when it got tough
When you were too black to fit in
And too African to be black
And too Arab to be African
And too black to be Arab
You opened it.
Dug through its rose-colored contents
Took a deep breath of the scent of belonging
Then packed it away carefully
Called your parents and told them you were ready
Summer is around the corner, and this year
You were excited to take the trip with the family.
“Hay! Inti bita3rifi taghassili al3idda?!” (You know how to wash dishes?)
“Intu ya nas London bita3rifu tanaddifu?” (You London kids know how to clean?)
They’ll shake your hand, and you’ll feel the urge to pull back
Because your hands are dry enough to light fires
A side effect from scrubbing one too many pots
And more than your fair share of toilets.
“Inti lay bititkalami bel ingileezi?” (Why do you speak in English?)
You’re going to be tempted to answer,
Because I’m ashamed to speak Arabic
Because I bust my lip and crack my jaw trying to ask you how you are
And all I get for an answer is laughter
Because I speak an Arabic that was carved into our cheeks
Tattooed onto our bottom lips
But you’ve deemed this version no longer authentic
No longer cool
Because my grandmother’s gift is a joke to you
Because I don’t feel like it.
These words will press themselves against your teeth
Making them creak
Resist because you are human
Resist because you have nothing for which to be ashamed
Resist because you don’t owe them anything.
Resist because you have as much of a right to this land as any
Resist because you know it on paper, and that paper is the back of your hand
Because it’s yours.
Resist because you have the right to be you.
And if you ever feel any doubt
On how to navigate the choppy waters of acceptance
Pick up this manualAnd let it guide you to safety.
Chairman of the Invisibility Committee
A loose affiliate of jihaz almughtaribeen
Stubborn affiliate of this country.