FROM THE BOOK, "The Immigrants' Daughter", "Prologue" page ix.
WHERE DO YOU COME FROM?
“Where do you come from?” asks the teacher of the adult class in Leopoldville, where I am registered for a course in Lingala.
I hesitate. It is a simple query that puts me in a quandary. Should I state my origins, nationality, or citizenship?
“From my mother’s womb,” I want to tell him in short but resist the urge.
Nobody asked me that kind of question in Cairo where I grew up. We were a known minority. The usual question was “Are you Greek?” “Italian?” “Armenian?” or “What nationality are you?” if my name had not given it away already.
Now in Leopoldville, on an expatriate assignment with the United Nations, I stand out with my foreign accent, wavy hair, and possibly body language, gestures and all.
“From Egypt,” I mutter, to keep the conversation short. I wonder why he doesn’t ask the same question of the other students in class – half a dozen from the United Nations, five from the Swiss Red Cross, and two businessmen.
“Egypt! C’est vrai?” he exclaims in French, “I thought they were all black!”
I feel uncomfortable in my skin but remain silent.
“Is your husband Egyptian, too?”
“I’m not married,” I blurt out, embarrassed to my core. At the ripe old age of thirty, I am shelved as an old maid, all hopes gone.
“I want to show you to my friend. He has never seen an Egyptian!”
My cheeks burn. Am I the first Egyptian in town, the discovery of the century or an antique from Pharaoh’s tombs? Should I be put on display with a distinct label slapped at my feet?“Imported African. Rare species. Handle with care.” How can I explain to my Congolese
teacher that I am not a real specimen?
More than three thousand years of history define me as an Armenian, a descendant from the people living at the foot of Mount Ararat where Noah’s Ark settled. The mountain was in Armenian territory for centuries. Politics moved it beyond the national boundaries and we became immigrants. How shall I explain that the DNA in my
Armenian blood will survive forever, irrespective of the citizenship I have?
“I’m…I’m not a real Egyptian…” I mumble, trying to avert a misconception. Thirteen pairs of eyes stare at me, as if I have just come out of ghost town . . .
(NOTE: THIS EXCERPT HAS BEEN POSTED ON THE WEBSITE OF THE DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION IN QUEENSLAND, AUSTRALIA, AS AN EDUCATIONAL TOOL FOR THEIR TEACHERS AND STUDENTS. IT IS PASSWORD PROTECTED)
The Orange Pouch page 124.
. . .
“Teacher said it’s all right to read. It’s good for us.”
“To hell with your teachers! You should listen to me! Everybody gives free advice, but I am the one who pays your bills!”
Most surprising of all is his reaction to my report card. Father flings it into my face.
"Why do you have eights and nines?" he bellows. "You should have ten in all subjects. After all the money I’ve spent is this what you end up with?”
Before I can offer an explanation, he yells in a crescendo: “Six for needlework? Of what use is your going to school when you fail at needlework! Why can't you sit down and do something worthwhile for once instead of reading those stupid books!"
I am not sure if Father understands that there are no perfect grades beyond kindergarten. I am top of the class. My teachers prize me. My classmates envy me. My relatives support me. In fact, my reputation as a smart girl puts me under pressure to face more challenges than I care for. Why doesn't he understand that I am doing the best I can?
After a while, Father’s misgivings become normal fare in life, the bitter pill before dinner. I have no intentions of giving up my books! They are my lifelines.
. . .
FROM PUBLISHED ARTICLES:
From an article in Azad-Hye , online newspaper, Dubai.
. . .
Sharing my life was emotionally taxing as poignant memories unfolded. In the Middle East boys are the favored gender, with all pertinent privileges. Girls are not so welcome. They do not benefit the family because they are eventually "somebody else's property." Their education is not important.
Mother did not share these opinions but mother died young. Stepmother arrived soon thereafter, with her own ideas of what girls should and should not be doing. College education became a dream. The gossamer threads that tied our family together disappeared. Brother's departure to Armenia was the last straw that turned me into a rebel. The break-up of emotional attachments prompted me into seeking solace in work and in career advancement.
It took time to incorporate Western attitudes into a Middle Eastern lifestyle and to face challenges head on. I had to replace fatalism - the ubiquitous "Insha allah" - with realism, taking responsibility for my life. There was no need to overload the Lord with my problems. I shifted direction from grieving the past to planning the future, treating hatred with tolerance, harnessing anger with techniques of dealing with frustration, and submitting subjective opinions to objective analyses. I learned that, quite often, the solution to problems lies within ourselves, if we dedicate enough time and energy to finding answers.
Thus I realized that traditions are created for a purpose. That purpose may no longer be valid a decade, a century or a thousand years later as civilization progresses. We need to update traditions to keep pace with advancement. Today educational barriers for women are being knocked down. Gender roles have undergone drastic change. Yes, Mr. Mom exists. Also, women architects, engineers, consultants, stockbrokers, pilots and women in the trades are visible in the labor market. The fair sex proved that they are capable of thinking and rising to life's challenges, where necessary.
In a free world the sky is the limit for those who pursue achievement. Of course, a supportive environment accelerates the process of ambitious projects to fruition. I am grateful to the bright, sensitive and judicious critics of my writers' groups that kept me on track. They supported me all the way with their kudos and recommendations. They fuelled my enthusiasm. They made sound recommendations. One of the members summarized it all.
"We hear of disasters on the news," she said, "but they are distant. We empathize and help, of course, but with your book we felt the immigrant experience on our skin. We lived it. We laughed and cried with you all the way."
I hope you will too.
. . .
From "The Call of the Land", travel article, Nor Gyank:
"...Frustrated, overwhelmed, Hachig pulls out his clarinet, sits on a stone and expresses himself the way he knows best - playing music. He blows his clarinet with all his might, elated by the scenery and the euphoria of being “home”, bringing to life Vanetzi tunes he learned as a young man.
As “Makruhi Jan” and “Im Vorteen Sokhag” resonate loud and clear in the land where they belong, the normal routine of daily life stops. Birds throng closer overhead, women washing their carpets in the creek stop cold and watch us keenly, and children from the village surround our vans. A few ladies from our group line-dance the “shurchbar”. A car carrying a bridal party honks. Hachig plays “Hars ou Pesa” (bride and groom) in their honor. He is in flow. In Aroyan parlance this is the “Arshak II phenomenon” of vigor acquired when one treads on the soil of his forefathers."