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Stains of a Culture

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After graduation, I am getting a henna tattoo. Though it may just seem like I’m celebrating the beginning of summer, the real reason I am getting it is much deeper. Behind this one to three week temporary tattoo is the culmination of a lifetime’s battle with my cultural identity: my struggle to balance the values I see around me with the values I have been instilled with.
Every few summers, I visit my family in Algeria. Every time, the sounds of the city serenade me: street vendors advertising goods, cars honking, people chattering. Every time, I spend long lazy days at the beach being kissed by the sun, soaking in the sound of playful waves crashing on the shore. Every time, it is all the same except for me – and that changes everything.
The first time I traveled to Algeria, I was eight years old. Just like my eight-year-old self, my time in Algeria was carefree and simple. We spent weeks living on the beachside, where I whimsically wandered and observed the people around me. Everything around me seemed foreign, from the unfamiliar syllables of a language I did not know, to the heaps of food placed before me at every meal. I resented this strange new culture. I hated the way my tongue stumbled over words that came naturally to the people around me. I detested spending all day in the kitchen, preparing for what seemed to be almost nightly dinner parties. I found it presumptuous when people I did not know called me daughter when they talked to me, and I hated how even normal, polite conversations were held at yelling volume. A stranger to my own culture, I saw it through the eyes of one. I was curious, but it was the worst kind of curiosity: I looked to see that the grass truly was greener on my side, not recognizing the beauty of a life different than my own.

Years past, and three years ago I went again. With time, I had grown out of my supercilious view of my culture, and I began to see it for what it is. I found beauty in the melodic, chant-like sound of Arabic, enjoyed yelling to make myself heard during conversation, and joined my family in laughing from the sunrise to the sunset. This time I did not just observe, but experience. I befriended the people around me, from the lifeguards at the beach, to the owners of my favorite bakery. I spoke to the women: fiery and compassionate, just as likely to hit you over the head as they are to fold you into a warm, maternal hug. I spoke to the men, found myself laughing along with their easy smiles and playful sarcasm. I found security as I grew familiar with everything around me. Algeria is filled with people of vibrant and exuberant warmth, and it had taken me a long time to realize it. Finally I could say that I felt at home, because I knew that all of these qualities were within me. The same fire and the same effortless joy were driving me, everyday.

Unlike a henna tattoo, my culture is permanently etched into the way I view the world. As I begin a new life, I will carry with me the wisdom of countless before me. In turn, it will carry me also.





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whyshouldIlove said...
Mar. 20, 2012 at 2:40 pm
This is truly marvelous! I live in algeria and had grown into the american culture when learning english an enjoying reading american masterpieces, but I started forgeting my own culture and strarted feeling the sames things u did when u were 8, but after reading your article, I realized that I am underestimating everything that surrund me every day. So thank you for reminding me how much Alg rocks :D
 
sana93 said...
Jun. 22, 2011 at 12:19 am
Beautifully written from the heart. =]
 
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