Okay well, they aren’t really Afro-Arabs per se, but I wanted to jot some thoughts I have about all these African Muslim women who were raised in the Arab World and how that changes their perspectives on their own countries, on Islam and even on beauty.
It’s one thing to read about the way expats change things in their host countries upon return from Saudi, Kuwait or wherever, and it’s another thing to sort of see it in action. I don’t know what to think, I guess I am still thinking out loud about it… you know remarking to friends and acquaintances here that “wow you know you look Eritrean, Somali, Sudanese, Mauritanian, Nigerian etc. on the outside, but you are sooooooooooooo A-rab!”
It’s not a compliment, it’s not a diss, but just an observation. I think growing up in the Arab world, and in the Gulf in particular creates a connection and disconnect from the homeland that is different from the immigrant experience in the US or even Europe. I don’ t know how I feel about this yet, if it even matters. At any rate let’s look at how/why?
1. many of these girls were born in Qatar, UAE, Saudi Arabia etc and their parents lived/have lived in these countries for decades, but they NEVER had hope of gaining citizenship. The end result is loads of people who are born and raised in a place but carry the passport of a country that they hopefully go to once a year, but a lot of times haven’t been there more than 5 times in their lifetimes. How strange it is to have someone answer “I am from Eritrea” or Djibouti or Mauritania when you ask, but then they don’t know much more than you do about their country, or worse yet, talk about their African homelands as if they were the dirtiest, most corrupt place on earth.
At the same time though, I have found that most of the girls are not even trying to claim Arab identity at least not verbally even though they admit that their mindsets, musical tastes etc. have more to do with what’s hot in the Arab world than it does in the African one… granted some of them are from Arab-African countries.
2. Islam. Islam. Islam. Well, religious practice is more like it. I find it interesting that some of the girls here hold beliefs that are more in-line with the local Arab population’s practice of Islam than it is with the realities on the ground at home. More gender segregation, more hijab wearing— as a symbol of religious piety/following a religious edict, more abaya wearing— well not as much as the locals do, but I see more of that than people wearing whatever the national dress of their countries are … in general. And of course there is Sufi bashing…lol….
It never ceases to amaze me when I see an African woman going crazy over a strand of hair/ piece of ankle/arm/leg showing or frowning/being scared to interact with men (I mean talk to a classmate kind of way) when I know and she knows people in her community don’t usually act like that..lol…
BUt seriously, this is probably someone’s dissertation topic or something, but the question that keeps coming up for me is why? —– Why do you appropriate something that is foreign to your own culture, especially in the religious realm?
Is this the result of the primacy of (Gulf) Arab customs in the minds of these expats? Or is it simply that they believe that the way things are done here, are correct? (which leads back to the previous question). Or is this just a natural part of living in a new country, adapting to a new environment?
I haven’t had a any straight,well complete answers on this one, I just want to understand people better, but I think/guess I am asking questions that people don’t think about/haven’t thought about so it’s hard for people to formulate answers…. or maybe I already have an answer in mind and I trap them with my own reasoning so they can say what I already assume (totally possible unfortunately)
3. Language, well this happens in the states too, they can speak Arabic like water, but many of them can not string together a sentence in their parent’s mother tongue. I think it’s sad when it happens in other places and I certainly think it’s sad here. I wish I spoke my mother’s language, just because it’s such an important part of culture and such a beautiful way to keep future generations connected… but oh well, it’s hard to do in a foreign country, especially one where African languages don’t have the same sort of cache as Arabic would…
but still strange in the sense that I would think there would be more preservation of that part of the cultural tradition, because of the host country’s unwillingness to let people assimilate at least on the official level…
4. Food, goes in tandem with language, but it seems like a lot of the Afro-arabs don’t know a darn thing about foods from their homelands, but they can tell you where to get the best tabouli, shwarma, and random Khaleeji dishes etc. This to me is a bit surprising considering that some of them come from countries that don’t really specialize in that sort of thing… but oh well.
5. Marriage— they still marry within their communities. This is interesting to me at least… I don’t know what the stats on second-generation kids are in states whether they branch out or not when it comes to tying the knot… but I find it interesting that the women I have spoken to about it look at me like I’m crazy when I talk about them marrying a man not from their country… of course they say that they would prefer someone from their own culture (not a man straigght from Djibouti, Eritrea or Mauritania, mind you) but …. whatevs, I get the picture.
Interesting stuff…. to me at least.
On one hand I do feel a little disappointed. Sometimes, I look into a face that in the States would mean we had some common experiences/mindsets, approaches, but that face just doesn’t see that in me. Many of times the woman will either be super conservative or one who likes to “Party all the time!…” (whatever that means in a university in a country that is ridiculous about gender segregation and making female students be back by 10pm). It’s not like that with all of them, but it is for too many… I hope that I can look at more of them like my peeps and not these strange Arab women with black faces.