Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Rebellion runs in my blood

My mother was the result of an unlikely marriage--one between an Italian and a Libyan. To put it in perspective, it would be like two hostile cultures coming together. In the early 1920's my grandmother came to Libya with her family. My understanding is that they settled in Garabaldi. From there, they ended up moving to Crispi, the little Italian village near Garara (Misurata). Somehow, my grandparents came to know each other and eventually marry, despite strong opposition between both families. The opposition was so strong on the Libyan side that the children of this marriage clung to their maternal side to find acceptance. At those times, it was not easy to be the child of an Italian in Libya. The Italians had, like all conquerors, perpetrated genocide amongst the Libyans. The children were teased and thrown rocks at and called dirty Italians. My grandmother did not mix within the Libyan culture--she kept to her own kind. Part of the reason was the animosity between the two cultures, and part is a language barrier as my grandmother did not speak Arabic. By all accounts, she was a gentle, extremely overprotective parent. I have to wonder if the overprotectiveness was only due to the fact that she lived in Libya. Italian was the only language spoken in my mother's home growing up, and yet she tried her best to help her children fit in, at least when it came to religion. Libya is a Muslim country and my grandmother had been raised a strict Catholic. Her marriage would not have been recognised by the Catholic church, so I wonder what she must have felt, living in sin so to speak. Remember, this would have been during WWII where societal restraints were strictly dictated. And yet, she loved my grandfather enough to marry him. And she loved him enough to raise his children to be Muslim. I often wonder how she must have felt to bring them up in a religion that was not her own, and something apart from everything she was indoctrinated to. Unlike many foreigners who marry Libyans, she never converted. Further, I know that my grandfather asked her on her deathbed and she refused. And yet, she ensured her children performed salat, and fasted and learned Quran. My mother and her siblings have never questioned their faith, which I find amazing. My grandmother passed away in 1969, which was a blessing in disguise. For in 1970, all the Italians were order to leave Libya with basically what they could carry on their backs. Their property was repatriated by the Libyan government. They arrived in Italy with nothing, having to rebuild from scratch. I think that watching her family, the only ones she had to lean on get thrown out, would have torn her apart. I am very glad that she did not witness that. Moving away from that, I am surprised at how much ordinary Libyans like Italy and Italians, or want to be like them. I believe that many of our shabab pretend to be Italian overseas because it comes a bit natural for them (with the lingo being made up of so many Italian words). I find it interesting that Arabs build this affinity with the culture that colonized them. And yet, as Libyans we glorify the resistance and ensure that each successive generation is tasked with this. Is this because we no longer have any warriors left?

Friday, January 26, 2007


Well I suppose I should begin by introducing myself and letting you get to know me. My name is Jumana and I am 27 years old. I currently reside in Virginia, along with my favorite two pets or pests you decide (i have a husband and a four year old son). They are both handfuls of extreme Libyanness and they are so alike it is oftentimes scary. I decided to become a blogger because I could not help myself. I am constantly reading/researching online and every once in a while I come up with a brilliant phrase that I will never be able to remember come the morning. It is my curse--the curse of the literary one night stand. So instead, I choose to immotalize my one nights stands here; now that would not be enough to fill a page, so there will be tons of randomness interspersed throughout. But enough about that...........there is so much to say.
I am the mix that is somewhat unenviable--the child of Arabs who made their way to the West. We are labelled as Westernized Arabs by those who don't know any better; "those" being mainly the diehards who love to say that with a sneer on their face. I consider myself a Libyanized American; someone who thanks God that her parents had the foresight to raise her in the USA, and yet invariably finds herself drawn to anything regarding Libya. There is a part of me that feels drawn to my roots and yet Libya is as alien to me as nothing else could possibly be. It is a soul wrenching feeling that few get to experience. Imagine living your entire life served up the same sidedish (Libya) and then getting to experience it as the main meal. All you can think is, "This is unpalatable." So invariably I get labeled a snob, which I think is pretty far off the mark. But I know that I am not alone, as I have met others like me, although relatively few and far between. I would like to know how it is that I am filled with such pride over ancestry and yet I feel at home most in the cities the Libyans have long since abandoned. I feel like a total stranger in the medina surrounded by living and breathing people. And yet, I will never feel 100% like an American because my relatively recent blood lines remain in Libya. I am the eternal nomad, constantly searching for sustenance and moving on so maybe I am more like my ancestor's than I think.