By Anonymous. Art by Sophia Otero ’21.
When I think about who I am, I imagine millions of glittering pieces scattered around the world. Some have buried themselves into the earth, never to be found again. Some have been stolen from their homes by misguided archaeologists on their quests for truth. Some remain within my reach, always gleaming with the seductive charm of knowledge. These pieces of me shine with a beauty that I could only ever hope to possess; but perhaps if I take my time carefully examining each and every shard, I can create the picture of me.
As a sixteen-year-old girl, excited but afraid of the world and on the journey of self-discovery, I had the opportunity to explore the Arab world of my absent father for pieces of me that had been missing for far too long. Streams of confusion and fear escaped from my wide eyes as a plane whisked me away from the comforts of my home into a new land that was supposedly mine, but would never feel like anything of the sort.
As I escaped the confines of the plane and set foot into the desert heat of Dubai, the first piece began to reveal itself. The airport was a majestic fantasy land with money embedded into its very soul (if a place so rich and perfect could ever have such a thing). Rows of designer shops with treasures that were too hard to look at surrounded me as if they were a reminder that I did not belong here. As waves of isolation crashed into me, I swerved into the reassuring but false belief that I had a claim here, that I could never be denied.
With naïve hopes and dreams, I smiled as I entered the lion’s den, otherwise known as my family’s home. These people were strangers to me. They were perfect when my life was anything but. Standing tall and proud, they enjoyed as I fawned over their wealth and beauty that I mistakenly believed I was somewhat entitled to. I did not see the snickers and rolled eyes as my poor, Pakistani self struggled to behold this new world around me.
My father, their real family, had left so long ago, taking my Arab heritage with him. But here I was, ready to take what I thought was rightfully mine. Little did I know that there were locks on the doors with keys caged in the narrow minds of the crocodiles around me.
At first I was in complete awe of this family (my family?). They were perfect and kind as they comfortably rested on the pedestal they happily encouraged me to build. Stories of their compassion and flawlessness filled my days as I fell more and more in love with this idea that I finally had access to this world. The glamour of their life felt as if it was just within my reach and mine for the taking.
I believed that I finally found that missing piece of myself that I had been longing for ever since he left. Shiny and bright, this brand-new answer to all the questions I did not realize I had was finally being offered to me on a cushion of hope, love and acceptance. The allure was almost too much to handle as I imagined having this brilliant piece just fitting in perfectly and making me whole again. Just as I was about to finally solve the puzzle of my identity, another opportunity arose for me to become further entranced by the glitter of this world that I was ready to take as my own.
Reluctantly deemed somewhat worthy of meeting the more opulent half of my family, I was suddenly swept up into a dizzying haze of being invited to an Arab wedding. Shell-shocked by the sheer amount of wealth carelessly thrown around, I was buried under gowns with designer labels they believe someone of my class would never be able to truly appreciate.
An absolutely gorgeous waterfall of soft gold that was dripping with stars was chosen for me to wear. Hanging delicately over my thin frame, the dress’ neckline plunged deeper than I was used to and the comfort of sleeves was nowhere to be found. Staring at myself in the mirror as I was guided into the world of makeup, I could see myself slowly disappearing. With every masterful stroke, I was transformed into an Arab beauty as every hint of my mother’s Pakistani features were erased, to never be talked about again.
Like experts, they crafted me for mass consumption. I felt naked and exposed. An imposter in my own skin. I had a role to play but, up until that moment, I did not even realize that I was expected to perform. The cracks in this perfect dream started to reveal themselves to me but I was not ready to accept them.
Feeling scared and confused, I was shuffled into a car and then a hotel that felt too expensive to ever even step in. With the sophisticated clack of their heels, these women I only moments ago worshipped, rushed into the ballroom, leaving me behind. They forgot about me as they slipped off their abayas and unraveled their hijabs. Suddenly, I was surrounded by these gorgeous women who I was so used to seeing covered up finally reveal what was hiding underneath. Used to my mother’s culture, I had never really seen so much skin comfortably on display. Sleeveless, backless, plunging necklines, legs that went on for miles– I had no idea where to look.
Finally, I caught a glance of the family that so easily left me to be dumbfounded and rushed over to them. They seemed keen on impressing the people around them, who were impossibly richer than even they were. Standing expectantly behind them, I waited to be introduced as one of them but that time never came. The entire night I followed them like the maids they kept around the house who were forced to feel unworthy and undeserving.
The illusion of acceptance and belonging was finally broken. I could now see how their faces tightened whenever I was around. How they looked me over with smug satisfaction as they realized that they would always be superior to me and that Pakistani mother of mine. I could now see how they only took me in to just let me know what I could never have.
When I flew back home the next month, I made sure to carefully wrap the sharp edges of this piece of me so I could never be cut again. Safe in the dingy air of Pakistan, with all of my holes and battle scars, I felt more complete than I ever had before.