Configuring Identity: Thirld-Worlder or Westerner?


“Can I ask you where you’re from?” Is usually how it begins. “You don’t look like you’re from here”.

I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve had to answer this question. The question itself is rather definitive: am I an Afghan-Brit, or am I a British-Afghan? It appears that the answer is not so definitive.

My family came to London when I was 3. I learnt English, yet Dari has always been my first language. There was a time when my Dari was better than my English, but it today it appears that it is the other way around.

We used to speak Dari in my household all of the time. Today, its a kind of Anglo-Afghan blend that even my parents have picked up. Traditional customs remain as my parents try to salvage what is left of Afghan culture in my home.

Dual-nationality is difficult. It demands a lot of an individual. Trying to keep up with two different traditions, languages and cultures can even be exhausting at times. But the most exhausting part of all remains as how I identify myself. This has nothing to do with anyone else and is largely relative.

I believe it is even harder to accrue identity as a woman.

The maelstrom of media harassment and patriarchal societal standards furthers the proclivity of women to exist through men and not separate of them.

Consider the term “mankind”. It is essentially an erasure of women’s history and experiences, yet it has found a comfortable place in our lexicon because woman are regularly expected to identify through their relationships and connections with men.

Black women are especially socialised out of existence, as Bell Hooks writes:

“When black people are talked about the focus tends to be on black men; and when women are talked about the focus tends to be on white women”

If I am to tell Afghans back home that I’m a mixture of the both — Afghan & British — I’ve committed the ultimate blasphemy. I’m a sell out and I’ve abandoned my roots.

To declare that I’m simply an Afghan in Britain is equal blasphemy. You hold a British passport, you enjoy British luxuries and you were lucky enough to be educated in Britain and still you don’t consider yourself fully British?

Thus, I have resorted to declaring myself an Afghan-Brit, who loves and appreciates living in London, but also enjoys having a second language and culture. I have two homes: Kabul and London.

Admittedly, I spend more time in the latter, but is your measure of home derived from where you spend the most amount time, or where you feel safe, comfortable and above all, welcome? If that is the case, you can have as many homes as your heart desires, and I have two.

I do admit it took me a while to get here. All fellow Third-Worlders know what I mean by this. We all had our crises when we sat asking our selves, am I __? Or am I __? Blending two cultures into simultaneous harmony can be an insuperable task. The question, folks, is easy and omits binary categorisations: You are both.

Hybrids do exist and can exist in accordance with the Self.

I do not care for myopic analyses that purport my two cultures as oil and water. They just don’t mix Mohadesa. I find, rather happily, that they do. And I absolutely love sharing and infusing the two customs. Having two tongues, two diets, two attires, and two places to call home has come to constitute a harmony that I am content with.

It’s not easy figuring what you are, and it’s even harder trying to express it to the rest of the world. To an outsider, you can be one thing, and to insiders something completely different.

Asian American writer Andrew X. Pham writes:

“There is no greater fear than the fear of being caught wanting to belong”

Identity is almost so relative that it really is just means nothing. But, it also everything at the same time. How do you reconcile something that is simultaneously nothing and everything?

Eboo Patel writes:

“If I wanted to be one, I could not be the others. My struggle to understand the traditions I belong to as mutually enriching rather than mutually exclusive isthe story of the generation of young people standing at the crossroads of inheritance and discover, trying to look both ways at one”

No matter the case, I will always hold on to elements that represent Afghanistan to me, whilst reveling in the culture I have found in London. When I am in London, I feel I am home. When I am in Kabul, I feel I am home. They are both sanctuaries for me and I feel I have made peace with the concept of identity. Have you? 


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