Being mixed race, and balancing two almost opposite cultures, has meant that open-mindedness is something I’ve grown up with. I am half Egyptian, a quarter Scottish and a quarter English. I grew up in Cairo, Egypt and moved to England when I was 10.
Egypt, like many countries in the Middle East, is relatively close-minded. The culture and law are heavily influenced by religion, and inevitably this means there is only one “right” way of doing things. I grew up with these rules and never truly questioned them. My mum recently told me a story about how when I was 3 years old, my Egyptian grandad came to visit. He saw that my older sister was wearing a crop top and immediately had a word with my mum, telling her that maybe a crop top wasn’t appropriate (my sister was 6), so she went into her room and changed into a tshirt. Apparently, I then followed her and changed out of my perfectly acceptable t-shirt, and into my own crop top. Although I was (and still am) quite cheeky like that, these cultural influences I grew up with have stuck. Even those I didn’t want to stick.
Because of that, moving to England caused a bit of a cultural shock. Especially when it came to my teenage years. Kids my age weren’t behaving in a way I was used to. For example, drinking is big in England, whereas I grew up believing it to be a sin. Although I don’t drink alcohol, and never have, it was a really confusing time for me. I didn’t understand why the “sins” I was taught about were so wrong. It didn’t make sense to me. Some of it still doesn’t make sense to me, but I’m working through it. One thing I definitely value though, is how open-minded it made me.
I have met people in England who are unbelievably ignorant about life in Africa/the Middle East. You wouldn’t believe how many ‘did you have a camel?’s I got. This was also the same the other way round, but I’m sorry to say that Egyptians are not as ignorant about the West. They’re just a bit more stuck in their own ways. In school, I honestly felt that I was years ahead of my classmates in terms of understanding life. I felt trapped in a bubble, where only a handful of us knew that there was a much bigger, diverse world out there. Thankfully once everyone went off to university, travelled more, and did years abroad, they started to get the picture. I’m not generalising about English people, I’m just writing about how it felt sometimes speaking to people from my town, some of whom had never even left the UK. I managed to find the few gems who could relate to, or at least understand, being a part of a different culture.
I’ve learnt not to judge too harshly though. I won’t judge my granddad for making my sister change her crop top because that was how he was brought up. It’s all he knows. I also won’t judge the people who used to be ignorant about countries like Egypt. Most of them have now educated themselves by travelling or reading about other cultures. I will continue to be open-minded in the midst of those who are trying to open theirs.