August 10, 2022

Being Middle Eastern

I love being Middle Eastern. The culture, history, food, and traditions have made my life so full. But sometimes, I wrestle with it. And that was especially evident during the ten days I recently spent in Jordan and Lebanon.

My partner and I were traveling to Beirut for a wedding. We decided to tack on a trip to Amman so she could show me her old stomping grounds from her years of refugee work in the area. We even made it to Petra.

As we traveled through the two countries...
Speaking rusty Arabic, navigating conservative cultural norms, driving through chaotic streets, being okay with a little sand on everything, sharing an array of beautiful conversations, noticing the tensions of a region fraught with division — my Egyptian upbringing came rushing back to me. At several points, a server or TSA agent or local would say, “You look Arab…where are you from?” I never hear that in my day-to-day life and work. It was surprising and sweet.

Still, there were moments when the seeming layers of “messiness” of the Middle East grated on me. I wanted to experience it, and then turn it off as soon as I returned back to Chicago. There were other moments when I was full of so much pride to be connected to the people, land, and heritage.

That tension is perfectly okay.

Each of us has a place of origin. That’s a core part of our identities, and our understanding of it will evolve throughout our lives. Taking time to understand how that has impacted who you are and how you experience the world has the ability to make your life so much more rich. And if you let it, it will also give you the opportunity to decide how you want to shape the story of your people for future generations too.

I am Egyptian. And I am 100 other things too. Just like you. I think that’s why one of the core pillars we teach at Ei revolves around Self Awareness. The more you understand yourself, the more filling each of your experiences in life and work will be.

Wherever you’re from, take time to understand what has made you who you are. It’ll shape where you’re going next.

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