To Be Or Not To Be // Meriem Ahmed.

Success is not “luck”,
it is not timing.

Not as much talent,
as it is hard work.

There is no one to “steal” your spot,
no set finish line.

Success is generous,
we can all make it to the top.

It is foolish to give up on a dream,
too many settle,
refusing to suffer.

They throw in the towel,
stuck between to be,
or not to be?

Well,
I say, dream.

Dream big.

Hold onto your dreams,
even when they turn into nightmares.

Even when they bring your fear to life,
that is how you know,
that you are dreaming right.

That is when you know,
that your future is bright.

Stop following the stars,
be your own light.

Support your dreams,
until your dreams support you.

Believe in your dreams,
until your dreams come true.

 

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Dual Nationality; To Belong Everywhere And Nowhere All The Same…

My favourite poem growing up was “Citizen of the World” by Dave Calder. My cousin showed it to me as a little girl and it has resonated with me ever since. I had never read anything that so accurately described how I felt about being of dual-nationality. Dual nationality is tricky because it is not based on race, or blood, or religion. It is a middle ground that has no set rules or clear instructions. It’s being stuck between two unknowns. It is to be privileged enough to call two places in the world home, but never really fully belonging or more importantly, being accepted into either one.

My parents are Egyptian, both born and raised in Alexandria. I was born in Dublin, and raised in Ireland my whole life. I have never lived in Egypt and the most time I get to spend there is during summer break. I am Irish, but I am also Egyptian. I happily and fondly carry both nationalities with great love and pride. I reached this point by fighting my whole life to “prove” that I was both. I no longer let anyone take away from my right to be Irish-Egyptian. But, I often wonder if things had been different for me growing up, would I feel differently to how I do now? Would I claim one country as my own and discard the other? I don’t know. What I do know is that growing up, I never felt fully accepted as Irish nor as Egyptian. And I understand why. I grew up at a time when the world was not as aware (“woke”) as it is now, when everything was “customs” and “norms” and very much tied up into boxes you either ticked or didn’t. It was hard to see where a little coloured girl with an Irish accent would fit in.

I had extremely curly hair growing up. It was so curly that when I would have it in plaits, I never needed a hair tie to keep the plaits in place. They would just hold. I was quite darker as a child than I am now, my brown skin was distinct among clouds of white. I grew up in Ireland at a time when, unlike today, there was extremely few people of colour here. So much so, that if you weren’t white, you were just assumed to be black. While a lot of people think I must have grew up prone to Islamophobia, prejudice against my faith didn’t kick in until later years in my school life. As a kid, the question was always surrounding my race. Now, I don’t really want to use the term “racism” because I genuinely do not think that this was the case, at least not when I was a little girl. Little boys and girls my age weren’t “racist”, they just didn’t understand why I looked so different. They were very vocal about it and not always in the nicest way. They took the very basic knowledge they had, or rather thought they had about my appearance and applied it into comments and questions that didn’t always make me comfortable enough to answer “I’m Irish” when someone would ask me where I was from. For my primary school peers, “black” or “people from Africa” had curly hair. So, Meriem, therefore, must be black. I knew Egypt was in Africa, so I accepted this to be true. My friends didn’t know Egypt was in Africa. Egypt to them was Egypt, and Africa was Africa, you know, the country…

One day, I was playing outside my house on my scooter, and this little boy, who couldn’t have been much older than 5, kept pulling at his dad’s sleeve, his other hand outstretched pointing right at me. “Dad! Dad, why is that girl black?” “Why is she black, dad?” He kept nagging and nagging. His father, for some reason beyond my understanding, was more embarrassed and focused on shutting the little boy up, rather than taking a single moment to explain anything to his son. Anything would have sufficed – that people can have different racial and cultural backgrounds, or simply that other countries and types of people exist outside of Ireland. Anything at all. But instead, he said nothing. And naturally, curiosity killed the cat, and the little boy let go of his father’s hand and ran over to me: “Why do you look like that? Why are you black?” Funnily enough, I didn’t say anything to him either. You see, at this age, I just thought I was Irish, I had never had to question it. I was born here, so that meant I was Irish, right? Well, here was this little boy, a 5 year old, and it felt to me, that he was telling me, no, I was not. I ran into my house, up to my bedroom and cried, before tying my curly hair into a bun where it wouldn’t attract so much attention. As for my skin tone, well, there was nothing much I could do to change that.

None of this bothered me as much as it did when people caught hold of the ‘N’ word. When my little sister complains of being called “caramel” and “exotic” growing up, I laugh to myself about what I was called in comparison. The first time I was called “nigger” was on my primary school playground. I still remember the girl who said it, and to reiterate what I was saying about kids not being racist, I still know this girl now and she is one of the nicest and least bigoted/racist people ever. But, eventually what ended up happening was I was projected to a hurt and a discrimination of a community and history that is not my own. And it fucked with my identity growing up. For the earliest years of my life, I was questioning my race more than I was anything else. Irish people were automatically assumed to be white, which I was not. And Egyptians, more than anyone, are the most confusing nation when it comes to race. Because we don’t regard ourselves as “Middle Eastern” nor “Arab”, Africans don’t really accept us as “African”, despite our geographical location, and we’re obviously not white, Asian or Hispanic. So, what are we then? Well, that depends on who you ask. If you ask the Census, we are “other”. If you ask any Egyptian, I can almost guarantee their answer will be the same: “Egyptian”. We see ourselves as a breed of our own, us “Pharaohs”.

So, my “inability” to be Irish growing up was overwhelmingly based on the colour of my skin. In the majority of other aspects, I measured up, and let me honestly and proudly say, aside from the longwinded question of “where are you from?” to which “Wicklow” is never a suffice answer, growing up in Ireland as person of colour gave me equal opportunity, way of life, and everything in between, as my white peers. And as we continue to grow and progress in the world, the “characteristics” to be a certain nationality are continuously breaking down. I never felt like I couldn’t do something my white friend could, or that I didn’t have an equal opportunity to excel or pursue in any aspect of my life. So, in many ways I felt “white” because I grew up as privileged as any white kid my age did. But, obviously, feeling “white” because of privilege or feeling “black” because I was called “nigger” during my childhood, doesn’t mean I am. On the other hand, my “inability” to be Egyptian was based on everything but my skin colour.

Very quickly, I was labeled by my Egyptian friends, community and society as “agnabeya” which means “foreign” or more specifically, “Western”. Though I couldn’t seem to fathom the difference between myself and my friends, they could. I mis-pronounced a few words in Arabic and I didn’t always understand all the puns from Egyptian films. To them, I spoke differently, dressed differently, walked differently, interacted differently, and these things had to be excused by saying that I was “foreign”. I naively navigated my social life in Egypt thinking that people would understand that even though I didn’t exactly meet Egyptian appearances and didn’t carry myself as traditionally, I still grew up with the exact same cultural appreciation, the same love for molo5eya and wara2 3enab. I still watched the same movies, listened to the same music, and grew up with the same values and traditions most Egyptian households upheld. But, because of the “impression” I gave off, because I didn’t grow up fully understanding the do’s and don’ts of Egyptian society, I was almost always misunderstood. Along with being labeled the “agnabeya” came the shock when people found out I don’t drink, or simply, the look of complete awe when I sang along to an Um Kalthoom song, or when I knew a grammar law in the Arabic language like the back of my hand, or even when I prayed and actually knew how to make wudu. They expected me to be everything an “Irish lifestyle” would represent, simply because they never accepted me as Egyptian to begin with.

Over the years, I constantly rocked myself between “am I Irish?”, “am I Egyptian?”, “am I both?”, “can I be both?”. Mixed children, who may have one Irish parent and one Egyptian parent, to fit this example, can fully and undoubtedly claim both. Me, I wasn’t so sure. I’m still not entirely sure. I realise I have been measuring my identity based on the identity people categorise me in. I felt reassured when my Irish friends called me Irish, and when my Egyptian friends called me Egyptian, but I didn’t feel secure in either because it meant I was now seen as one thing, and therefore not the other. But, I am both. I feel both. I realise I’ve been focusing my whole life on the things that “don’t make me Irish” or “don’t make me Egyptian” rather than focusing on all the things that do. In saying that, I have come to accept one thing: I can claim to be either or, I can claim to be both, but I will always have a home in each and no one can say I am not entitled to that. No matter where I go in the world, I know I can adapt. I know I can live among different people, in different countries and not feel beaten down for not being entirely the same. I have done it throughout my whole life. I can make a home out of anywhere, simply because I have known what it’s like to feel like you belong nowhere. And no matter how far I roam, I know I have a house, friends and family in both Ireland and Egypt to return to whenever I’m feeling “homesick”.

 

 

GC Poetry: Animal // Youssef Al-Shanti.

Narcissism in the mirror.
Obsession over symmetry.
Elusive perfection.
Algebra and geometry.

Count the likes.
Feel the dopamine.
Power strikes.
Addictive Amphetamine.

Hypocritical thoughts.
Ambiguous knowledge.
Connect the dots.
Go to college.

Looking for love.
Asking for success.
Beaten up.
Feeling distressed.

Inspiration and innovation.
Anxiety and depression.
Sexual temptation.
Fighting and aggression.

It’s a hierarchy.
Survival of the fittest.
The sound of the anarchy.
When the light is dimmest.

Always lost.
Never found.
Paying high cost.
Loosing ground.

Endless debates.
Battling the correctness.
Open the gates.
Feel the pettiness.

Every occasion.
Funeral and wedding.
Life escalation.
Another beheading.

I see the dusk.
It’s nearly the end.
If you need help,
I have no hands to lend.

Now it’s dark.
The stage of the moon.
The stars and the arch.
Need to sleep soon.

Eyelids shut.
No sight.
Counting sheep.
Politely goodnight.

Recipe: Chicken Alfredo Linguine.

INGREDIENTS:
2 Chicken Breasts.
Linguine.
Flour.
Spinach.
Parmesan.
Milk.
Garlic.
Butter.
Oregano.
Basil.
Salt.
Pepper.
Oil.

METHOD:
1. Cut up the chicken breasts into small strips/cubes.

2. Bring water to the boil, adding salt and a drop of oil and then add the linguine when boiled.

3. Put a tablespoon of butter and a tablespoon of oil to a pan and add in the chicken.

4. Add a dash of salt, pepper, oregano, and basil to the chicken as it cooks.

5. Empty the chicken into a bowl, and drain your linguine.

6. In the same pan you cooked the chicken, add 3 cloves of finely chopped garlic to a little butter.

7. Add 3 tablespoons of flour to the caramelising garlic in the pan.

8. Immediately after, pour half a large glass of milk to the pan and stir.

9. When the sauce begins to thicken, add the second half of the milk in.

10. Add parmesan, salt, pepper, oregano and basil to the sauce.

11. In the pot you boiled the pasta in, add the pasta, and chicken back into it.

12. Pour the sauce into the pot on top of the pasta and chicken.

13. Add spinach leaves to the pot and mix it all in together.

 

PLATE UP AND ENJOY!

 

GC Poetry: The Bastards // Aikk Yasser.

They visited me very seldom but with a God damn bang!
It was a hit every time one of them knocked on the door.
Always caught me off guard and never have I understood why.

The Bastards,
Often, would they pick one pretty face and make me forget everything in the world but the features of that face. They would stay with me for a couple of weeks and then BOOM! They’re gone for sometime, just to visit again shortly with more confusion and more magic.

My feelings, the real fucking bastards.

(2015)

A Trip Abroad; Bonn, Germany.

 

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Last month, I went to visit my friend Helen, in her family home in Bonn, Germany. I first met Helen in Vancouver, last October.  I had decided last minute to board a plane to Canada and Helen was work-travelling in Canada. Little did we know, that although our durations of time in Canada were drastically different, we were both travelling under very similar circumstances and emotions. We were complete strangers to one another, and fate had us both bunk in the same hostel room. Helen was supposed to be leaving Vancouver after my third day in, but after we had gotten to know each other in those mere three days, she decided to stay with me during one of the hardest times in my life. She extended her stay until my very last day. I knew then, that I had gained myself a friend for life.

No one could understand how after only two weeks together, Helen and I were able to keep contact for the guts of a year. But, we did. It wasn’t a daily thing, but we found ourselves genuinely concerned with what was happening in each other’s lives since we left one another. Suddenly, we were discussing plans for me to visit her and her family. Helen is in love with her hometown. She loves Bonn with all her heart, and she would constantly tell me all about her favourite spots in her city during our stay in Vancouver. I loved how attached she was to her home, and how despite exploring some of the world’s most beautiful scenery in Canada, she still yearned for home at the end of every day. I was jealous I couldn’t relate to that same feeling.

So, I flew out to Germany, a week after my return from Egypt. Helen came and collected me from the airport, and I automatically remembered the last time I saw her – when she dropped me all the way to the airport in Vancouver, just to say goodbye. It was so weird, but it was like nothing changed, like no time had past. It was almost like we were back in Vancouver, together. We drove back to her house, catching up on all that we missed out on the past few months. Helen’s neighbourhood is quiet but lively and decorated with colourful little houses on every side of the street. Helen’s family are the nicest people I have ever met. Her house is warm and welcoming and made for the most comfortable place to stay. Antjie and Derek were amazing to me. From the big hug and warm greeting I was given at the door, and every interaction made since to make me feel as comfortable as possible, it was clear to me why Helen was so big on family – she had a beautiful one to look up to and learn from.

Bonn is a very much underrated but beautiful little city. It’s situated only about an hour from Cologne. I interestingly also found out that it’s only a 4 hour drive to Amsterdam. When I arrived to Helen’s house, I only got a quick meet and greet with her brother, Henric. He and his friends were heading off for their road trip to the Netherlands in a car that could barely hold them because it was holding their weight in alcohol – a sight to see. We had dinner on my first night at a beer garden that looked out onto the river Rhine. The summer sun in Germany was appreciated beyond measure (minus all the wasps it attracted) and German food is rich and extremely fresh in taste.

One thing I truly appreciated about my stay with Helen’s family was their love and understanding of food and more importantly their tradition of eating at least one meal a day together as a family. Every morning for breakfast and at dinner, I would gather round with her family and we would enjoy the most delicious food that Antjie and Derek would cook up over warm and homely conversation. There was one dinner in particular that really stuck with me. It was one where Helen and I really got to sit back and reminisce with her family just how far our friendship has come and how much it means to us.

Neither her parents, nor my mom, could fathom how we managed to grow so close after such little time together. You would have had to have been there to understand it, is the only way we can explain it. Helen and I went through one of the toughest periods in both of our lives together. We had none of our friends or family around us on some of our worst nights. We were alone in a country so far from our own, and we leaned on each other because we realised we had a better chance of getting through it together than we did on our own. My worst nights, she was there to pull me out of bed and to the nearest club to dance our sorrows away. She pushed my fear to the limit and took me to UBC to see my dream in the flesh. We exchanged ideas and opinions, had deep and meaningful conversations, and that’s the basis our friendship shaped itself on. It stayed with us until and throughout my time in Germany. After all of our stories of our time in Canada shared out onto the table, it became clear that there was only one appropriate way to conclude the emotions let out at the dinner table. We all raised our glasses and cheered: “To the boys that broke our hearts, thank you, sincerely.” We never would have met had they not.

Helen showed me all around Bonn’s hot spots such as the Beethoven house, the University of Bonn, all the huge and amazing parks, hikes, the river Rhine, and we even got to mess about in SeaLife for a day as if we were kids again. We found a cute little cafe, about a 5 minute walk from SeaLife where we had the most amazing mozzarella, tomato and pesto panini ever. It came alongside a mixed leaves and pine nut salad, drizzled in the best balsamic vinegar I had ever tasted. It was so good, we ended up going back twice during our stay. With a cappuccino in Hel’s hand and balsamic vinegar dripping the corner of my mouth, we swore this would be our special lunch spot every time I visit Bonn. We also discovered a shisha bar that had a very Arabian Nights type vibe where we really delved in, over drinks, on what we’ve been going through the past couple of months in life. That was another special spot we added to our list. On one of the more sunnier mornings, we drove out to one of Bonn’s biggest parks with Helen’s adorable dog, Bani. We had a picnic with a view of the river and enormous space for Bani to play around. We walked down to the banks of the river where we had one of our old DMCs and really appreciated being the type of friends who don’t need to filter their feelings or the problems in their lives.

Perhaps one of the biggest highlights of my time in Bonn, was getting to meet Helen’s friends and experience the nightlife there. The first night we went out with Helen’s friends, we went to a pub in the old quarter of Bonn, called Satchel, which is almost a landmark for Bonn. It has been around for the longest time, and Helen’s parents used to go there with their friends growing up too. A tradition, that was now being carried on by Helen and her friends. Helen’s friends are super fun and were so welcoming. They tried their best with speaking English to me, and contrary to what they might believe, it was really good. They also encouraged me into learning a couple of German words and always filled me in on interesting facts and customs of German nightlife and day to day life in general. I spent most of the time with Toni and Josi, who were the sweetest two girls ever. I obviously can’t mention Helen’s friends without recalling my terrible attempt at trying to keep up with Jack’s singing in German. It was painfully hilarious to both attempt and then to re-watch on footage later. The hours flew by that first night, over many drinks, laughter, music, dance and games, and it wasn’t long before we were making our way at 4am to the nearest döner takeaway for me to experience the German cuisine special for the very first time. (Döner: all I will say about it is that it is the perfect drunk food after a night out, regardless of whether you drink or not. This is where it’s at.)

On my last night, Helen and I went for what was probably the best sushi date I have ever had. Papa Umi is the perfect haven for sushi lovers like Helen and I. We treated ourselves to the most beautifully presented and even better tasting sushi ever. We went all out fancy to celebrate Helen accepting her college offer. Here we were again, marking another milestone and big transition in one of our lives. I couldn’t imagine so many milestones now without having Helen be one of the first few people I tell or share it with.

We planned to go clubbing later that night with Toni and Josi. What I loved most about hanging out with Helen and her friends, particularly Toni and Josi, was that they didn’t treat me as a guest. All of a sudden, it felt like I had come to Bonn to visit a whole group of girlfriends, not just one. They came and got ready in Helen’s with us, and as I pranced around the bedroom in only my underwear, gossiping with them while asking their opinion on what to wear, I felt so comfortable among them as a group, as if I’d known them as long as I did Helen. Toni even bought me a virgin mojito so I would have something fancier than Coke or Redbull for pre-drinks. The four of us went to this really cool club, where they have, wait for it… cars that are sawn in half for people to sit in as chairs. Real life cars, parked into the middle of the club… as a seating area. It was the coolest thing I had ever seen. The DJ was incredible with music choice and the club atmosphere as a whole put Dublin nightlife to shame. We danced till our hearts and feet wore out, before we went to grub on some pizza and then said our final goodbyes. In a mere space of two days, I was devastated to be leaving behind such amazing new company, and my special gal.

I only got 4 days in Bonn, but they felt like an escape to a whole other world. I got into the routine of getting up with Helen, eating breakfast together, coming home after a long night out, desperate for makeup wipes and a large top to sleep in. I felt at home with Antjie’s motherly love and warmth, Derek’s typical dad humour and Bani following us all around the house wanting to play. Living with Helen was so natural seeing as we had done it before for two full weeks. This time it was just a much better standard of living, with no rats nor crazy roommates in sight.

There is so much that Bonn has to offer, especially since it’s a city that offers great nightlife and a hustle and bustle throughout the day. But, it also resembles that sweet small town escape that you need to get away from hectic life and routine. Over car rides with Helen, blaring and singing along to old Taylor Swift songs, and walks down the river and trips to the park, I felt so secure and happy within this long-life friendship I have gained. Bonn turned out to be just as beautiful as Helen painted it out to me all those months previous during our time in Vancouver. Although I was so lucky to visit a city as pretty as Bonn, I was beyond grateful to spend some quality time with Helen and to gain the opportunity and memories of getting to know her family and friends.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Love // Meriem Ahmed.

No love is unconditional.
Not a mother’s.
Not God’s.
Definitely not yours.

Love is conditioned to the grades you achieve.
The strength you have to walk away from sin.
Accepting less than what it is you give.

Love is not easy nor free.
It is costly and often hurts more than heal.

But it is honest, raw, and untouchable.
And it has the power to change the world.

Because those who hate love the most,
are the best at giving it to others.

And we have all,
at one point or another,
hated love.