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An extraordinary background
I often forget that my family has an extraordinary background. My friends do the same. I regularly forget my history and we sit together and talk about politics and poetry. I would not have it any other way. It would be intolerable if my friends perceived or treated me differently.
I often forget that my family has an extraordinary background. My friends do the same, and thus they meet me with general expectations. ‘It’s about time you got your own place,’ my buddy tells me – a guy now living in his fourth or fifth shared house. ‘What the fuck, why do you have to call home and tell your mother that you’ll be late? Aren’t you an adult?’ my friend demands – a girl who permanently moved out of her village at the age of sixteen.
I often forget that I have an extraordinary background. My friends do the same, and therefore I tend to nod when my friends tell me that I am kind, generous and self-sacrificing for prioritizing my family.
I often forget that I have an extraordinary background. My friends do the same, and therefore I fall silent when they tell me that my culture is archaic, patriarchal and intolerant to reject a son-in-law who does not share my ethnicity.
‘Your culture,’ they tell me – ‘is nothing to brag about. I mean, nobody would care about who I’d share my bed with.’ With those words I have a sudden urge to protest, but the words always escape me.
I often forget that I have an extraordinary background. My friends do the same, but all it takes to remind is that immediate urge to protest. With their criticism I remember all the occasions where my family was about to dissolve:
As refugees in a small fishing boat in the Indian Ocean; as illegal immigrants unprotected in the darkest and most violent neighbourhoods of Nairobi; as foreigners in Moscow surrounded by an empire in shatters. Or in a small Norwegian town, far away from relatives, holding the telephone handle and receiving messages of death.
I stand on shoulders that once carried me over borders. Shoulders that belong to people who washed my clothes in fountains and who two decades ago sought refugee during a cold, winter night.
And so, I can’t submit to the Scandinavian individualism. My conscience doesn’t allow it. I argue with the shoulders that today constitute my floor, I argue about direction, choices, morality and culture. I don’t stomp on them. If I stomp on them, I lose my foundation. I dissolve.
Warsan Ismail is a 26 year old medical student and writer from Oslo. She is interested in feminism and social justice, and has written for Norwegian newspapers such as Klassekampen and Dagbladet.