My favorite type of chocolate is 70% dark, but I can often go just a little darker as well. This is to say, I am a fan of tasting things that are bittersweet. I am not one to talk about a lack of belonging because I am eternally grateful for the opportunity of being here. I love living in Los Angeles; I love the sunny weather and the bright skies, watching movies from the place I am so privileged to call my second home, and casually looking for restaurants serving thousands of different cuisines. It’s a dream to live here – and yet, it still lacks something that I cannot put my finger on to understand.
Perhaps it lacks the loving feeling of arriving at your friend’s doorstep and having their parents greet you as their second daughter. Maybe it’s the connection with family members and having most of them live somewhat near you – at least near enough for you all to meet once or twice a month for meals. Perhaps it’s the minimal Ramadan vibes with lanterns hanging up in the sky and the lull that happens in the middle of the afternoon … but perhaps it also lacks none of this. Maybe it’s just me who cannot feel a sense of belonging without being near the skies that I surrounded myself in for so many years.
My time at UCLA has not been long. It has only been a year, and I understand that as the years go on, I will better adapt to the American Ramadan with my peers. Accepting this bittersweet fate, I’ve found that I will also adapt to the lack of tea with fresh mint leaves after decadent meals and instead drink black coffee sweetened with zero calorie sugar. I will embrace the rainy weeks that I had never met as a Cairo woman and endure the lack of understanding of my native tongue in the situations where I wish to use it the most.
And yet it hits me stronger than ever: every time I come back home, it’s becoming more bittersweet. When in Cairo, I walk down the streets now aware of how one of the richest communities in the world looks like – aware of the sweetness of living more privileged. I taste the bitterness of not being able to walk alone whenever I wish and having to call my mother with every movement I make. I taste the bitterness of swallowing the words I have learned in English down my throat so I am not like all of those who have tasted life in a western world and forgotten their taameya-filled roots. I taste the bitterness of living Western and privileged in an Eastern setting. I come back to find myself in the midst of no longer being aware where home is.
I taste the bitterness of living Western and privileged in an Eastern setting.
Much like my favorite type of chocolate, this is all so bittersweet. Some days I find myself tasting the bitterness of it all, and some days I am so encased in the sweetness of living both lives that I glance over the differences in culture. I’m unable to fully engulf myself in the traditions of the land I have labeled home for many years, and yet it’s also difficult to adapt to the new traditions of the land I live in now for a “brighter future” and a “better self.” I taste the sweetness of this privilege everyday… yet most days, I live bittersweet.
Mariam Aref Mahmoud is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Economics and Public Affairs at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). Mariam is UCLA’s Ambassador of Egypt, co-founder and Vice President of External Affairs at the UConnect MENA networking organization, co-founder and director of the Egyptian Students Association, and co-director of advocacy at the International Student Representative Office. She is interested in education policy, development, and advocacy.