Growing up as a "Third Culture Kid"; British born and raised but with Egyptian parents, Timmy Mowafi has a few flashbacks, and complexes to overcome...
It’s sports day. I am sitting patiently on the grassy knoll amongst the droves of 2.4-children-white-collar-families. Fathers spread out picnic blankets in the clear spring air; I stare curiously at the nonchalant too-cool-for-school older girls with developed bodies as they make jokes with their younger siblings about coming last in the relay. Little girls run to their grandfathers excitedly to receive hugs and kisses. It’s a fast paced blur of Worther’s Originals and tweed jackets. One minute I’m a king, I’ve got too many 1st place medals to hold in my P.E bag. The next minute, I am embarrassed and all alone; an orphan amongst the giddy gatherings.
I am waiting for my own family to arrive. My dad’s thick Egyptian accented voice echoes in my head “What is this, why do I need to go to a bicnic, do we not have a big garden? You can bring everyone here and we will get them food.” “No, dad,” my voice echoes back, “it’s spooorts day, EVERYONE’S family comes and brings snacks.” My mother, on the other hand will arrive soon. Please just bring Jaffa Cakes Mum, please, these medals don’t mean anything. Just bring some Jaffa Cakes and some juice, that’s all you have to do, I affirm, hopefully to myself. I wait patiently. Families invite me over to their picnics, but I decline the invitations. I feel their sorry eyes on me and I am gripped by shame.
Thirty minutes later, my mother arrives. She spreads out a thick duvet on the field. A silk duvet. She has plastic Sainsbury’s bags with her. She takes out the contents. You cannot buy tubs of molokheya and microwaved béchamel from Sainsbury's. My crush walks by, stares at the gooey green soup and turns to leave, but before she does, my mum offers her Jaffa Cakes. That is not a Jaffa Cake, Mum. That is Ka7k.
It is the last day of school before Christmas break. I sit back down uncomfortably in the front pew of the school chapel after singing along to hymns with the choir, mind you, for the tenth time that day. I don’t know why I am going to the chapel, I know I am a Muslim, and I know Muslims don’t go to the chapel. But it’s a practice observed by every kid in school. It is easier for the school to treat everyone as a Christian than have to alter their archaic dogma for the benefit of a few brown boys. I play along and don’t bother to question it, because the teachers will shout at me if I don’t sit in a church every morning, and we all know that conformity trumps embarrassment at such times. I start to zone out as a priest hacks away at his Bible in a monotone voice, preaching about Jesus to the bored school children… then… a knock at the side door of the chapel. A man with a Saddam Hussein moustache and double breasted suit takes a step through the door. It is my father. “TIMMY, TIMMY!!!” he shouts over the priest's voice, in the all too familiar Egyptian accent, “Ta3ala!” I get up from my seat, escorted by a teacher, as the priest stops mid-nativity-story. Two hundred little eyes follow my red (actually, still brown) cheeks out of the chapel. He places his large hands warmly on my back as we exit to the chorus of pin-drop silence. “Ya3ni eh da? What is this fucking shit?” reverberates back through stain glass windows.
My friend Harry is over. We are leaving the house to go to the cinema; his eye catches the Pharonic statue of a woman holding a light next to the main door. “Hey, is that like a copy of the statue of liberty?” he asks frivolously.
Big mistake. Awaiting such a moment for what seemed be his entire life, my patriotic father eavesdrops from the living room. He calls Harry back in. Harry shuffles his feet towards my dad with a nervous tremor. My dad starts, bellowing out in his distinct accent, “Ehhh? Statue of Liberty, you understand America stole this from us? Do you know how long Egypt civilisation is?!” Harry’s face goes red (the real red).
I shout back, “Daaad, we need to go, please, we’re going to be late!” We start to leave and he shouts for us to come back. He’s only half joking.
“When Egypt was building the pyramids, America and England was still nomads, peasants… everything was invented by Egyptians…” My dad is on a roll; he will not stop his austere rant about Egyptian colonialism to this eight-year-old white boy, who was in the wrong place at the wrong time. “…So now you understand, haaaa?” My dad finishes. Harry cries and leaves. He never came over again.
Hyper-active children run around in a sugar induced craze, playing tag. In one corner, a parcel is being passed around to the accompaniment of Robbie Williams’ booming vocals. In another, a child is lying down, sick, as a concerned mother chats to another over the phone. It is Richard’s birthday. The table layout looks like a toddler re-wrote the last scene of Scarface; cakes with every colour of icing under the sun, cookies, Haribo, chicken nuggets, chips, Curly Wurlies… and… a plate of pork sausages. I stand in front of that haram plate, still and focused amidst the under-9’s party of debauchery. 10 years from now these kids will be doing the same thing, in larger rooms, replacing jelly colas with pills, and Robbie Williams with House. I contemplate my own future in the eternal fires of hell if I take a bite from the plate. At this point I know FOR A FACT that if I eat a pork sausage, I will not be going to Heaven. From what I have heard, Heaven sounds like a nice place, but on the other hand, all the other kids have eaten the sausage and as of yet, the portal to Hades’ realm has not opened up. It is too tempting to resist, I have my first taste of cognitive Machiavellianism and invent a future lie in which I didn’t know it was pork. I knew. I definitely fucking knew. I have my first taste of pork. I am 24 years old now. I still haven’t told my mum. That would be hell.