English | Egyptian
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I identify myself as a human being – I see far too many similarities between us all to ever want to dwell on being this and not that – it all runs through me and enriches me. With regard to race, I tend to feel that, like the rest of us, I belong to the human race and that colour is a response to environment and genes so that I see all humans as being shades of one colour.
People tend to collect in 'tribes' around commonality and potentially belonging to two has left me identifying instead with a sense of oneness since I find that I am two into one! My mother was English – she toured Egypt and fell in love with the vibrancy of the country, so she decided to learn the language and return. Back in London, she met my father – her tutor, an Egyptian professor of philosophy who had been living in the UK for a number of years and teaching at a UK University. They married.
I knew that I was half of two cultures from the start. We spoke only English at home at my father’s behest since he didn’t like the idea of our starting a sentence in one language and finishing it in another. I struggled to learn Arabic when I was sent to school aged 4 – because both parents only spoke to us in English it felt foreign, as did the school. I was different and was bullied by an older girl.
I think the fact that I grew up in Egypt, albeit with regular visits to England, meant that I connected a little more equally with both cultures – had I grown up in England, I think it would have been quite hard to feel any connection to the Egyptian side. As it was, I grew up in the multi-cultural melting pot that was Egypt at that time. There were lots of Americans there for the oil, Greeks, Armenians and Italians, who had become indigenised; some Brits and antipodeans working for the UN, etc. We had mosques, a cathedral and a synagogue. People were liberal on the whole and everyone rubbed along together so that in my perception difference became a matter of variety more than of contrast.
The emphasis in our household was on culture; it didn’t matter which. We went to opera, ballet, films in various languages, including Russian, and my father headed a literary society. My parents wrote English grammar and usage school text books and my mother edited and abridged the classics for the department of education. The house was a hub for ideas and was always busy. Basically my parents were pretty like-minded.
My first 6 years at school were challenging - it was really the wrong environment for me. Then I changed schools and found my métier – settled academically and acquired a group of friends. I don't consciously forge relationships based on my ethnic mix. I find that I tend instead to resonate with people who have similar interests and are liberal and open minded about Life, the Universe and Everything.
I tend to cook beyond boundaries, guided by my nose and sense of how things will blend. I can’t eat dairy and gluten and a few other things cause me pain or discomfort, so I listen to my body and create recipes around what works for me, borrowing from many styles of cookery rather than trying to stick to one type of cuisine.
I grew up with classical music and then found my way into pop and from there into World music. Melody matters to me and I love rhythmic complexity. Also modal music - I love the sound of the oud (Arabic stringed instrument that was the origin of the lute), Indian ragas, African music from north and south. Also the folk music of various countries plus Tango and Salsa music – my taste is pretty broad really.
I have always been interested in languages as from an early age I noticed that some sounds meant quite different things in different languages, but also I became interested in the way that language betrays the culture it serves. For example different ways of saying ‘goodbye’ on parting indicate the values prevalent in the societies that foster the languages. I love the subtle nuances that words can convey.
I prefer style to fashion. Fashions don’t always suit everybody and I don’t like to feel herded into something just because everyone else is doing it. Style, on the other hand, tends to go with the individual and always to suit and support them once it is defined.
I have always valued the sense of understanding both ways of being and thinking and the opportunity to analyse the differences and similarities in order to see more clearly. It has also been my experience that being half of two things has made me less of both rather than more of both and although this might be seen as a dis-benefit, it has actually given me a kind of freedom to roam the earth as a citizen of the world rather than simply a nationality.
Most people don’t quite know what I am and I have been lucky that mostly they have responded to who I am rather than what I am. I approach things from a perspective of interest rather than cultural conditioning – although I am sure that the liberal attitude of my parents and their insistence on immersing us in the arts and cultural pursuits must have influenced me towards Culture as opposed to a specific cultural outlook.
Although shy when I was younger, on the whole my mixed heritage has given me opportunities and helped me interact with people in my working as well as my personal life. Careerwise, I started as a dancer and we were unified by a love of dance, creating our own tribe, so it was more about talent and a passion for art than it was about our ethnicity. Later my ability to speak Arabic and understand cultural sensitivities helped with my career as it opened up possibilities.
If I were born again I would probably want to return with a mix of cultures as it has always helped me to appreciate that there is more than one way of perceiving things. We really are one humanity with a wealth of individuality and our variety can give us the freedom to embrace all aspects of intelligence and need not separate us. I prefer to remain happy to be simply a member of the human race.