Much like many other young adults my early life was a blur, but not for the same reasons. All of my experiences as a young child have been verbally passed on second hand, told by my parents. It is through these vision-like memories, seeming more like movie scenes than actual memories, that I have accumulated an identity for my past and heritage.
My Mum was engaged to my Dad when she was 16; a common wedding gift in my culture being gold and golden jewellery. She gave birth to my sister at 18 years old and had me a year later. It was at this time my Mum was forced to sell all of her golden wedding gifts to fund a full-fledged immigration attempt, completely uprooting her life at an age almost identical to mine. That was when the life familiar to me now began, being brought to the UK at a measly 30 days old.
I remind myself of this tale as I try to reconnect to my home country’s culture, and as I try to claw through the mist and establish my ethnic identity. In both the country my family found refuge, and the land I am native to, I am deemed a ‘foreigner’. I struggled with the acceptance of my cultural persona, provoking me to reject my heritage at a younger age; telling people England was my birthplace, totally in denial of my true ethnicity. I am still unsure whether this attitude was motivated by the repeated racism I encountered or simply the disconnection I felt towards my parents’ culture.
I was constantly surrounded by racism. Digesting racist slurs and even multiple physical attacks became a normality, and all due to my Middle Eastern origin. I began to hate where I was from, and refused to converse with my parents in their native language. This proved divisive due to both my parents’ weak grasp of English and the hurtful truth that their son did not embrace his Arabic culture. Alternatively, my sisters exercised their Arabic origins with pride, widening the divide and lack of cohesion between myself, my parents and their heritage. I was poisoned by the racism I had endured and immersed myself in the false reality that my Middle Eastern culture was wrong because it was ‘un-British’. It is still on my guilty conscience that I had attacked and blamed my parents for simply being who they are.
This racist reality began to fade as I found more accepting friends, and those exercising the racism were expelled from my life through school exclusion, prison sentences, leg tags- that kind of thing. It had become apparent that all of the people who had been intolerant of mine and my family’s ethnicity had ultimately become failures; this being an extremely self- expressive symbol in my life.
It was finally with my new group of friends and the eradication of the root cause of my racist trauma that I actually started enjoying life. I played drums in a band, fell in love with writing poetry and became interested in pursuing girls for the first time in my life. I am not sure whether these things were a catalyst for my new-found self confidence, or vice versa, but I know that it was at this point, between the ages of 14 and 16, that I made the most progress in moulding myself into the person I am today. My whole life revolved around partying and having sex with girls, whilst trying to build some sort of subliminal self-image and persona that I desired to project. It may seem dull that these were my main priorities, but in actuality, they were the best years of my life.
Whilst I was growing this self-mastered persona, my home life consisted of debating Middle Eastern politics with my Dad, deeply interested in the implications of the war in our native country. This is when my undying love for politics and foreign affairs was birthed; a love that has stayed with me throughout the rest of my life.
After achieving good GCSE results and making bonds with lifelong friends, it seemed that my life was thriving, and I finally had a feeling of belonging that I had never really experienced in my life. Contrarily, my family life began to slowly deteriorate, as my parents fought daily over my Dad’s actions and their financial situation.
As the failure of my parents’ relationship became more apparent to me, I began to rewrite the hazy naïve memoirs of my Mum and Dad as loving soulmates, that one conjures up as a young child, and realised the true nature of their relationship. When my family first immigrated to the UK, my Dad studied English followed by a vocation as a chef, which he later used to open his own restaurant. Meanwhile, my Mum, in her late 20s had to grasp English from next door neighbours and her own children, the only money she had was what was Dad gave access to her, and she did not know how to drive. With a more mature mind, I can recognise that my Mum felt trapped; being with a man that cheated on her, being responsible for three children with no job or money of her own.
It seemed like mine and my sisters’ independence and maturity correlated with that of my Mum’s, as she rose from the ashes and worked to pay for herself to study at college, made new friends and saved up to purchase her own car. My Mum is my lifelong role model without a doubt, overcoming so many hardships and eventually finding a job as a newscaster and moving me and my sisters to London. This was where my life as I come to know it now, truly began.
As discussed before, my life previous to moving to London revolved simply around going to gigs and parties with friends and talking to girls. It was not until after I moved down South that I truly learnt what struggle meant, not only from experiencing it myself, but also by seeing those around me struggle. To exacerbate my position, I was in a terribly abusive relationship for 4 months just after I moved to London and attended one of the worst colleges in the city.
My confident nature stuck with me from my previous home, and I started college wide eyed and seeking friends instantly. I planned to stick by the first people to show friendliness, and these people just so happened to be drug dealers, killers and fraudsters. They would stare me down every time I got lunch, their eyes following me until I left. This was a usual occurrence until one day I answered a phone call from my Mum in Arabic, to which one of the boys interrupted with arms outstretched exclaiming “Ahhhh you’re one of us brother I didn’t know you were Arab! We were planning on robbing you we thought you were some white boy”. Despite being scarily backhanded, this was one of the first experiences where my Arabic heritage had been viewed as a positive, which gave me a comforting warmth and made me ardently stick with these people.
I changed a lot in the next few months; my style altered, my music taste differed, I began to try drugs (something I was always starkly against), even the way I spoke became more typically ‘London-ised’. Spending every day with my newfound friends soon revealed their true selves. I would remark that I was hungry and they’d buy pizza for the entire class. I would express my dislike for someone and they would all threaten to attack them on their way home. I’d be invited to what I thought was a house party, which actually proved to be held at huge apartments in central London, rented for two nights for nonstop parties and then abandoned. People were genuinely afraid of us and would attempt to join our ‘friendship group’, which I soon realised was a gang.
This group of boys saw each other as a family, something that really gelled with me due to my previous difficulties feeling like I belonged to a family. This is when I was ‘brought in’ to make money with them. The dealers of the gang offered me drugs to sell with them on a weekly basis. It was the fraudsters who I had become closest with due to a mutual love of fashion; they offered to teach me how to execute fraud in order to make money, which was the path I chose. A brief summary of it was that everyone had a ‘line’ which often meant people would call me asking me to buy things for them at a drastically cheaper price, in return I got paid by them for committing the fraud. This uncomplicated, unfatiguing service bought me anything I wanted: the best nights out, coolest clothes and food whenever and wherever I wanted. However, the most significant outcome for me was that I got to pay my Mum’s rent under the guise of a bar job I had quit after a month. Everything seemed to be going well, until the reality of these crimes started to become apparent.
One of the fraudsters I was friends with got caught and imprisoned for 7 years. I witnessed another boy I knew get stabbed as I was waving him goodbye on a bus in Acton. I went from being bullied every day and being seen as weak, to viewing true weakness. 19 year old boys from estates losing their entire futures over money and conflicts. It was after one of my closest friends was stabbed in a barbershop in West London the other boys in the gang sat me down, gave me a knife and said “he was your boy you have to do it or they’ll fuck you too”. That was when it all hit me. The life I had been living and loving for the past year was sugar coated with the money and parties, providing a veil from this reality. My reality. By default, I had immersed myself in crime and murder despite my innocent intentions. I don’t think that feeling will ever leave me, and has provoked me to develop a deeply rooted scepticism of everyone I meet. Even people I know in my heart are good, I struggle not to distance myself slightly. It might be due to the shock realisation that my so called friends were in fact criminals, or the experience of true cold-blooded murder that has moulded me this way, or maybe both, or perhaps I’m still dealing with it. My intentions were merely to make money and have fun. I left that knife on the chicken shop table and haven’t spoken to most of those boys since that day.
I am now moving out to my own place, was the only one in my entire group of friends that has made it to university, I’ve revitalised old relationships and worked in a challenging, interesting job all summer. Life is moving fast, I’m growing up, but new experiences shape you for the better, and that’s my life so far.