My Name Is Aila

One of the most frustrating things about existing as a person of color in our society is the subtle ways in which you are not considered a person.

I’m Arab. I’m Palestinian by way of Lebanon. I’m olive skinned, dark-haired, and I bellydance. I do a mean dabke. I wear a keffiyeh. I walk into grocery stores speaking Arabic and hunting through the meagre international aisles for a tiny taste of home. And people ask to take their photos with me. People ask me where my hijab is.

“How long have you been in this country?”

“Where are you from?”

“Wow you speak good English!”

I’ve had people explain to me that in This country we speak English, not “Muslim”…while I was speaking Dutch. Because any language that comes out of my mouth must be “Muslim.” Like I’m not an atheist born to Christian/agnostic parents.

It’s the people who start crying and talking about how difficult it must have been for me to leave my home behind, how happy I must be that that I live in a civilized country now.

I dunno lady, I was born in Germany.

It’s the people who stop their bicycles while I’m walking down the street to talk to me.

Do they have bicycles where you’re from?

Where I’m from? You mean Canada?

It’s the women in grocery stores who tell me I’m wearing a pretty scarf, like my keffiyeh is just a scarf, and not an important cultural symbol, like it doesn’t carry meaning. Like it isn’t my single most prized possession.

All the small ways we are made into novelties. Shiny caricatures of strongly held stereotypes, and no amount of correction seems to break their delusions of who we are.

My name is Aila. I foster cats. I like knitting, aquariums, and cooking. When I’m really excited about something, I jump up and down and I clap. I love punk music. I sing “You are my sunshine” to my children every night. I love deeply. I always do my best to be kind. I’m more than an object for you to make yourself feel good. Won’t you see me?

On Community

I’ve had a pretty rough couple of weeks lately. Things have been exceptionally difficult with expense after expense piling up, friendships ending, responsibilities overtaking me, and the loss of both a foster cat, and one of my pets.

It’s been overwhelming, but I’ve been okay. My community has stepped in to back me up wherever it can.

My friend Malorie has been helping me pick my youngest, Bug, up from school. Andy leaves work on his lunch break to drive Bug to his preschool class, and makes sure I have a key to his house so I can find somewhere quiet to catch up on work. Nathan makes me a lunch and leaves it in the fridge so I don’t have to spend time making my own. Mara drove an hour with her father in law to help me take care of some roommate business. Julia went and picked up my cat’s ashes so that I wouldn’t have to.

Multiple friends send me reassuring messages and reminders to eat and stay hydrated throughout the day.

I haven’t had community for most of my life, and having one now is a genuine feeling of ease and comfort. I don’t have to worry as much. I can help my friends, and they can help me. We weren’t built to live solitary lives, we were built to love, and to work and fight together to survive.

We can’t survive without a community, and the single most powerful act of compassion we have at our disposal is our willingness to risk everything to keep each other afloat. In a society where we often find ourselves subjugated, alone, and struggling, our most powerful tool is our willingness to love each other.