Moving slowly and deliberately can be its own revolution, to take time to pause, reflect, listen to your body and spirit. In a series of small steps, align your actions and decisions with the life you are creating. In this way you can fight against a sense of hurry and rush and rashness that today’s global capitalism would like for us all to drown in. 

In small ways, I’m tending my own patch of soil, reclaiming in whatever ways I can the strength, patience and heart of my grandmothers. Particularly the grandmother I never met, who lived her life across the Atlantic Ocean. My Egyptian grandmother looms large as an ancestor of resilience and also peace. She birthed 14 children and each one I have gotten to connect with, speaks of her with love. 

My own frustrating attempts to learn Arabic were due to a dad who sought to protect us by having us learn only English, who sought to remove the “foreignness” from our lives since it had haunted his life and interactions in America over the 40 years he has spent here. It’s been 40 years trying to appear mundane and commonplace, telling the worker at subway that his name was John, to make it easier than explaining Ahmed.

Balconies in Port Said, Egypt. Photo taken by Mary in 2010.
Mary’s grandmother, Zemzem, year unknown.

It’s funny meeting strangers or Arab shop owners in the corner stores of Minneapolis. So many of them are immediately overjoyed to learn of my Egyptian background. They will bust out and sing a song from their favorite old Egyptian film or recollect about a time they visited Egypt and what they loved. Community all around me poured out admiration, but in my own family we were trained to keep our heads down, to tell people we were Greek if they asked. Now, as I inject bravery into my lungs and greet the Muslim shop owners who I know speak Arabic or send voice recordings to my cousins in Egypt asking about my pronunciation, I am paying my respect to this community I am, and have always been a part of. 

I have become a living homage to that grandmother, to her own bravery and spinal strength. Whether I understand each lyric to a Tamer Ashour song or not, I am sure that my grandmother would see herself in my grit, my open heartedness and determination, in my making space for pride and complexity despite rancorous shame messages and generalizations from all sides. 

واحدة واحدة 

 “Wahda Wahda” One and one, little by little. 

Whatever strides we make towards wisdom and in seeking more knowledge of self and earth are the strides and decisions that define us. Taking the time to slow those steps and breathe in the abundant ancestral wisdom of our bodies and hearts despite what our minds were programmed to as children, is where we discover our own richness, our own disposition of strength and calm. And from that calm our decisions can bring healing to all circles we are a part of and in some interconnected way, to the planet we are all connected to.  

Mary Barghout is a multidisciplinary artist living in Minneapolis. Her experiences as a mixed heritage Arab American woman are often where she draws inspiration, exasperation and strength from. You can connect with her via snail email at Mary.barghout@gmail.com.

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