Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali’s blog about education

Forget About Me

| 20 Comments

Forget about me, why don’t you?

Because I never really belonged anyway, did I?

Paul Prinsloo this morning shared an article about the experience of traveling with an African passport (tag onto that being both African and Arab and visibly Muslim like me and it actually gets worse).

I am not even going to recount the indignities the article mentioned. I cried reading them and I don’t want to go back and read it all again. But some quotes here. From the very end of the article:

The problem is I saw the world, and now I feel I have a right to it as much as everyone else does. But the little injustices keep reminding me to get back into my corner and stop trying to get into your borders. We have seen the world—and we want to be fully included in it—with dignity.


It’s not funny or fun being a “passport undesirable” (term used in the article). It is exactly this:

I have never had passport privilege—never imagined I could move to your country on a whim, become an expatriate with all the trapping it brings. I have never thought of flying to another country under the assumption I would figure out how to get in once I landed. I try to sympathize when I hear you complain about how difficult it is to get a work permit in my country.

But it’s more than that. Even living in my own country where it’s most prestigious to work at an American institution, where it’s easier to get good caliber Egyptian academics and staff vs mediocre (and occasionally good or great) Americans/Westerners, you’re kinda made to feel lucky you get to make room for yourself there. Or rather “here”. But it feels like “there”. And yet you can’t go out and into the most local context or you would explode because yoy have “seen the world” and you can’t go back to THAT.

And so. Online. Where, really, if I were I any more visible than I am it would be vulgar..  Where probably to get to where I am now I shouted from the rooftops to make room for myself, to make myself HEARD… That was probably vulgar. Or borderline vulgar.

So when I am RIGHT THERE. When I am THAT VISIBLE. And you still can’t see me? I really don’t know what to do. That’s where impostor syndrome comes from. When you fight for your place RIGHT THERE and you think you have arrived. And then people who supposedly love and respect you DON’T SEE YOU. They FORGET. They FORGOT. They’re only human.

I thought I was beyond that. I thought I was at that (frustrating) phase where I no longer needed to promote myself or my work or my ideas. I thought I was at the phase where promoting and amplifying others was my place. And I still think so. And I still will and do. But for that to succeed you need to LOOK AT ME AND SEE ME DAMMIT. Not just grant me a visa. But treat me well at the airport. Treat me well on the streets. Treat me well in the shops. And forget me not.

(so much for setting our own standards of success and ignoring others’)

Because my needs, my desires? I kill those on a constant basis in my physical life because that’s what people expect of a woman with a child in my context. 

I was having a bad day before I read that article… So maybe I am exaggerating and imagining things. But maybe you just forgot me.

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