Nura Askar
Tibra Spotlight, July 2006
by Nura Askar

Writing My Own Script

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Who am I? Well, my parents are Libyans, so I must be Libyan by default. Or am I?

"Who am I?" A jumble of words spring to mind. I try to answer but I become aggravated. Do I base my response on characteristics or identity? Given that characteristics are constantly changing, the question would most appropriately be based on identity or roots. Well, my parents are Libyans, so I must be Libyan by default. But then, I was born and raised in Europe so I must have some European in me. In reality, I never really felt like I belonged in neither Europe nor Libya... Having just moved to Canada, I feel most at home here but I have only technically been here for ten months. So I would be a Libeuronadian? Back to square one. From as early as I can remember, I desperately wanted to belong. Here is my story.

I grew up in a culture completely at odds with my conservative Libyan and Berber heritage.

Nura Askar

Date of Birth: 27th September, 1982

Place of Birth: Frankfurt, Germany

Education:
Webster University, 2004
Geneva, Switzerland
Graduated with Honours
BA, International Relations
BA, Businesss Administration

Certificate in Marketing
Occupation:
Marketing Communications Specialist

Career Plans:
MBA, and eventually enterpreneurship

Residence: Montreal, Canada

Being the youngest of five children and only one born and raised in Europe, I grew up in a culture completely at odds with my conservative Libyan and Berber heritage. While my siblings had memories of their youthful experiences in Libya, I grew up emotionally disconnected from the country. My parents, devout Muslims who were always very proud of their heritage, worked hard to preserve their deep values in the West. To keep our connection to Libya alive, our family would spend the entire school year in Geneva and the summers in Libya.

I was constantly explaining to my classmates why I fasted in Ramadan, why my mother wore the veil... and why I didn't date that boy who liked me.

I was two different Nuras. From an early age, I became the expert in adapting to different environments. In Geneva, I was "that Muslim girl Nura"; a very social bubbly character with lots of friends but with a different lifestyle. Throughout my schooling I was constantly explaining to my classmates why I fasted in Ramadan, why my mother wore the veil, why my parents took me out of the compulsory overnight field trips, why I didn't go to their parties and why I didn't date that boy who liked me. I perfected my acting and tone so as to not betray the difficulty I was having with my supposedly strict upbringing. Most were understanding, although I learned to deal with the few "that's stupid" or “that sucks” comments.


Graduation Ceremony

Then in Libya, I was "that European girl" who was born abroad, spoke all these different languages but “what a shame that she is much more olive-skinned (samra) than her sisters,” and “how odd that a girl born and raised in Europe is so dark!” I would serve drinks, sweets and green tea to my parents’ guests, smile very warmly when inside I was squirming. They always found a mistake in my Arabic to make fun of, or if my dialect was immaculate then it was something about the way I looked. It seemed that because I lived abroad, I needed to be a perfect being. Sometimes it felt as though they were on a mission to make me suffer for having a lifestyle that I did not necessarily want. It was a lonely world; no one seemed to understand the turmoil I was feeling.

I would ask the famous question "Does he have any daughters my age?" It was a quiet desperation, a need to connect with someone who could possibly understand and have the same life.


With Mom, Fauzia Abusuwa

Proactively throughout my teenage years, I would explore my Libyan side by reading and making efforts to meet fellow nationals abroad. Every time my father met a Libyan man at the mosque I would ask the famous question "Does he have any daughters my age?" It was a quiet desperation, a need to connect with someone who could possibly understand and have the same life. It did not happen. The rare Libyan girls I did meet were either way too liberal—doing all the things I would explain to my classmates and friends that I couldn't, or just too Libyan—adhering to all the social practices that I just don't understand or like. Even up until this day, I have only come across a handful of Libyans in my life and I still do not feel within my element among them.


Graduation Reception

In reality, I was living a Libyan life outside of Libya. We would eat Libyan food, learn the sayings and keep up with all the country’s news. My parents always kept an eye on my sisters and me to make sure that we would not stray from the path and yet my brothers were allowed to go out and partake in whatever activities they wished. How odd! When I was about 12 years old and my eldest sister (who was 25 at the time) was getting proposals, I learned about a new restriction: I was expected to marry a man from Nalut (our little mountain town in Libya) and nothing else would be acceptable. It was devastating for me; I felt like someone had clipped my already diminished wings. My eldest sisters seemed to accept the status quo while I felt the need to fight and make changes. I argued for years. I needed explanations for the way we were living, and I was absolutely not satisfied with the "hiki wa khalas" or "because we are your parents and we say so" explanations. I needed real reasons!

I refused to live the scripts handed to me by my parents or pressures of society—their reality was not mine!


Dad, Saleh Amar Askar, in Nalut

For many years, being unique and different was incredibly lonely. I felt different in all aspects of my life – in Libya, in Geneva, among my friends, my family and within my own skin. But I refused to live the scripts handed to me by my parents or pressures of society—their reality was not mine. Indeed I did have a need for acceptance and love, for belonging. But more than that, I had a need for true understanding and to be understood. With age and wisdom, I learned to see that my parents were struggling too. Their fear of change and integration made them grasp onto their values and traditions with an urgent need—a need which would prove to be suffocating.

Now at 23, I have written my own script and established my own sense of self. My experience has allowed me to grow into a strong, compassionate, and determined person with an unwavering mind of my own. Having been exposed to all of these different cultures, I have learned to pick and choose which precepts to adopt and easily discard those that I do not agree with. I am a proud Libyan. I have come to terms with the fact that I never will belong anywhere—and I do not necessarily need to. Unexpectedly, I have found the sense of community I have always needed in the valuable friendships that I have created and in the relationships that have evolved within my own family. While the struggle continues each passing day to understand my place and purpose in this life, I am not sure that the script will ever be complete, but rest assured—I will continue to write.


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