I grew up in Yemen. At the age of 16, I left Yemen and then I went to Canada for IB, for high school, and then after that I got a scholarship to the US. I went to the US and I had my bachelor’s degree there. Then in 2013, I went back to Yemen. So many people told me, "You're stupid. You should have stayed in the US. Why home?" I think, to me always home is home. There were so many stories to be told in Yemen and I felt the need to go back.
I was happy there because I thought I'm doing the right thing. Documenting women's stories, visualizing what is the unseen, and I loved that but that wasn't-- that was really not the end of the story. Happy moments don't last for too long. When the war erupted in Yemen in 2015, I left home in 2016 and then I went to London. Then, from London, I'm here in the Netherlands.
It's been quite-- I moved a lot and sometimes I feel, "Oh my god, I need just to stop moving and then settle for a bit but the career I chose, the path I chose for my life won't allow for me that because even though I'm now living here, but I don't know. Five years from now, I might go home, I might go somewhere else. Yes, that's about- briefly about my background.
Then, I-- It's always interesting because I grew up in this very conservative society like Yemen. It was always a hate-love relationship. For me when I left to the Western world, I got this massive culture shock. Then when I went back, I had this reverse culture shock. I felt, "Oh my god. Besides that I'm moving a lot, I'm also not fitting in in any of these worlds." It's not about borders. I feel like, sometimes, you can cross border if you want to but it's about what comes next after you cross the borders.
For me, borders are my issues but fitting in has been my biggest issue, to be honest. Who am I? Do I belong here, do I belong there? Yesterday in my Dutch class, my teacher asked this question which I forgot to say it in Dutch, I mean I forgot the grammar but, "Do you feel-- Do you feel here at home? Do you feel yourself at home here in the Netherlands?" Some people say, "Yes," or sometimes. To me, it was like, "What a difficult question." I mean that's a really, really difficult question.
Again, what is home? For me was like I just replied with a simple question-- not yet. I was giving myself hope that maybe someday I would feel at home but even the simple questions I find them tricky to just answer, to just think about. In that regard for me changing after coming back to Yemen. I feel of course I've changed. I mean it's a turning point. It was a turning point in my life. I brought back a different personality. I mean the core is the same, it's still me but I have this rebellious personality in me.
I feel I brought back so many ideas so many-- like the belief itself. I used to believe in too many things but that changed. When I was abroad I had so many conversations with so many people from all walks of life, different religion, different nationalities, and of course, I grew in that sense. I feel like-- I tell my friends I aged a lot. Not the age itself but the experiences. I think I started questioning things back home. This is not right, this needs to change, and it feels like I was fighting the norms. I was fighting social status. I was fighting people's belief.
It was harsh to be honest because I was questioning too many wrong things happening in my country but again those people did not have the chance I had, they never left their countries, they have never experienced talking to different people from all different countries. I was angry in that sense. I mean the world seemed so small when I went home, to be honest.
It wasn't easy, but sometimes I feel I'm still changing, I'm not the same person when I was in the US. I'm not the same person when I was in London. I'm influenced on a daily basis. A simple conversation I have with regular ordinary human being in the street could change me completely and that's part of me growing.
Yeah, the differences between Yemenis in Yemen and Yemenis in a foreign country is so different. Not different, is actually weird, because when you visit these communities. I visit these communities in London, for example, there are large communities from Yemen living in London. Most of them haven't changed a bit. They leave home, but they still carry with them every belief, every culture, the habits, the customs, everything. There's nothing wrong with that, but they also limit themselves from getting to know the world around them.
I mean, no offense but it was funny because most of them can still marry their daughters off to men twice their ages, in London, why would you do that? That was interesting but also there are those who felt that they were angry in Yemen, just like me, and they felt, "Okay, I'm not going to have this life again," or, "I'm not going to have this life twice." So, I better also integrate with the society and have a new life.
Again, even when you do that you still feel like, "No, I still have those memories with me, the habits, the customs and I like to be identified with that. I'm not completely- I'm proud of being Yemeni, I'm proud of my language. I'm proud of everything beautiful happening, the history, the culture, and I speak about it but I'm not going to stick with what is wrong, basically. When it comes to the difference, you will be surprised. Sometimes there are no difference at all. You feel like a little Yemenis outside the country and it varies, of course.
About me wearing the headscarf, I don't have anything against it. It's a freedom of choice. I still admire the ladies who stick with it here in abroad. If they feel comfortable with it, that's amazing. If they don't then they've got their choice. I guess to me, it's a matter of not feeling comfortable anymore. It's a matter me I want to-- I don't want to be an outsider. I want to be walking on the street, of course, I'm going to be still identified as an outsider because I'm not white, I'm not blonde, but I wanted to be just an ordinary person, just like anyone in the street.
I don't want to be different I guess. Why? I don't like to be different. I don't like it anymore, so it was just a simple decision and it was a process. It wasn't easy, of course. It started actually when I was in Clark [University] I was actually asking, "Am I happy with it?" but I was afraid like people will judge me, "Oh, you're not sticking with the religion. You're not sticking with your customs. You're the bad girl."
I used to point that I don't care anymore. I know kindness and what I do in life matters more than how I look like on a daily life. It's about the modesty and the kindness. Yes. It's a really tricky decision. Sometimes I feel like my-- but I'm happy without it and I'm happy with it. When I go home I have to wear it but I like it, I like changing the colors of it, I like-- because I've got the choice, you see. Before that, it wasn’t a choice.
When I go home again, I wear it because I don't want to be different, so I worry too much about them.
Yes, the passport is actually ongoing work. To me, it's my statement. It started with my anger and frustration because when the war erupted in Yemen we couldn't leave. I mean we couldn't escape. I don't mind swimming and taking a boat, but even that wasn't a choice because we were like literally isolated and stuck. All the borders were closed, all entries were closed. That was unfair in my opinion.
I felt what if I have this passport like a Dutch passport or a Finnish passport which is really powerful or a US passport? Then that would be a different case, that would be a different scenario. Maybe the UK embassy or the French embassy would send a flight for me or something. I mean, I was just imagining that because that my passport is humiliating in a sense and we are being judged based on a piece of paper and a stamp literally.
Why am I different? For example you and I we stay in the same course in Clark [University]. The difference is that you were born in Finland, I was born in Yemen. I made that book because I wanted to-- I target people like me coming from Yemen, Syria, and Palestine, 12 countries. I felt maybe-- it's also a storytelling project that people buy their own stories of leaving their home and the difficulties of leaving their home in times of war. I was actually questioning the whole notion of borders identity and conflict.
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