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What does it mean to be African American in the UAE on National Day?

Reflection

During my time here, I have encountered 2 types of people who react differently to my presence.

Type 1: they know I’m American. They want to talk to me about their love for hip hop.

Type 2: they want to know what part of Africa that I’m from. They are outright disappointed when I tell them that I have African ancestry but I was born in America and I am African American. These people have a skewed image of what American is. I’m told, blonde hair and blue eyes mean American to them.

One lady was so excited to speak Egyptian Arabic to me. I get the feeling I let her down with my limited Arabic language development. I confused her by sitting minding my business in my abaya and shayla.

A cab driver confided in my how much he detests Egyptians… So, I’m assuming he didn’t think I was one of them.

Several Emirati men and children have just walked up to me and declared, “You, Somali!”
When I tell them I am not… They tell me, “Yes”. My response: Umm… Ok? But, no.

Local children stare at me more than the adults but they do it too. I often, smile and say, “Hi”! Some will return the gesture. Others look confused and continue staring.

A Filipino woman here who works in Al Foah mall asked me where I’m from. Before I could respond, she quickly said, “I know. You, South Africa”…

I’ve also been mistaken for North African and I have been questioned with “Saudi”.

I’m African American in the UAE with mostly West African Ancestry DNA. My heart was in the USA awaiting the details of Mike Brown… Ferguson and such. I RSVPd and promoted Black Friday Boycott events in the states because I wanted to feel apart of the events. I needed to share the solidarity and articulate what I would do, had I been there.

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At the same time, I’m an optimistic expat exploring UAE culture. There’s so much I love about this country. I love the pride and excitement around the country’s progress the most. In just 43 years, the UAE has established greatness.

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As a teacher, I’m amazed by my students and their joy. Today we had a community parade in the desert. I was sprayed with foam by a young boy. He sprayed me head to toe then ran! My co-workers’ cars were tagged with silly string, stickers and flags. It was truly a sight to see.

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Afterwards, we enjoyed lunch and plenty of local dishes. My principal insisted that I try the Pancake-like dish.

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I choose to take part in THAT spirit, pride and culture for National Day in the UAE while holding on to the urgency of change and justice for my people back home.
The festivities will continue all week!

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-Syn

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I got my sand…

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