Love, a central catalyst for my international mobility
Hélène Syed Zwick | 14 February 2020
Sunset on Cairo.
My life has been in Cairo, Egypt since 2014. Defining who I am is challenging to me. I could start with my citizenship and the cultural baggage that it implies. I am a French young woman, born and raised in France in a small village near the German border.
However, identities evolve with both relations driven by love and friendship and by surrounding environments. In my case, the significant change occurred with the meeting of my husband. My husband has the French citizenship, but he is also a Pashtun Pakistani. Pashtun culture is rich and mysterious for Europeans. Based on Islam and on an ancient way of life called Pashtunwali, Pashtun are known for their pride and their resistance to the enemy. Born and raised in Peshawar, my husband left temporarily his country to study and get his PhD in economics in Europe. Contrary to his initial plans, he never went back to Pakistan. We met at university, fell in love one day in 2008 and now have three daughters together. A typical mixed family of two citizenships, two cultures, two religions, you might say. I would certainly agree, but it is far more complex than that. Of course, my tastes in music, social activities or clothing changed. I discovered, for instance, Bollywood films and music, spices and Pakistani cuisine, and cricket, of course!
Nevertheless, I identify myself with more than these two cultures, French and Pashtun. Love accelerated my mobility path. Love enlarged my horizons beyond France and Pakistan. I did not stay in France and I did not settle in Pakistan. I decided to follow my husband and to settle together with our daughters in Egypt in 2014 driven by professional opportunities. I became a tied mover in that decisions of mobility of one family member affect the movement of the rest of my family. I moved even though my employment outlook was better in the current location, France. Our family unit became very solid and we had the chance to develop strong and sincere friendships in Egypt with Egyptians, but also with Jordanians and Lebanese. I often consider these friends a third family. In this culture, friendship does not have the same meaning as in Europe. People here are warm. I also fell in love with the Egyptian cuisine, kindness and sense of humour. I learnt English and most importantly Arabic. Language is not only a formidable way to intrinsically express identities, but it also constructs them. Arabic has connected me to a rich Egyptian history, to the Arab-Islamic culture and to Arabic calligraphy.
In the meanwhile, we have been living and working in Kyrgyzstan during several summers. Again, another culture, another history with its Russian, Turkic and Mongol heritages. Kyrgyzstan is a Central Asian ethnically diverse country and a former member of the Soviet Union. Its population speaks Kyrgyz, a Turkic language using Cyrillic and Russian. I fell in love with the amazing landscapes, with lagman and manti, two most celebrated meals in the region, and with the humongous bazaars of Osh and Dordoï, where six to seven thousand shops presented in containers follow each other alongside narrow and crowded footpaths. The friendships I developed with some Kyrgyz but also Uzbeks, Tajiks and Afghanis are very precious to me and drive us to the country as often as possible.
I identify myself with these cultures. Since 2010, my family has celebrated Christmas in France and in Egypt. We have spent the month of Ramadan in Kyrgyzstan, in France, in Turkey and in Egypt. We all are fluent in at least three languages, French, English and Arabic and started understanding Pashto and Russian. We attended weddings in these countries, as part of close friends.
Six years have already passed since I arrived in Egypt. I have now been wondering how love and friendships will make me stay, will make me immobile. My heart is big. However, it will be difficult to leave behind such valuable friends again. Social ties interact with movement, my life is evidence of this. From my point of view, I entered a new phase in my mobility path. Before, at the very beginning of this journey, I would move to a certain place that then would cause the formation of new friendships. Now, I feel that existing social relationships bring myself and my family to certain locations affecting both geographies and temporalities of my mobility.
I would undoubtedly say that mobility changed and enriched who I am today, which in turn enhanced the quality of my life and increased my overall well-being. My level of tolerance increased and as a teaching and research economist specialized in migration studies, my vision on cultural and social integration, on minorities or on forced migration and human trafficking changed as well.
I have been on the move for more than a decade now, but until when? Love will guide me, as always.
Hélène Syed Zwick, PhD
Dr Hélène Syed Zwick is a research and teaching economist, with over 10 years of international experience. She has lived in three different continents (Europe, Africa and Asia) and worked in universities and/or research institutions. Presently, she is Executive Director of the ESLSCA Research Center and Associate Professor in Economics at ESLSCA University, Egypt. Her most recent publication is entitled “Narrative analysis of Syrians, South Sudanese and Libyans transiting in Egypt: A Motivation–Opportunity–Ability Approach”, in Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies.