Arts & Culture The Identity Issue

Too Western for the East, too Eastern for the West

A photo story that captures the feeling experienced by many.

By Enas Sistani

This story is brought to you by Dr. Rocco’s Specialized Dental Center in Abu Dhabi, UAE.

In 2017, I moved from my home country Bahrain to New York to pursue a master’s degree. I didn’t think much of the move. After all, back in Bahrain, I was considered “too Western” for my society. I always spoke in English, I never listened to Arabic music and I did not relate to anything that was Arabic. Like many of my generation, I related more to anything and everything that was Western due to my exposure to the English language and Western culture, TV and music in my youth.

But, much to my surprise, when I came to the US, I began to feel an unprecedented gravitation towards my roots and culture. It was something I never thought would happen to me. The first thing I did when I experienced that was to look for a halal grocery shop. There, I bought cardamom to add to my tea to make it the way my mother makes it, I bought a prayer mat and placed it on the floor in my apartment so that I would be reminded of home, and I bought an Arabic perfume to smell like home.

I realised that we can never escape our roots and culture, and that we will always revert back to them in the end. Even if we are unhappy with some aspects of our homes, such as feeling tied down by societal barriers (real or imagined), the thought of it will always bring back  a series of heartwarming memories: remembering what a glass of warm chai karak (tea with milk and spices) tastes like, remembering the scent of bukhoor (Arabic incense) on an afternoon day, and missing the sound of prayers on a Friday morning. Home will always be different. Home will always be home no matter how far away from it we are, emotionally and physically.

So, as soon as I came back home to Bahrain, I immersed myself in a photography project to showcase my experience and the experience of many of those of my generation who feel too Western for the Middle East and too Middle Eastern for the West. The end results were these photographs that I took in the village of Saar. The model, dressed in a combination of traditional clothes, jeans and T-shirt, and holding a Starbucks coffee cup, is posing in front of a graffiti that reads “Welcome to Vegas”. I wanted to feature a girl in traditional getup but enjoying things that are Western with that graffiti behind her. She represents how I felt when I first arrived in the US: an outsider, yet not entirely so.

The views of the authors and writers who contribute to Sekka, and the views of the interviewees who are featured in Sekka, do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Sekka, its parent company, its owners, employees, and affiliates.

Bahraini photographer Enas Sistani’s photographs have been gaining momentum ever since she has accidentally stumbled into the realm of photography during one of her travels in 2016. With an eye for raw and reverberating emotions, Enas continuously seeks capturing those moments in her images. She waltzes with human motifs, colors and overall emotions.