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Being British-Arab! Being Woman! Being Besotted Londoner!
In August 1988 I arrived in London as a naïve and awkward thirteen year-old Libyan teenager who had just come from Italy; and, prior to that, I had come from the Unites States. I went straight into an American high-school to complete my education; and, hence, the slight American accent that confuses people not realising I am Arab.
At the American Community School (ACS) I made friends from a truly international pool of people who all impacted on the person I am today. During those years, however, I did struggle to integrate as I felt and perceived a huge clash of cultures between the Middle Eastern ways being instilled in me at home and the Western liberal framework at school and elsewhere around me.
At the age of 18, I was accepted to study Law at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) and spent three intensive years learning the ways of the British legal system. This was my first proper exposure to the culture, ethics and values of the UK and what it means to be a British citizen. Although originally I had ambition to become a lawyer, certain challenges forced me into a different path, wherein I first experimented with the study of Existential psychotherapy and later blogging and journalism circa 2009.
It was journalism and an internship at Time Out magazine that led me to begin a deeply passionate love affair with London, realising just how much this vibrant, diverse and beautiful city has to offer. Soon with Nahla Ink launched, I found myself part of a newly emerging creative niche that can only be described as the MENA-inspired arts and culture scene, wherein the creative output of the Arab diaspora communities was forming shape and mutual contacts were being made.
I would say also that circa 2011 when the revolutions swept the Arab region that a lot more artistic and cultural activity was coming forth and burgeoning into something rather spectacular; so that today, for example, there are identifiable movers and shakers of the scene as well as familiar art institutions, art curators, festivals, writers, singers and so many others contributing to the same and connecting directly or indirectly with the region. As Middle Easterners and North Africans, we have covered a lot of ground!
What started out ten years ago as a collection of light-hearted pieces chronicling my personal experiences in trying to make sense of the different cultural influences in my life has grown organically into something else. Now I dedicate the Nahla Ink space to delve into the works of the Arabs who have embraced both home and host countries with English as the sharing language, so that we can all share in the collective adventure and reach a maximum audience. (Please also note that I generally keep away from religion and politics, unless they are a part of an artistic discourse.)
Like no other however it is London I wish to toast and celebrate as it has brought us all together and given us rights to express ourselves in both the private and public domains. In the search for meaning and identity, we have developed a positive space for the British-Arab that is always mixing with and reaching out to others from all corners of the world; and, of which, I am super humbled to be a part of. To London!
Nahla Al-Ageli, January 2019