• As I grow older I’ve continued to try to maintain a balance between my Eastern upbringing and Western living. (Supplied)Source: Supplied
Despite living in Australia for over a decade, I often find myself torn between two worlds - the world I’m currently living in and the one I left behind many years ago.
By
Rashida Tayabali

25 Aug 2020 - 7:23 AM  UPDATED 28 Apr 2021 - 2:37 PM

16 years ago, when I migrated to Australia from Kenya as a young adult, I was thrust into a new society, and way of life. At the age of 21, I had to learn how to work in my first casual job, study and live on my own, away from parents and family. I’m aware that most young people in Australia start working from a much younger age, but where I come from, a girl lives at home until she gets married and moves to her husband’s home. Today, things are changing in Kenya, but it’s not yet the norm.

I was lucky that a new country gave me the right opportunities to create my own life and be independent, and I embraced it fully. But the invisible strings of the East tugged whenever I tried to be fully independent by making my own decisions. There was an expectation that while I would take advantage of any opportunities in Australia, I’d still follow the same conventions and societal rules from Kenya. It was a difficult road as I tried to find how to make decisions in a way that made me happy and also didn’t rock the boat too much.

I quickly found myself becoming a divided brown woman trying to find the middle road between two worlds.

I quickly found myself becoming a divided brown woman trying to find the middle road between two worlds.

Even after living in Australia for over a decade, I often find myself torn between the world I’m currently living in and the one I left behind many years ago. Often, I have to consider how a big decision made here can impact family living across the globe.

It’s also a popular topic of conversation among my migrant friends, especially the women. I’ll hear about how a decision made in Australia has gone down badly among family back home or that there’s disapproval about how kids are being brought up here vs how they should be brought up.

There’s an expectation that we will continue to follow conventions of the East while living in the West. And those who don’t follow these conventions are often thought to have strayed off the sensible path or bamboozled by western ideas.

On Instagram, there are many accounts devoted to what it's like for a third culture kid. But hardly anyone talks about women who grow up in the East and then migrate to the West to live, work or study. I’ve called it ‘the divided brown woman’ because I am one myself.

But hardly anyone talks about women who grow up in the East and then migrate to the West to live, work or study. I’ve called it ‘the divided brown woman’ because I am one myself.

I’m constantly trying to find the right balance between living a life that makes sense to me and one that doesn’t appear too unconventional to family back home. This conflict often rears its head when it’s time to make important decisions, like choosing who to marry, what to name the children or how to bring them up. I tend to lean towards individual choice and freedoms, while Eastern convention dictates that one must always put others before themselves, even if it comes at a personal expense. Women mustn’t be too outspoken about issues neither should they take a stand. They must respect the patriarchy as being the final word.

Unfortunately, Western ideals are the exact opposite of all the ideas I’d been brought up with. That’s where the divide lies and the conflict I often face - what ideals should I choose to live my life in a western country? Which values would serve me best?

As I grow older I’ve continued to try to maintain a balance between my Eastern upbringing and Western living. I’ll admit that it’s not been an easy road. Most migrants will understand the struggle to live a Eastern-Western life that makes them happy and is also acceptable to those living back home, or those who come to live with us here.

As I grow older I’ve continued to try to maintain a balance between my Eastern upbringing and Western living.

It’s often difficult to decide whether it’s a generational or a continental divide, but it’s definitely a delicate balancing act. What I’ve learnt is that not all of my decisions or viewpoints will be popular or understood. Ultimately, whether I choose to honour my Eastern values or a Western viewpoint, it has to sit comfortably with who I am as an individual and has to fit the situation. Otherwise, it becomes a classic case of being a round peg in a square hole.

Rashida Tayabali is a freelance writer.

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