Saturday, May 16, 2015

A First Step Towards Finding Myself

© Ala Oueslati, Algiers, Algeria

I come from a region that is often misunderstood by foreigners, especially those overseas. Throughout my travels, I have always found myself obliged to think of a simple, uncomplicated, and clear way to explain why I am African, yet not black, not Muslim, not hungry, not riding a camel, not suffering from epidemics in my town, and able to speak both French and Arabic as mother tongue.

These stereotypes are obviously not true all the time, and I am the living proof (plus millions of others). Then, right after the revolution, the self-introduction mission became a lot less complicated, a lot less difficult and a lot more enjoyable. Even people in small towns like Pittsford, NY heard of Tunisia in the news and understood that Africa is not a dying hungry nation. It is better than that, a lot better than that. In fact, Africa proved that it now can be a model in many areas in which it took the lead. So yes, I am African. I am also Tunisian, Mediterranean, Berber and Turkish.

It was only when I started to witness conflicts in my home country, encounter a million obstacles standing between me and my dreams, meet new people with different problems, visions, and perceptions, live beyond my home and see beyond my eyes that I understood who I am. It was only then that I understood my position in life and what I wanted to do with it. It was only then that I understood what this African, Tunisian, Mediterranean, Berber, Turkish person can do.

I am a very positive person, realistic but positive. I have learned that there is no other way to live than to be optimistic, determined and inspired. I have learned to seek power and hope in the toughest situations and find a way out. I have also learned to empower myself and others around me, because I refuse to buy into the idea of people being unable to do things they want to do. I have learned Spanish and Russian, for no particular reason, other than to learn something new, and then throughout my travels they were pretty useful. And most importantly, I have learned to speak up, to take a decision and make a change. This is the only way I found to make my life meaningful to myself and to others around me, and to make myself of value wherever I am.

In order to make my life of more use, I have become a peace activist, because what is a better thing to advocate for other than peace? And this made my family and my friends think that I am a problem seeker, just because I am unable to keep quiet when there is racism, sexism, violence, injustice, inequality, war and disrespect to human life. My family and friends think that I will not be able to change the world. I do not either. I am not a hero and will most likely never be one. All I want is to live in line with my principles, my choices and my goals.

The Tunisian Revolution of 2011 was a trigger in my life. A trigger that made me a passionate peace activist, a gender advocate, a blogger, a human rights defender, a citizen journalist and a student of everything. That same revolution helped me develop through time, understand myself and others through experiences and adjust to the realities of my life. Not too long after that I started working for Caux Initiatives of Change in Switzerland as an intern. I considered myself very lucky to finally be working on something that I felt passionate about and make the change that I have always wanted to make. I felt I was even luckier after being accepted to study at Nazareth College of Rochester in upstate New York and having the privilege to meet President Barack Obama at the White House during my stay in the United States. Then I worked in Mauritania, Turkey, Tunisia, Italy and Jordan, and I have heard a million stories, written another million, faced a million obstacles and made a million friends.

All the unfortunate events that occur in every part of the globe make me feel powerless, weak, and sometimes even depressed. However, if I am an activist who stands up for people’s rights, I can definitely stand up for mine when things don’t go well, and so I did. Power is within me. It is also within every single person on earth. I believe we are so fortunate to have the power to find resolutions and become role models in our communities. We are so fortunate to be able to change things and act upon what happens in the world, because somewhere in this world, there are people who are our age, who have the same desire to change the world, the same love for their families and countries and who could probably be better bloggers. Only they have to worry about how to survive, they have never heard of the word “blog” before, they have never seen a computer, never crossed the borders of their villages.

I don’t know why we are so fortunate to be who we are. But what I know is that we must make ourselves of value to this world full of differences and contradictions, and try to the best of our capacities to make the change that would make the world a better place.