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Bassili, Monica

Let it Be | Monica Bassili

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Like the films tell you, mothers and daughters have a special connection. One often displayed anger, yelling, and estrangement. Growing up, this relationship was the most challenging and time-consuming. From planning my words to planning my silence, I was walking on eggshells to accommodate my mother.


Behind this anger, however, is pain. A profound, long-term pain that never eases. My mother suffers from fibromyalgia, a condition that causes chronic pain – with no cure. This illness stems from numerous car accidents in Canada and the depression that follows. It is simple for me, a young Canadian-Egyptian woman, to critique and condemn, but it is not as simple for my mother.


Why car accidents? Why the depression? Taking a look into Egyptian culture and society is one way to understand. Like the disastrous videos circulating online of Delhi traffic, driving in Cairo is much the same. Driving rules and regulations are a modicum of what they are in Canada. For this reason, transitioning from Cairo to Vancouver roads is not an easy task.


Culture Shock 


These experiences of change amount to culture shock, the experience of moving one’s life from one place to another. In this way, my mother left her life and family in Cairo to migrate to Vancouver in search of a better future. I can never know the desires she had and the interests she had. What follows culture shock is often culture denial and decay.


Despite the new city, Coquitlam, making a beautiful and welcoming home for my mother, Egyptian culture came fiercely to pull her back. At 28, the head priest at the Coptic Orthodox Church made a humble suggestion, leading my mother to marry an Egyptian man living in Ottawa. The man, who would later become my father, was raised in Alexandria, Egypt, ten years older than my mother.


The cultural retrieval of Egypt emerged in Ottawa, Canada’s capital and open landing group for newcomers. I stayed in Ottawa with my parents from age one to six as they searched for work. My mother went back and forth between retail jobs, while my father sought employment as a mechanical engineer. They quickly learned that my father’s education and language skills were barriers to securing employment.


Cultural Decay

At six, my parents moved to Coquitlam, British Columbia; my father found an entry-level job, and my mother continued working in retail. At the time, I never understood my mother – even today, I cannot honestly say I know her interests or desires. This is where the cultural decay happens, wherein a woman continues down a path already chosen for her as if it was fate.


On the other hand, my father continued down his career path, moving jobs and working to provide for our family. This way, I had more interactions with my mother than my father. Yet, I know little to nothing about why my mother made the decisions she has or is interested in what she is. This brought on an extended, devastating amount of fights and arguments as I tried to understand my mother’s thought process.

Such a regression of freedom and liberty for women is cultural decay. No matter where you go or where you choose to build a new life, you cannot escape from your culture, religion, and upbringing. As such, my mother followed the right path of a married Egyptian woman: cooking, cleaning, maintaining the home, and taking care of the kids.


Let it Be


Now that this challenging relationship has matured, and my mother and I exchange regular phone calls, I have learnt an important lesson: let it be. No matter how many questions or the answers I demand, nothing will change the reality of what has happened. I do not pity my mother; I am not angry with her, I am not disappointed or frustrated, and I am content. I am proud of my mother and am at peace knowing she is living her best life.


Letting it be, however, does not mean ceasing to ask essential questions. After all, without asking questions and opening your mind to new ideas, you risk staying the same, in a state of mediocre satisfaction. I know I can develop these questions without harbouring resentment or anger towards my mother. For this reason, letting it be is not ignorance but rather a deep understanding that knowledge is everywhere. 


The knowledge of culture, language, film, media and even government shape our lives and our future growth. Being upset about systems of oppression that are currently unchangeable is not productive. Being upset with Egyptian society, religious influences, and cultural norms that oppress women is not productive. Instead, thinking about ways I can learn from these realities is what can develop a stronger bond between my mother and me.


Therefore, letting it be and moving on in a compassionate and empathetic way enhances my relationship with my mother, building new bridges and new endeavours. The trauma and pain that underlies the tension in our relationship will always be there, but it will never be as strong as it was in the moments it happened. These feelings slowly fade and develop into new skills and strengths we did not know we had. For this reason, I choose to let it be and to build a future with my mother that reflects the love and security we all desire.



Read more here:


Women and Honour | Monica Bassilli


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