‘Nowadays’ was written after the European referendum, the result of which, left most of us shocked, to say the least. Suddenly the questions of national identity, belonging and home were the forefront of every conversation more so than before.
I had always felt a sense of belonging in Wales, and in many ways, I still do. But I think about it more now. Brexit and other experiences surfaced questions about identity that I had been avoiding for a long time; questions I wanted to explore in ‘Nowadays’. The narrative takes the premise of ‘where are you from?’ – a question that every minority has been asked at some point in their life. Yet instead of simply defending that the narrator was from ‘here’ or Cardiff, the story attempts to go deeper into the psychology and the thought-process that question instigates. I was aware of the many articles, videos and online discussions that had taken place on this topic. Was aware of how most people responding to it were British or American born, and so for them, the answer was seemingly straightforward. I wanted to take a slightly different approach.
I also wanted to explore how the question takes on different meanings when asked by a minority to another minority and how the power dynamics shift accordingly. This is portrayed through various cab drivers asking the narrator where she’s from in an attempt to relate and connect to someone similar in diaspora. Yet at another point, the narrator isn’t asked the question at all when in a women’s only salon, ‘Sultan’s’ on Cardiff’s famous City Road, leaving her feeling disappointed and disorientated. By doing this, I wanted to show the narrator’s need to belong to various spaces and communities, yet at the same time not quite be able to belong in either; she is treated as an ‘other’ in both. The aim was to portray how one may straddle the two – something that many younger, second-generation migrant kids do – therefore becoming more of a hybrid of both worlds, and what that can possibly mean.
On a personal level, I feel the hybridity can be enriching to daily life. Yet the story undermines this view with, what I hope, is an uncomfortable ending. After reflecting on the different situations in which she has been asked where she is from – from a seemingly harmless encounter on Bute Street to conversations with taxi drivers – the narrator reveals a xenophobic encounter. What hope there was of her becoming comfortable with this hybridity – of ‘feeling local’ yet unashamed of her country of birth – is taken away in the last paragraph that isn’t really further resolved.
‘Nowadays’ was also the story I included in my application to The Word Factory 2017 Mentoring Scheme that I am now on, mentored by Alexei Sayle. Being on the scheme and hindsight has made me think of ways I could further develop the story; things skimmed over such as references to devolved and deprived areas of Cardiff that could be further explored. I suppose many writers feel that way about work they put away and return to nearly 8 months later. I always wanted to write to evoke and challenge, even if on a small level, as I think literature should throw up a mirror to the world and be written as a response to the times, as has been done so throughout history. The conflicted ending aims to do that. There is still the rise in nationalism, in talks of ‘British values’ and those who adhere or assimilate into those values. Still questions of ‘them’ and ‘us’ and who looks or behaves British. The ending is a desire to belong in order to survive – an anxiety that BAME, migrant and refugee communities are now facing in divided Britain.
Durre Shahwar has an MA in Creative Writing and was commended for the Robin Reeves Prize for Young Writers in 2015. She was published in the Parthian Books anthology, How to Exit a Burning Building, and in various magazines online and offline, including The Stockholm Review of Literature and Halo Lit Mag. She is an Associate Editor at Wales Arts Review and also a Wales Arts Review Artist in Residence 2017. @Durre_Shahwar / durreshahwar.com.
Durre Shahwar and Hanan Issa host the first Where I’m Coming From event this Sunday Aug 13th at Tramshed, Cardiff, 4pm.
You can read ‘Nowadays’ in Issue Seven of The Lonely Crowd.
© Durre Shawar, 2017. Image © Jo Mazelis, 2017.