As a British Iraqi, I am in the blessed position of sharing two fantastic cultures. I savour my parents’ stories about Iraq, the hospitality of the Iraqi household, the nail-biting play of the Iraqi football team. Of course, the English national team fills me with an equal amount of dread whenever they take to the Wembley turf, but I can recuperate after a stressful match with an afternoon of Shakespeare at the Globe, or a trip out of London to enjoy the English countryside, maybe even a cheeky fish and chips by the sea. I love it all.
Unfortunately, however, holding two very distinct cultures so close to my heart brings with it many challenges. When each culture has a different answer to the same question, all my cultural leanings are swept up into a whirlwind of confusion that leaves my sense of identity in question; who am I? What makes me who I am? And where do I really belong?
I am having one of these moments now. As I sit here, having taken refuge from the glorious British weather in a lovely little tea house, my cultural compass is going haywire. The question my friends is this. Tea: black or white?
It may sound trivial to some, but this is serious stuff folks. You see, anybody who has grown up in an Iraqi household, will appreciate the complexities of this fine beverage. The brewing process is an intricate art that takes years of perfection. There’s the choice of blend, the quality of the water, the speed at which it is brewed, and plain or spiced? Of course, then there’s the cup; tea out of a mug just isn’t the same as that from a traditional istikan.
Then I went to university. Many parents worry about their kids leaving the sanctuary of the family home and venturing out into the big bad world. Dangerous ideologies float about on campus and as people progress on their quest to find themselves, things can change. For years I argued that these fears were unfounded, but the time came for me to flee the nest and experience the wide world for myself.
During my undergrad years, many an hour was spent in tea houses and coffee shops dotted around the city, and it was here that I was introduced to the wonderful world of afternoon tea. Cucumber sandwiches, scones with jam if you’re feeling adventurous and a healthy pot of tea to wash it all down- an innocent enough affair.
They say you can become addicted from your first time. For me it was exactly that; one drop of creamy milk, melting into the darkness of my teacup to produce that beautiful terracotta blend. Then came the taste; a silky soft smoothness finished off by the citrusy hit of Bergamot.
And so the questioning began. Who am I now that I have compromised such a central tenet of my Iraqi culture. What does this mean for my future? Have I passed the point of no return? Can I still enjoy an istikan of Iraqi tea with a clear conscience?
I guess there’s only one way to find out… tea anyone?
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