I poured water over the finely rolled balls of crushed semolina flour and ran my fingers through the coarse, dry mixture, attempting to start the rehydration process. It was a balancing act: Too little water, and the couscous would come out dry; too much water and it would stick together and form a paste.
I have found the hard parts of life are easier to discuss when I start with what is familiar. Nothing feels more familiar to me or reminds me more of my childhood than helping my mother make couscous, as generations of Kabyle Berber daughters have done for over a millennium.
Unfortunately, what also feels all-too familiar — and reminds me of growing up — are the xenophobic, Islamophobic and racist comments and actions Donald Trump has become notorious for.
On Jan. 11, 2018, the president said, “Why do we want all these people from Africa here? They’re s—hole countries. …” Trump suggested instead that the United States admit more people from Norway.
I was at Costco the first time I was taught my parents — two Muslim immigrants from Algeria — do not belong in the United States.
When I left my parents to get a free sample, they were talking about groceries in Taqbaylit. When I found them again, a woman was yelling at my parents, telling them to go back to their country.
A crowd gathered around the scene: It was entertaining for them, like a scene out of a documentary, before they declared the United States to be post-racial. I stood there alone, too scared to say anything or stand next to them, crying tears of shame because no one was on my parents’ side. I was 5.
On March 9, 2016, Trump said, “I think Islam hates us.” On June 14, 2016, he said, “The children of Muslim-American parents, they’re responsible for a growing number — for whatever reason — a growing number of terrorist attacks.”
I was in sixth grade when I learned that my religion made me and my family a national threat. My class was sitting on the carpet in a circle, discussing what we wanted to be for Halloween. A classmate turned around, looked at me and called my name.
Twenty-nine pairs of eyes whipped around, focusing on me. Fifty-eight spotlights; 58 beaming X-rays into my soul. My heart sank when I saw him wrap his jacket around his head, attempting to recreate the hijab.
“I’m going to dress up like your mother for Halloween. Like a terrorist,” he said. The piercing spotlights turned into tears of laughter, joining in with my tears of shame. I was 11 years old.
It has been exactly one year since I found myself crying these same tears of shame, a week after the first Muslim ban.
That night, I found myself in my friend Patrick’s bedroom in Village B, talking to him for hours about how the Muslim ban was a painful reminder of growing up with bomb threats to my mosque. It was a painful reminder of my community experiencing surveillance as a result of the Patriot Act; a painful reminder of my sixth-grade self looking at my teacher through tear-filled eyes to see if she would step in and defend me; a reminder of the disappointment I felt when all she said was “OK, kids. Settle down.”
It has been only a year since the beginning of the “era of Trumpism.” Still, the most important lesson I learned from my childhood as the daughter of Muslim immigrants in post-9/11 America is that “Trumpism” is the United States of America.
What I have learned this past year about trauma is that it repeatedly strikes in the same place as old wounds, deepening them with time.
Although my college years almost perfectly overlap with the “era of Trumpism,” I want my experience to be defined by more than the trauma, to be defined instead by moments of joy and healing.
What I have learned in the last year about healing is that it is a slow process.
Healing over the last year has come from the jokes I crack with friends, from putting on ArtShares with Art Beyond the Margins, from vigils and from crying over a box of tissues in Village B.
Over the rest of my years at Georgetown, I want to continue creating healing experiences. The memories I associate most deeply with my Kabyle Berber identity are joyful memories of making couscous with my mother, not the experiences of exclusion that I faced as a result of it.
Healing requires the same balancing act as crafting the perfect plate of couscous. The balance between allowing myself to feel the pain, while allowing myself to experience moments of joy. Allowing myself to cry tears of shame, but also cry tears of joy — making sure that there is water, but not too much water.
Sonia Adjroud is a sophomore in the School of Foreign Service. Navigating Intersections runs online every other Monday.