Yesterday I went to get my passport renewed- a process that I was told would need no appointment, and would take about ten minutes. So being the naïve fool that I am, I believed that generalisation would apply to me too. All was going well, and my interviewee Jennifer was chirrup as ever going through my paperwork and I.D cards. That was until Jennifer stumbled upon the Arab name on one of my documentations. Now let me first give you some background on Arabic names- they work in a crazy way. In Arab countries, your surname is your father's name, and your father's surname is his father's name, and so on. But then for some people, their surname is their family's tribal name. And then for others, its just a regular surname. Yes, the chaos that is Arab life.
I've been lucky enough to have had phases in my life when my surname was my dad's name, which then changed to my family's tribal name because YOLO my grandpa felt like getting 'back to his roots', and then it changed back to whatever source a regular surname comes from. Oh yeah, to facilitate that, my dad's name became my middle name. Cool.
Now Jennifer, you seemed like a nice girl. I thought you would level with me- I never had my name etched on lead pencils or key rings in primary school. When your biggest problem during roll call was giggling and asking "Which Jennifer?"- whether it was you or your other two BFFLs- I had to watch the substitute teachers awkwardly pause and dart their eyes across the room, choke up on my name, and resort to 'accidentally' just calling me by my surname.
I never had Paolo Nutini or The Killers write a song about a girl with my name, instead I got this:
start watching from 3:26. dem white pants habibis
And to top it off, I had to live with having a dude's name as my middle name. But no, sadly, you didn't level with me at all.
"Why does this one say AL-ALI?!" you glared at me. 'Because that was my family's tribal name- it's not actually my surname.'
I produced two documents that had the same date of birth, birth place, first/middle names, parents names, and just different last names (consistent with my parent's change), but no, Jennifer didn't budge. I told her that it worked last time, and that after all this was just a renewal, but no, she didn't care.
"You need a passport from wherever the country it is that you're from". 'But I only have an Australian Passport, I've lived here all my life' "Well, that's what you need. Sorry."
Then she proceeded to re-evaluate my forms, and interrogate me on the nature of my relationship with my guarantor, and ask me why their signatures did not look identical. Because real people don't perfectly reproduce their signatures? Anyway, overall I get to spend more time with Jenny again on Monday, and have my friend bring in new, more similar looking signatures, and bring some kind of documentation explaining my name. My interaction with Jennifer got me thinking about other awesome things that happen once people hear your Arab-sounding name:
The uni students in your class from Menai and other areas of the Shire start greeting you with Beau Ryan's "Doggiessssssssss"
The awkward lead up into the conversation of what your background is, resulting in
a) conversations about politics you know nothing about
b) people feeling they have the right to ask invasive questions about your family/trying to get 'heart warming' stories to make them realise how 'lucky they are not being from a war-torn country' c) people telling you how much they love charcoal chicken/hummus/falafel d) people asking you if you are related to some random with the same father's/tribal/surname as you
Arab women try to introduce you to their sons
Arabs in general breaking off into theatrical song/poetry involving your name
Well Jennifer, I shouldn't complain too much, because if it wasn't for my Arabic name I wouldn't have depressedly walked into the convenience store nearby, and wouldn't have been consoled with a free chocolate bar and by being told that I looked nineteen. And if it wasn't for my Arabic name, one of my university TA's would have never recognised that we come from similar mother cities, and would never have assured me that I "had nothing to worry about" when it came to passing the final exam to the subject I was struggling with at the time. Nor, would I have a corny translation to my name that I could both laugh at and love (Survivor of the Nights). So yeah, Jennifer. See you on Monday with the 'appropriate documentation' explaining my name.