Written by Sara, A Self Declared Fob

_MG_7457 by alex felipe.

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©2008 alex felipe
All Rights Reserved.

I am the next generation of FOB.

The circle is almost complete. My ancestors were forced out of their
homes in the Far East to live in the west four hundred years ago.

My parents ended up in London and helped work with all sorts of
institutions, companies and more; married there and used it as their
base. Their struggle was about Muslim basic needs. They helped
arranged the purchase of the first youth hostel for Muslims, the
campaign for the Regents Park Mosque to be built, assisted in the
publication of journals and newspapers and did things which were
almost essential to the survival of Muslims there. They directed orgs
and were of those who welcomed to London outcasts and political
rebels. They traveled the world with almost diplomatic immunity by
sheer dent of their hard work and humility and now live in the
quietude of old age, plagued by daughters who all live different

People often find out about my parents and ask… what happened to you
Sara? But I don’t believe they realise how extremely close I am to
my parents and how similar my disposition is – especially to my
father. I talk to them every day about the mundane, but from an early
age learnt not to talk about politics on the telephone. So I miss them
dearly and I miss being able to talk about politics, linguistics and
esoteric matters with them. I miss travelling with them – they took us
all over the world from such a young age.

Now its my turn to make it alone, as a FOB. I asked to work for my
parents and they refused, saying that I had much bigger things ahead
of me. Don’t have any regrets, Sara, my father said. Experience as
much as you possibly can, whilst you can. He reminded me of the
hadith; that one must spend out of our youth and health. And here I
find myself… I emigrated to the US. FOB.

People say that life as an immigrant is tough. There are pressure
groups which campaign for us and legislation directed at us. There are
stigmas which surround us and stereotypes which plague us. People say
that our generation has it easy. But we have to deal with
discrimination in our employment and amongst our peers. Has anyone
tried to find a job in political decision making post 911? You call
that easy?

The mundane becomes a challenge for a FOB. I walk into a supermarket
and don’t recognise a single brand. It takes me three times as long to
shop – I don’t know what the products are. Even buying milk – in the UK
the full fat bottles are blue and the skimmed milk are red. Here its
the opposite. A FOB cannot take a simple thing like milk for granted.

People are so openly rude on the phone. They hear your accent and they
think you’re outlandish and stuck up by default. They presume your
stupid when you dont understand things which seem basic to them – like
how telephone accounts work or what different measurements of
mattresses stand for. A cheque is spelt check here. Automatically
people cannnot place your background so they presume your an idiot,
backward and primitive. It is so tempting to turn around and tell them
that maybe you’re more educated than they are, but then they’ve never
heard of the universities you’ve been too or anything outside of their
ken. I find nothing more primitive than someone who cannot imagine an
existence outside of their own. Even if you currently control the
world through military might.

People treat us FOBs as though we are automatically inferior. I might
have an edge because I can be considered British, but I’m not white.
If I take twice as long to get to an address, its because I wasn’t
born with an innate understanding of the damned road and metro system.
No I do not think it’s the best one in the world. If I look the ‘wrong
way’ when I cross the road and almost get run over, no it isn’t
because I’m a moron its because there is NO RIGHT WAY to cross the
road. You try learning this much within four weeks. Would you survive?
Would you make it on your own if you were in a foreign land? When you
arrived how soon would it take you to understand the system, the
roads, the taxes, the insurance, the banking, the milk – basically the

I’ve already said I don’t understand the dialect. It’s not like
Chicago; that slang was so much easier. Here every shade of
Washingtonian is hard to understand. Except those from the Horn of
Africa who I seem to want identify with more here. In the UK my
closest friends were Bengali – they’re the ones who suffer more than
Paks and Blacks in terms of education and employment discrimination. I
realise that I find more solace among the ghettoes of our nations than
in the Georgetowns, Wilmettes and Mayfairs I have seen for years. As a
FOB, I gravitate towards other FOBS as every well meaning
American-born man or woman does not seem to appreciate that life
without a social support network renders your very existence a
struggle. When’s the last time you needed to go to the grocery store?
Were you at a loss to find the nearest one? Aren’t you an idiot
because you should’ve known when Thanksgiving was? You should have
known. You should hire a car here (nevermind that you haven’t had the
chance to get a US driving license yet and you’re more au fait with

You get ripped off wherever you go because you don’t know the value of
things till its too late. You miss food and the scent of the air is
different, the smoke of a cigarette smells different, the damned sugar
tastes different. It’s not better, not worse, just different.

I don’t want to accept help in case I feel obliged to the person – I’ve
already avoided situations which could’ve proven to be tricky. An
older Somali guy last week started talking to me of life at home in
the original peace of Africa and I could not help but begin to cry
uncontrollably. I turned away in shame at my own fallibility and it
made him cry too.

Yes I chose to do this. That’s all that people say to me when I say its
tough out here. But there were excellent reasons as to why I have to
be here, and I don’t necessarily want to discuss all of them. I seem
to have been born into a life of perpetual FOBdom, constantly coming
off the boat, and constantly dealing with narrow minded non-traveling

To all the FOBS out there -you’re better because you’ve witnessed
more, you can navigate more systems, you can understand more dialects,
you take less for granted and YET you manage to take whatevers handed
to you with more dignity than most.

TO the FOBS who are my parents and my ancestors…

For the FOBS who revolt in the suburbs of Paris because their Algerian
ancestry taught them that life was worth more than the few measly
crumbs off the Frenchmans plate

To the Asians who revolted in Bradford, UK in the 90s because the
natives thought that their lifestyles were better

To the Sarajevans I met who endured the camps of Croatia, when you
made it out of there and became FOBS as the priests in charge stole
your rations

To the Saudi FOBS who get treated like sh-t because they were burdened
with wealth

To the Kashmiri FOBS (and one in particular) you will never live up to
it; you might get called Mirpuris but…

……your wisdom is more beautiful and you know what it means to live

And to all you NON-FOBS – you expect me to sit here quietly and take
it lying down. You expect me to shut up and not critique my world
in caseBig Brother deports me or puts me in one of the global gulags
that have been created. You expect me to have a sense of respect for
the massive billboard adverts which promote warfare and how marvelous
Halliburton is. You expect me to say amen to the concentration camps
in waiting which exist throughout America in case mass detentions are
called for. You think you’re going to punish me for having a sense of
curiosity. You are wrong. There’s a part of me thats more American
than you are. You think I’m going to buy into the fake history,
segregation and racialism of this place you’re wrong. I have my own
roots and my own identity. You think I am going to get lost in a
Muslim ghetto of your own creation again you’re wrong. I will
assimilate, integrate, blend, change my accent and then take you when
you are not looking. You think you can recognize me now, but you damn
well won’t be able to soon.

For all the FOBS who are forced, willingly or unwillingly to up sticks
and move, it will work out. But only because we make it. And yes, I am
a FOB.


One thought on “MY LIFE AS A FOB

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