POST: 'Eh Dah?' - when it comes to balancing culture...

What's it about?

Aya shares her unique experience as a “Ghetto-Hippie-Arab-Commie-China Doll”, as a girl with an Egyptian father and an American mother living in New York City. A girl who asks (or rather, sings), “Eh Dah?” meaning, “What is this?”

What'd I experience?

Aya from Eh Dah? is not just a character in a play, she's a person sharing her life story on stage. I know that sounds like other plays -- the characters aren’t just characters -- but Aya wrote a play about her life. I would be hesitant to just share my creative nonfiction assignments with my class, let alone rows of theatre seats filled with strangers. But Aya was able to sing, dance and act (as herself, her father, her aunt, her cousins, and well, literally everyone was played by Aya) her story out on stage.

A frequent struggle for children of immigrants is figuring out how to balance their place in the culture their parents were raised in and their place in the culture of the country they were born in. Aya tells us her version of this timeless story by taking us back and forth in the timeline of her life, from her eccentric “haram” elementary school in Manhattan, to her summer visits to her cousins and religious aunt in Philly, all while keeping in mind what has just happened in the present -- the untimely death of Aya’s uncle, her father’s younger brother.

Aya blames her father for keeping her out of the loop, specifically for not telling her that her cousins were going back to Egypt before they were forced to leave by the government. If she had known, then maybe she would have visited more. Maybe she would have seen her uncle before he died of a heart attack in a Krispy Kreme truck. Aya comes to Philly for the funeral, which is promptly followed by The Family Argument.

I don’t know if this happens to everyone, but in my family, every big event or holiday gathering has some sort of drama. I don’t know if it’s something about our South Asian roots bringing out some ancestral Bollywood-type of drama, but if anything, it’s a tradition. At the very least, some auntie gets offended and the phone calls about her behavior go on for a good week and a half. Arguments among the adults are one thing, but bring one of their kids into the crossfire, and you've got yourself a war.

Aya's aunt and father end up arguing about Aya, more specifically, how haram Aya's upbringing was. Why didn’t she learn about Islam? Why didn’t she speak Arabic? Why didn’t her father let her be a part of this family? That last question was actually asked by Aya, to her father-- sometime after her aunt threw a doughnut at her cousin. I thought it was a good question.

This story is about Aya's experience as an Egyptian-American, but it parallels my own experience as a girl of South Asian descent living in New York. Most South Asian parents I know like to shove prejudice and misogyny disguised as culture and religion down their children's throats and call it tradition. My parents were brought up a little differently as South Asians coming from a Caribbean country, but the concept was basically the same when they were raising me. Growing up with social media allowed me to unlearn most of these concepts, which is similar to the effect of exposing Aya to the many personalities of Manhattan as a young girl, understanding things like the LGBT community as normal from the start.

Many ideas Aya learned at a young age would be considered haram by her aunt, and possibly the rest of the Egyptian side of her family. Her father was trying to protect her from that, where the lines between ignorance and culture blurred in the lens of the older generations. But that doesn’t mean he shouldn’t have let Aya see what it really meant to be Egyptian.

When it comes to balancing culture, I always thought I belonged to every group I thought defined me. To Aya, she belonged to nothing, having the privilege to pick and choose which parts of each group she would take along with her, having the privilege to leave those groups and go home whenever she pleased. I never thought about it as being a privilege. I would only see the members of these groups telling me I didn’t completely belong-- even though I now believe I belong to it all (thanks to a lot of self-discovery via writing).

We each perceive our sense of belonging in various ways, depending on our differing stages in life. Aya learned that she was a woman of the world, and she was going to see it all, starting in Lebanon with her father. And I think that no matter how well we think we’ve gotten ourselves figured out, we all have days where it’s all blown out of the water and we find ourselves contemplating our reflections asking, “Eh dah?”


Want to see it?

:( Sorry. This show is not currently showing.