My TEDx talk
"I'm walking on a tight rope , my arms are stretched to the sides, like an acrobat , with no safety net. I'm suspended between heaven and earth, crazy winds are blowing, while I try to keep my balance. Any little mistake, I fly. “
Hi My name is Mira Awad. I'm a singer and songwriter from a Palestinian village in the north of Israel. The text I just recited is from a song I wrote called “Bahlawan” which, in Arabic, means Acrobat. I'm here to tell you why I've been walking the tight rope since I was born. Not a physical one, but a metaphorical one. I was born in an Arab village, to a mixed family, my father is Palestinian, and my mother is Bulgarian. My parents are highly educated and liberal people, and my surrounding was not religious nor extreme in any way, but still, if compared to the western way of life, it was somewhat conservative. From an early age I knew the difference between boys and girls. Boys were allowed to wear short trousers, play football and climb trees, and girls were advised to “cover up”, learn knitting and help in the kitchen. You probably guessed it, I preferred climbing trees! I remember one time in the 2nd grade, I invited a boy to come over to my house and play, he started laughing at me, out loud, in front of the whole class, the other kids pointed out their fingers and called me Hassan Sabi, a Tom Boy, and the girls, oh well the girls... They started gossiping about me behaving promiscuously. Promiscuous! in the 2nd grade! How promiscuous of me to want to be friends with a boy! When boys in my community expressed themselves and their needs, they were being manly! When girls expressed themselves and their needs, they were being disobedient. I resented the double standard, and I hated the separate sets of rules. But I couldn't break away, not just yet, so what I did, is what all women in conservative communities do, I learned how to walk the tight rope, I learned how to keep the balance between what is expected from me by my surroundings and what I really wanted in life. Losing the balance to either side, had consequence. If you disobey community, you face slander at the very least, which directly effects your social status. In the worst case scenario you might encounter violence, and even murder. On the other hand, if you keep pleasing your surroundings while neglecting yourself and postponing your own needs, that's a recipe for unhappiness. More and more women are reaching the conclusion, that if they want to fulfill themselves, if they yearn to obtain individual freedom, and liberty to decide their own fate, there's probably going to be a price tag attached. These “rebels” often end up being expelled from their conservative communities -either by choice or by less of a choice- and are discharged into the “modern” and “enlightened” general Israeli surroundings, that welcomes them with open arms, “We do not judge you according to your gender here , you're free to do as you like with your body and mind. " I tell you from experience, the idea of finding an environment that won't examine my every word , every move , every thought, that won't judge me for things like what I choose to wear, or whom I choose to spend my time with, and till what hour, is pure bliss! I can finally drop the balancing act and just live my life, Right? Wrong. When I first arrived in Tel-Aviv, Israel's most cosmopolitan city, I found a lovely apartment just off of Dizingov square and decided to take it. The real estate agent took out a pen, clicked it open, and asked for my full name and ID number, I remember his face when I said Awad. He clicked the pen again, and started stuttering : ”you seem like a really nice person, but the land lord specifically said no Arabs.. “ It was then when it hit me, I did not “get away” from the struggle for the right to be who I am. I simply moved from a community that discriminated me based on gender, to one that does so based on nationality. The gender strife simply replaced by a political one. I was back on that tight rope. In 2009, I was preparing to represent Israel in the Eurovision song contest together with an Israeli Jewish singer-Noa- whom I've been collaborating with for 13 years now. I was the first Arab to ever represent Israel in that contest by the way, but following the trouble I faced, I'm hoping I wasn't the last. You see, the preparations tragically coincided with the Israeli military operation on Gaza. I was immediately branded by the Arab community as a sell out, a traitor, they were convinced I was a tool in the hands of Israeli propaganda, “Don't be the fig leaf for the country that's butchering your own people” they wrote in a painful petition that roamed the web. I faced personal threats and continuous boycotts. At the same time, me being an advocate for anti violence, I expressed my views regarding the escalation of violence, and revealed my strong reservations regarding the actions of the Israeli army in Gaza. Although I also fingered the Hamas in my comments, I was nevertheless branded by the Jewish community as “the enemy from within”. Right wing parliament members demanded I was denied the right to represent Israel, some even demanded that I be denied my citizenship. I got hate mail from Israelis calling me a terrorist like all my Arab friends and telling me that I should “go back to where I came from”, forgetting that I'm exactly where I came from. There are numerous examples for this constant tippy toeing between identities, after all, I was in the balancing business for quite a while, trying to please all sides, but you know the saying: You cannot please all people all of the time, you can please some of them some of the time, but take it from me, you mainly get tired trying. Enlightenment came one day when a young woman stepped into my dressing room after a show and asked: “In the translation of your song Bahlawan, you said: Any little mistake, I fly, you meant “might fall” right?” Wrong. This song is about me realizing that I had been gazing down, from above that high rope, calculating my steps, trying to anticipate where the next blow is going to come from, while in fact, the trick for walking the tight rope and keeping your balance is quite simple : Don't ever look down! Look forward! Choose a focusing point far ahead, be there with your consciecness and your body will follow.
When you let go of the need to please, when you understand that the only loyalty you can deliver is the loyalty to your own values, when you realize that the only truth out there is subjective, when you take the leap of faith towards yourself, you do not fall, you soar, you grow wings, and you fly! I got married recently. My husband is 8 years younger than I am, he comes from Ukraine, and is half Christian half Jewish, an acrobat on his own account, a Bahlawan. Our children will be mega Bahlawans! From day one I will be teaching them the rule for a good balance, encouraging them to look forward and not down, to search within and not without, and I will fiercely back them up when they reach out for the things they want. But secretly, I will also be saying a prayer, that the human kind be more tolerant, so that my children's colorful identities would be something to celebrate, and nothing to apologize for, and so that THEIR balancing acts would be slightly safer.