In few months I will leave forever the sacred age of 20. I am therefore living the last months in this very special number, 20. Maybe it is a women's thing that we care much about age, and maybe it is a youth thing, and maybe neither.
I value for my youthful years so much that I feel enormous guilt about every day I spend without having been productive or having witnessed/made something particularly special. Every day before sleep I scold myself: “there you are, another day of your precious youth wasted doing nothing but futility, while others would kill for your youth. Such an ungrateful person you are”. And it goes like that.
To be fair towards myself, I do try to make my days something to be remembered. I join some community activities which mostly turn out to be vain and disappointing for reasons too long to be explained. I do read. I am proud to be one of the few youngsters in my country who actually read. But I am not quite happy with my reading choices which tend to be mediocre sometimes: I keep clinging to fiction which is lovely for a youngster's mind but far from enough.
I turn determinedly to the much more dense and classic books, only to discover that I don't quite assimilate their depth. Sometimes I find myself searching for the meaning behind metaphors, which should come naturally without such effort. This is discouraging and frustrating.
I have been reflecting lately upon all the special things that occurred to me during my 20 years. In my first days of being 20 I had my first “official” job. I had worked before that, jobs that mostly lasted a week and that didn’t require much responsibility or serious effort. But this time it was different. I worked in textile sales for a very popular national shop that makes a fortune every day.
I endured this job for the full tiring month of August (it was the peak of sales). I had to remain standing for 10 hours a day in the workplace, dealing with grumpy, stressed clients that were often impolite and mannerless. I hated that job, only worked for the financial outcome. Now I realize that taught me enormous things and gave me priceless observation opportunities. It gave me an insight into the cruelty of capitalism, especially how it literally abuses its human resources in order to achieve and mostly, exceed the desired outcomes.
I worked during summer sales when prices are lowered by specific percentages. Being inside the wheel of sales, I got to observe how the owners would play the customers into believing that they’d get a better deal. I have seen these customers going mad over a baby outfit. The amount of energy they’d invest into trying to benefit themselves and have a moment of luxury at the expense of the owner is incredible.
Little did these frenetic poor customers know how many brain cells they were exhausting in vain for the sake of a piece the same machine would tell them it is old-fashioned 2 months later.
In my dear 20s, I volunteered in a huge international event. This event made me discover one thing about myself: it’s how much I wanted to feel useful. My job consisted of solely giving directions (which was an unpleasant surprise given that I was told my job would also entail interpreting, documenting, mentoring guests.
Nonetheless I do feel like I have made a difference because directions were quite important at that event, given the vast place in which it was held. In this event I saw humans from all corners of the planet marching in the streets of my country, supporting it against terrorism.
I was honored to volunteer with hundreds of Tunisian youth who never failed to inspire me with their passion for life and change. What amazed about them was how varied they were. Given that I come from a conservative community, I saw in these volunteers everything I haven’t seen in my city’s youth. They embraced different styles of thinking, dressing, expressing… I had conversations with some of them on themes I have never dreamt of discussing.
Their distinguished styles left me rethinking everything: why should one manifest themselves as ordinary, standardized and go with the flow of norms when the essence of our existence is to find out and show the pride of our special, distinct and absolutely unique selves?
However, I left the event with doubt. I doubted whether or not my contribution to this event that had a great cause had made a significant difference. What added value have I brought?
Several volunteers along with participants noticed that something was going totally wrong, especially logistically speaking. It was very hard for me, as a clueless volunteer, to tell a bunch of excited musicians that they have to perform in a hall without the logistical resources they needed, because the auditorium they booked doesn’t exist (I salute these youngsters for not letting go and literally performing opera in a hall).
Being 20, I had a delightful surprise: being selected to take part in an international meeting that took place in my country and that gathered youth from the Euro-Arab region. I found the concept of the meeting captivating, the theme a bit intriguing but I still went for it. It was a thrill to meet people from such various backgrounds. They were fun, open-minded and mostly accepting. The place that held the meeting was quite aesthetic, with an architecture special to the city, green grass (something I rarely come across!) and a location 3 minutes to the beach.
Some wouldn’t relate to how much I find this place peculiar: I come from a highly polluted region with weak aesthetic care from the authorities. A clean area with a small garden and some animals hanging out is more unfamiliar to me than the eclipse.
I felt overwhelming happiness being in perfect harmony with nature. So far so good, isn't it? Well I must bring up my great disappointment with the theme of the meeting. It was a weak theme, I tried to see it as valuable but I failed. The whole time I felt like the meeting had no cause, nothing serious and meaningful enough to fight for. Realizing this was a sad moment to me.
I felt like lack of a mighty issue to debate made the sessions futile and the only interesting time was spent outside sessions, which is not what we came for to be truthful. The Meeting allowed me to observe a more serious issue than its official theme: the obsession of youth with smart phones. There were more than 25 nationalities present, and it was alarming and eye-opening for me to discover that no matter the background, the individuals are in a relationship with their smart phones.
The venue of the event had a very weak Wi-Fi signal. There was a scene that is still stuck in my mind and that I wish I photographed: a group of 12 participants who, after discovering a spot from which the internet service was better, sat on the ground for an hour or more “connecting”.
Not a word was spoken, I even jokingly threw a remark about their investments into their smart phones, but few seemed to even hear me. I understand the need to respond to emails, “socialize” on social media, post updates… But if you were in such a beautiful place, with the most stunning views, around youth from peculiar cultures, in a city you’ve never been to, I picture that internet should not be on the top of your priorities.
It was challenging for me to make friendships when basically everyone around me checks their phones every 5 minutes. The attachment to smart phones was a phenomenon that I have witnessed among Tunisian youth, and that I see people denouncing on social media (the irony) but in this event its presence around me made me understand one thing: it is universal.
Moving on to my next adventure, I took part in a 7-day arts camp. The camp was aimed at defending minorities’ rights through theatre, dance and slam (street poetry). I was in the slam workshop. Writing slam was challenging in every way possible. On one hand, I struggled to find a quiet place in the camp in vain. At some point I remember almost crying because of constantly failing to write in noisy places.
On the other hand, at some point we were asked to learn by heart and perform texts that were written by other people. This, I do not exaggerate, was torture to me. I failed terribly and I do not blame myself because I tried for hours and I couldn’t genuinely perform what I do not feel deeply or relate to (and I believe that if I tried more, I would have had a mental breakdown).
But when it came to dealing with my own texts, I can say I am so damn proud of my performance. I entered the camp not knowing what slam was and I left after having my texts involved in the ultimate show text (the show that the camp is mainly working on).
I wasn’t selected to perform in the show, though. It definitely hurt me. The whole time I was looking for answers as to why I wasn't selected though many had praised my discipline and hard work. But I am not angry, at all (especially not at myself). I am just incomplete. And I am gloomily wondering what I will be missing. The camp was the kind of experiences that left me with bitterness for being prevented from carrying on the adventure, but with no guilt whatsoever because I gave it all of me and more.
And my greatest personal achievement so far is leaving the studies I disliked, that were the idea of some insisting relatives. I know, it was my choice and I should hold full responsibility for it. But I am trying to forgive the 18-year old girl for surrendering to the pressure of family and society, and choosing something “practical” (I hate that word).
Now I am 20 and I do not believe in practical anymore, I believe in passion. This is why I am planning to study English as a major and later involve sociology as a minor. I am content with my “unpractical” field of studies, if “practical” means suffering while studying something you never liked in order to get a well-paid, highly-recruiting position you never wanted.
Now, I make it my mission to convince newly-graduated students to study something they simply love, no matter how society might dread it. I somehow feel like a prophet who has a very important message to convey, a crucial life changing one. To be completely honest, I don’t have a clear idea on what I want to do later in life. Do I want to be a teacher? Possible. Do I want to become an interpreter? Why not. Do I sometimes madly think of my odds of becoming a successful writer? Yes I do.
All these events and more have happened when I am 20. And I am sitting here thinking they are far from enough! None of the events mentioned I can consider as life changing.
None of the people I have met this year turned my world upside down (yes, I aspire to meet people with such effect). None of the books I read made me change my view about life, or look at it from a completely different perspective.
At no point have I felt that I was making a significant change in my country. As it might be noticed, I yearn for extreme, strong deep feelings. But I guess that in order to have these, one should do extreme actions as well. So I guess I know what to do! Change my actions, I believe. That is the only way, I think, will honor my youth.