The “Post” in Postcolonialism

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I woke up disoriented and confused by the sound of the Adhan. I haven’t heard the call to prayers in three years. The voice sounded different. It sounded transient, crispy, less cracked, and more powerful. I figured our local mosque has a younger Imam now. Moments later, I heard hurried steps and running water. I heard whispers of morning prayers. I heard the soothing sound of my father’s voice as he prayed for heaven—for all of us, for all humanity. It lulled me back to sleep.

My mother laid out a spread that morning. The smell of coffee teased my nose. It smelled sweeter than the coffee I had in the States. It took me some time to realize that I’m here. I’m back in the homeland. Nothing has changed in the kitchen, just a new shiny pot and more plastic containers. I stared blankly at the bubbles that formed on my coffee cup. They twirled in a harmonious dance. The froth reminded me of Aphrodite’s sea stunt and of births and rebirths. I looked up to see my mom looking at me. I could see in her eyes that she is trying to grasp that her daughter is here. My mom and I talked a lot more during the pandemic. Our relationship changed to the better. I can tell her a lot more about my life, and she seems receptive of it—very understanding even. It’s rare for a Muslim mother not to mention marriage to her thirty-year-old daughter. I respect that about my mom, but I also understand that it’s temporary. I know the subject will come up someday.

The night of my arrival was emotional. My siblings were there waiting for me at the airport. Kisses on the cheeks while tears ran down. I felt their heat piercing my flesh. The fear of loss is haunting us. We lost so many aunts and cousins in the past, and now the pressure to survive seems collective. We lost more family members to colonialism and to natural causes than the pandemic. The response has always been the same when we hear of death. It’s Allah’s will. Everything is pre-written—it’s maktoub.

My mom insisted that I begin my breakfast with her homemade bread and a dab of olive oil. “It’s good for your health”, she said. A statement I heard often growing up. I wish I can explain to you how powerful this love language is for mommas of North Africa and the Mediterranean. They offer you herbal medicine to outlive them. The belief in the magical powers of olive oil has always fascinated me. I never questioned it.

My mom’s stories seem more detailed now that she’s in her sixties. Maybe they were always detailed. I don’t remember. The stories began with brief updates on the pandemic then they somehow shifted to stories of colonization—the shift that often happens when my mother is telling stories. She placed a bowl of peas on the breakfast table and began to crack them swiftly from their pods.

In the past three years, I tried working on myself using the framework of Western psychology. I learned about boundaries. I wanted to tell my mother that we can postpone the conversation to when I’m ready to receive the information. I wanted to tell my mother that I was getting triggered, but I didn’t know how to translate it properly into Arabic. My tongue couldn’t release those words. It felt like an insult—a betrayal. Stories of violence that seem so normal to her made me want to weep. The feeling of anger towards the colonizers became a searing pain that tore through my insides. I felt like I’m betraying her and my ancestors who sacrificed their lives for our freedom.

I exhaled the anger outside of my body. My shoulders released their tight grip, and I continued to listen—but this time attentively. I allowed myself to receive my mother’s stories. I observed how she speaks about colonialism like it’s a present occurrence not a memory. I wanted to tell my mother who couldn’t finish elementary school (because of colonialism) about the “post” in postcolonialism. I wanted to tell her about the scholars who theorized her life, and my grandmother’s life. I wondered what her critique would be. I wanted to tell her about the subaltern while she spoke. I wanted to tell her she’s the reason I’m researching colonialism. I wanted to tell her that she’s the storyteller of our often-erased history. I wanted to tell her that I, like a clay vessel, carry her stories with me even when I have no capacity to listen. Her words stick and cling onto my memory and my flesh. I carry the violence, the trauma, the legacy of the free people, the Amazigh, of the martyrs and the freedom fighters— I carry them, and they carry me like a pea in a pod.

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About the Author

Khadidja Bouchellia is currently pursuing a PhD in Comparative Literature and Cultural Studies at the University of Arkansas. She is affiliated with the Middle East Studies program where she works as an instructor, translator, and an assistant. She is working towards completing a dissertation on Muslim women’s reproductive rights and justice in North Africa and the Middle East. Khadidja immigrated to the United States from Algeria in 2017, and has been navigating life in the American South.