Algerian film-maker Drifa Mezenner on the generation gap

"Inshallah, if God lets us live that long"

For young women throughout the Arab world, everyday life is fraught with tension. In this piece Algerian writer and film-maker Drifa Mezenner presents her own take on conflicting generational expectations, societal pressures and the deeply felt desire to live a self-determined existence

My mother wakes up before the rest of us every morning, makes coffee and very often bread too. I wake up late; I'm so happy as I awake to these aromas that are so familiar and so good. I sit at the table, my mind wandering and drink my coffee slowly, as if I want time to stop.

I munch the hot bread hungrily and watch my mother cooking lunch, completely relaxed. I look at her beautiful hands and her wrinkles. How can she be so calm?

I often think about ends, while she always thinks of beginnings.

She wants me to get married as soon as possible, have a family, bear a child or two, but no more than that, because she knows I'm not up to bringing up children. I can hear her asking me silently and repeatedly, "How can it be that you haven't found the right man? How can it be that a girl like you, who doesn't take a break all year long, can't create opportunities and take advantage of them?" In her silence she says, "If I were you, I would have married a government minister."

That's all I need!

I remember that I have lots of things to do today. The day won't be long enough. I should have woken up early. My mother says, "The early bird catches the worm." I tell myself that it doesn't matter, I'll be patient. I'll do what I can and besides, there's no need for careful planning when we're surrounded by absurdities on all sides.

Algerian breakfast (source: Facebook; Drifa Mezenner)
Fearing the trap of domesticity: "perhaps I don't want to follow the example of my mother, who sacrificed so much that she forgot herself. Perhaps I don't want mothers to be idolised so much that they don't have time to be women. Perhaps I'm from an impatient generation that wants everything all at once and believes in myths and technology more than it believes in mothers," writes Mezenner

I get dressed and then, in front of the mirror, I put some kohl on my eyes. I like to give my eyes some attention, to see in them the sparkle that helps me muster some confidence. My mother walks past and repeats what she usually says: "Don't put anything on your face, my dear. You're more beautiful without that muck!"

I smile as usual, gather all my stuff: my computer, handbag and other things. Before I get into the car she reminds me to be careful on the road and not to be too late, as I am every night, then she ends her advice by complaining that I work too much, never relax and that I would do better to find another job, or a man who would save me the trouble. I nod in agreement. Long ago I stopped expressing any opinion or objecting to the way my mother sees success. Deep down inside I sneer at the idea that marriage would be more convenient.

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