Wajd is a young activist, Palestinian-kiwi, musician at heart who has now joined the ranks of high school teachers! In this Storyo interview Wajd shares her thoughts on activism, family, bicultural identity, importance of building a relationship with tangata whenua, discourse around Palestine, and Storyo's classic: impostor syndrome.
I started working at the age of fourteen at a local restaurant (which is where my obsession with Thai food began). I learnt from a young age the importance of having an income, and I really enjoyed purchasing items for myself. I grew up in a family of four as the youngest, so I was lucky enough to have all of my siblings fight my battles for me as I navigated the rocky waters of being raised in Aotearoa as an ethnic minority.
My parents were one of the first Arab migrants here, so I felt extremely out of place in school growing up. I didn’t realise how prevalent this was until I was in high school, where I went through multiple existential crises trying to fit in. I felt as if I wasn’t Arab enough to class myself as an Arab, and I wasn’t kiwi enough to class myself as a kiwi - just classic ethnic things you go through! I struggled a lot in my final years of high school. Looking back, I think I was battling depression without realising it. I chose to move to Christchurch to study at university away from my family in hopes of discovering myself. In turn, my relationship with my parents became stronger than ever. They are the most important people in my life, and I would give anything for them.
I was always really musical growing up, having learnt to play bass guitar from a young age. I still love playing bass and have continued with playing music in my spare time. I had a vision that one day I’d work as a journalist - and as I grew up I realised this was a path I definitely didn’t want to take! I really enjoyed the power of conversation however, and still try to engage in thought provoking kōrero daily with my friends.
I have two sisters and a beautiful niece called Sahar. I’ve spent so much time reflecting on who I’d be today without my sisters guiding me, and it’s safe to say I’d have absolutely none of the positive qualities I possess today. My eldest sister Noor (Sahar’s mum) was raised in Aotearoa after leaving Kuwait at the age of seven. I think this really shaped her to be the empathetic, compassionate, kind woman she is today. She is an incredible mother, and I can’t believe how well behaved my niece has turned out!
My other sister Shahd is a ray of light in such a dull, cynical world. She’s taught me the importance of positivity, and has the most vibrant perspective on life. She is always looking for ways to improve the world around her - and it’s safe to say my two sisters have definitely impacted me in the most delightfully positive way. Me and Shahd have a political streak that runs deep inside of our blood which has helped us bond. I look up to her immensely. She is the blueprint that women can be multifaceted. We can exist as strong, independent, and confident - as well as kind, compassionate, and loving.
Backlash always comes from a place of ignorance and lack of understanding. Empathy also plays a huge part in this - and I find often the people who I butt heads with on social issues are people who intentionally avoid seeing things from another perspective which is different to their own. I think this can also be a generational issue - I’ve seen this ignorance from people in my generation too, but I think my generation is more resilient in that respect. As a first generation New Zealander born to migrant parents, I see it as my absolute priority to try and uphold Te Tiriti o Waitangi in Aotearoa, to show my gratitude for tangata whenua.
I am one of the very few first generation New Zealanders in the Arab community who can speak my mother tongue. Growing up, my mum worked her hardest to ensure we would practise and speak our language daily. I am a fluent speaker and writer now thanks to her - and I have a lot of understanding on how language directly links to cultural identity. If it weren’t for knowing and speaking my language, I think I would’ve struggled significantly more with my identity today. I have my amazing mother to thank for that.
I think being someone who is so vocal about issues happening in Palestine can often be misleading to people wanting to learn more about the crisis. When I am vocal on my social media platforms, or when I choose to discuss this crisis with friends, I am consenting to the conversation being had. I think the issue can be that (sometimes) we become an encyclopedia for people who would like to learn more about an issue without doing their own research. This poses so many inconsistencies, and I think a common catalyst for people doing this is they want to be told what to believe, or what side to take in an issue. I’m a big advocate for doing your own research on Palestine (or any other humanitarian issue) before having a discussion. It is mentally taxing having to converse with people and explain an issue when Google is free!
Recently, when I’ve been asked for my perspective I’ll happily share it. However, I’ve made it really clear and I continue to make it clear that people of colour are not here to educate others. We are here to simply exist - and it is up to the other to educate themselves. I am happy to discuss political discourse when it’s on my own accord, but politics is my life. Existing in this world as a Palestinian is an act of resistance, and I don’t feel the need to converse about politics for fun.
I’m so excited too! I never realised my cultural positionality was so rare in education, and I’m so excited to be a leader in a classroom full of students exploring their cultural identity. I’ve loved every minute of it - although it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. The New Zealand curriculum doesn’t focus enough on Matauranga Māori, and I think it’s a little too vague. There’s currently work being done to re-jig the curriculum though, so I’ll be interested to see how much decolonisation will be done in the process.
I (unfortunately) haven’t found the perfect formula for finding reliable news sources. I absolutely love Al Jazeera, but am also aware of the bias that sticking to one news outlet can impose. Whenever I’m doing research on an issue, I start by looking at both sides of the issue. I used to focus quite heavily on social media for my media intake, but found that my eco system of people who had similar views to me was quite dangerous. Being caged in one thought process can have quite an adverse effect on the activism you’re trying to engage in, and I find that I often feel more comfortable approaching a conversation if I’ve looked at the other side. As a Palestinian however, I can safely say I am extremely biased and will try stick within my eco system for information.
Oh, absolutely - I think we can mirror this really effectively with apartheid in South Africa. There was no hesitation that what was happening [in South Africa] was wrong, yet drawing a parallel to what’s happening in Palestine gets too overwhelming for some people and they start to describe how there’s two sides to the conflict. I think it’s similar to the way we speak about colonisation as if it’s something that’s happened in the past, yet it’s happening in real time in Palestine. People don’t want to actively work against something that is currently happening, they want to look back and imagine what they would’ve done during the time. I think that comes down to how overwhelming it is to constantly work to share this kaupapa, and ignorance is bliss. It’s significantly easier to pretend the issue doesn’t exist.
I actually have never worked behind the scenes to organise a protest, but I’ve watched my sister intently as she’s worked through the lengthy process. Speaking at the rally earlier this year was such a great opportunity to kōrero with other people who have a similar mindset to me. I enjoyed every minute of it, but I’m aware of the consequences that come with being so vocal about something so sensitive. I’ll be interested to see how hard it is to get into Palestine if I ever try to go back.
My favourite part about doing the work I have done, is that I have strengthened friendships with people who have the same values as I do. I have such an amazing close- knit friend group - and seeing them actively research and be an ally has been so wonderful. It’s been amazing seeing tangata whenua and local iwi engage with the Free Palestine movement too - it’s clearly something close to their heart.
My imposter syndrome is absolutely through the roof at all times. Half of the time, I look around at what I’ve achieved and feel overwhelmed. I’m still in shock about this whole year. I’ve balanced working 20 hours a week, with a full time placement, as well as socialising and consistently working hard at university and I feel like the biggest fraud. I think it’s easy to look at all of the downtime we spend and feel like we’re not doing anything valuable, but what’s important is focussing on how present you are in the moment while you’re working. Whenever I’m meant to be working or at school, I’m completely switched on and completely present. The story is different when I’m at home of course, and that’s what makes me feel like an imposter. It’s important to switch perspectives every now and then. If you feel like you haven’t earned your success, chances are you’re absolutely wrong.
What does your self-care practice look like?
I am very big on self-care - it can be as small as a cup of tea and sitting out on my balcony, or a 20 minute meditation. I try to practise gratitude, empathy, and mindfulness daily by reflecting on what went well throughout the day. It helps me see things in a more positive light (which is crucial as I have a very hot temper!).
What would the alternate universe Wajd be doing now?
I think she’d be working in social work with people. I always wished I’d done a degree working with people, I think alternate universe Wajd would have the same passion as I do for helping people.
Whose story would you like to read here on Storyo next?
Amal Abdullahi - she is an incredible woman who has had some amazing experiences and spoken to so many amazing women. Helen Clark follows her on instagram so you know she’s the real deal. She’s fantastic!