Little Nissa in Big China by Iness Belleili, Algeria

As a child I was very curious and eager to discover things that were unfamiliar to me, which made my mom very mad most of the time as my explorations often ended up in disaster. I remember a time when I was five and I slept in our dog’s house while my parents were so worried and about to call the police, or the time I broke my electronic train into pieces just to see how it worked.
Everyone around me was trying to convince me that I was doing something wrong, that I needed to be calm, quiet, and excellent in class, no more no less. This was their idea of the “ultimate child,” of course not mine.
As I grew up I continued doing things my way; I changed my field of study and turned to English linguistics in college after being in a scientific class in high school. After that, I turned again into translation for my master’s degree. My attitude was driving my overprotective parents crazy because I saw things differently, because I wanted to live my dream, not dream away my life.  “Voyager c’est avoir d’autres yeux,” an unknown French quote that I like so much, which means in English, “Traveling is having other eyes.”
As a translation and tourism student, I have always been fascinated about the idea of learning Mandarin and traveling to China. But again everyone I knew, my parents first and foremost, was telling me things like: “You’re crazy,” “You can’t do it,” “You’ll get bored,” “This will always be a dream,” “You’re wasting your time,” or “Can’t you just be normal for once?” I can say that at the time I was thinking maybe I was going in the wrong direction, I mean if your parents say don’t do it, it will be bad for you, shouldn’t I listen, since after all they are older, more mature, and know way more about life than I do. That really pissed me off as I tried to do my best to tell them that this is me, that I like what I do and I don’t have to be “normal,” that I decided to listen to my inner voice and just do what I believed was right for me.
So I started learning Chinese at a language center in my hometown three hours per week. The language was very interesting, but the number of hours was not sufficient to quickly acquire the language, however I didn’t give up and kept doing my best.

8 MONTHS LATER

Algiers, Algeria
April, 2016
My teacher Mr. Zhang told me about a competition named Chinese Bridge for foreign students learning Mandarin. He encouraged me to participate and told me that if I won the first or the second prize I would be able to go to China.
The competition took place in the capital city, more than 20 students from all over Algeria were competing to win the two first places in order to represent Algeria in the finale of the Chinese bridge competition in China. All of them had a very good level in Chinese, some of them already went to China and they had been studying Chinese for several years. The biggest shock to me was the moment I heard that three competitors were half Chinese. I started thinking that I really didn’t have a chance at all.
The pressure reached its pic as I went to see my teacher who told me that maybe I wouldn’t be able to win the competition, but I should at least give everything I had.

“Now, please give it up for our next competitor from the University of Annaba, (白依娜: Bai Yi Na),” the host said out loud.
My heart was about to beat out of my chest; I could feel the drops of sweat on my forehead. I got on stage, I presented my speech, and it was at that time when I performed a Chinese song and I got the cheers from the audience, and even the jury. That made me relieved a bit, but I was still afraid of the final results.
I finished the performance, I got the approval of the audience and the jury gave me 81% as a final score. All the students did their performance, and so did Raid and Hana who had a Chinese mother, and since their language was excellent, they won the two first places and my dream of going to China faded away.

6 WEEKS LATER

Annaba, Algeria
June, 2016
We were in Ramadhan, the weather was super hot, I was at home laying on a bed when my phone rang. I picked up: “你好, 白依娜 (ni hao Bai Yi Na: Hello Bai Yi Na) bring your passport and meet me at the language center in about an hour from now, you’re going to China next month,” my teacher said to me.
你好 (ni hao: hello Mr Zhang), Are you serious?!! How come? What about Hana and Raid?” I asked.

“Please hurry up, Ill explain everything once you’re here,” he replied.
I went to the language center, and it turned out that Hana and Raid were eliminated because they had a Chinese relative, so me and another girl named Lyna were the winners of the competition. 

1 MONTH LATER

Beijing, China
August, 2016
I finally flew to China and discovered that magnificent country, and experience the whole world as I had the chance to meet up with 140 students from 108 countries from all over the globe, where we learned more about each other’s traditions, languages, religions, and habits.
This experience taught me a lot and gave me “other eyes” to see the world. Now I’m sure that if you desperately want something, the whole universe will conspire to help you; that the hardest battle you will go through in your life is being what you want to be in a world that tries its best to make you like everyone else. But no matter what other people say, if you can dream it then you can achieve it.

 

This is just one example of the important work produced YaLa’s citizen journalists, a program funded by the European Union’s Peacebuilding Initiative in order to enable young leaders from across the Middle East and North Africa to document and share their experiences of the region. 

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