By Claire Lanini
Growing up, I always found it more difficult to talk to my dad than to my mom. Mom didn’t seem to mind my endless ramblings on school and friends, and she didn’t find the points of my speeches useless. However, I couldn’t seem to communicate with my dad as easily. We just didn’t seem to have much in common.
My clearest childhood memory of spending time with him was listening to iTunes while sitting on his knee in his office at home. Mom was always out because that was the only time when the music could really shake the walls without reprimand. Usually our playlist was the eclectic mix of Eric Clapton, Hootie & the Blowfish, and Pavarotti. It was there that I learned to sing as though I were not tone deaf, to keep the beat with my feet, and to conduct an orchestra. But we rarely talked to each other.
That connection has held strong. Today it takes only a “Hey Dad, do you want to listen to Warren Zevon or the Stones for a bit?” to end up sitting in front of the record player, listening to his old albums. And still, we let the music do most of the talking.
Arriving at SciencesPo two years ago, I was a very nervous, relatively mute kid, afraid that with the added languages of the globe, it would be even more difficult to connect with people. What I ended up finding, however, was my voice. Let me show you what I mean.
Flashback 1: your first time in Lamiss’ Arabic class: “Habibi ya nour el-ain, ya sakin khayali, A’ashek bakali sneen wala ghayrak biali!” Very soon Arabic becomes if not your favorite class, then at the very least, one of the most fun. It seems it is impossible for any of her classes to watch Amr Diab without joining in (though it’s something closer to shouting than tuneful singing).
Flashback 2: a kitchen towards the end of first semester, year one
Sitting, studying microeconomics with a classmate, the kitchen, steeped in the smell of curry bubbling on the stove, is warm enough to crack a window open and let in the chill November air. Someone decides that the deadening work needs a bit of Cat Stevens. What results is second years passing through, imparting their views on where they come from and where they’re headed. You speak — in French, in English, in Arabic — about things you would like to know more about, that have yet to become anything more than abstract concepts. You discuss future projects of social service, and the difficulty of wanting to help abroad. Cat Stevens floats in and out of the discussion as the evening carries on.
Flashback 3: a concert in Nice with a friend: You swear your phone just vibrated in your back pocket, but then, absolutely everything else is vibrating too. The band’s called Lost Voltaire: they’re from Menton, and they are good. It is easy to see why they call this La Volume. In the afterglow of the concert, you can’t help but sing Gotye, somewhat hushed, together on the night bus back to Menton. People sitting across the isle from you think you are insane. You just grin and tap the chorus onto the handrail.
And finally, the start of this year at the Bastion:
The first years and exchange students are shepherded onto the upper terrace of the Bastion for their initiation. A call and answer starts from the ground up. Later that night, a parade marches through the streets of Menton, around the port, and past Jean Cocteau’s creations, crying: “Arabiya! Arabiya! Islamiya, Islamiya!” The local population appears slightly freaked out as the mob surges around the town while (mainly) remaining in unison.
What I have found in Menton is unity and courage, even if the nerves and self-doubt of year one have not yet been fully eradicated. This political science campus of the Middle East, situated on the shores of the Mediterranean, imparts a feeling of belonging, regardless of our language or nationalities.
It happens when the bass and drums connect everybody packed into that small room around that minuscule stage in Nice, and when we get an understanding laugh after admitting an inability to refrain from singing Somebody that I Used to Know. It happens in the midst of a physical manifestation of school spirit chorusing down the streets of Menton at night and showing the new kids what to expect from one wonderfully loud group of first year survivors. And, perhaps most importantly, it happens when we hear that first trill at the beginning of Habibi and know exactly what is coming, as well as the guarantee that we will not be alone if we sing along. The feeling of belonging that comes from discovering your voice as part of a group of intelligent, beautiful and multilingual kids, coming together through music, is unbelievable.