Mint tea à Clichy

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It was on a Friday afternoon of a warm and sunny Parisian autumn. I was sitting at the terrace of a Moroccan restaurant in a busy street of Clichy sipping some mint tea while listening to an interviewee. I was the interviewer but the young man had so much to share about his experience of France as a Moroccan Muslim that I barely needed to interact.

I was tired, exhausted even. I was just finishing one of the busiest and most interesting weeks in a long while; running across the city, interviewing brothers and sisters and (re)discovering Paris in a way that I was enjoying. In a small week the buzz of the city was now starting to make sense, a sense filled with a human dimension that I would not have suspected. After months of reading books I was finally doing fieldwork, I was in the reality of human lives. And, in the reality of the French capital that despite my numerous visits had never showed herself in such an intimate way.

While the brother was sharing, I was enjoying the passers-by, men,

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women, families, pure reflection of the real and vibrant diversity of the street. It was a popular neighbourhood, many men were having coffees and loud conversations all around, and street noises were often really loud too. Yet, the young brother facing me was undaunted by his surroundings.

In the middle of the crowd and buzz there I saw this young girl probably 8 years old, riding a scooter at the speed of light, slicing through the air. She was wearing the Muslim headscarf that we all know so well. She appeared to me as defiant, free and strong. The scene put a wide amused smile on my face.

I did not know anything about her, but she touched me. Her cheekiness was written all over her, the movement and momentum she produced was unmatchable.

Few minutes after, I saw her coming again from the opposite side. I barely had the time to notice the bag full of “baguettes” that was hanging from the handlebar. I smiled again and pondered… That was it! The next generation was in motion, impersonating the diversity, the multicultural nation I would love to see grow everywhere in France. The fast girl pushing her way through the male dominated crowd, the bread, the scooter, the headscarf all wrapped together to testify of the force and magic of an assumed plural identity.

I wished I had taped that on film, I wish I could look at the beauty of the action in slow motion, then normal speed again, then slow motion again.

Mariana Dussin is a PhD candidate at Swansea University (Wales), working on Muslim identity in France and the UK

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