When a dermatologist told 15-year-old Lina Soualem what could be the cause of her skin condition, she refused to believe it as it involved a historical migratory link between her parents’ respective countries: Algeria and Palestine. Years later, she realized that the dermatologist may have been right!
Article published in The Funambulist 31 (September-October 2020) Politics of Food. Click here to access the rest of the issue.
I was born with red, well-defined plaques all over my body and face, in the form of archipelagos or huge continents; a sort of intimate customized world map. They told my mother it was eczema. But she always knew it was something else. When I was eight years old, they finally established a diagnosis: Erythrokeratodermia variabilis. It is a rare syndrome, a female-dominated skin condition, due to what they call “the casual circumstances of human genetics.”
In addition to dry skin, this syndrome causes the appearance of red patches of dryness on the body, constantly shifting in form and position. A disease with a mysterious name, hard to pronounce, which I loved repeating all the time, facing the astonished gaze of my young classmates. On my body lies a world map, which evolves as the seasons go by. In the winter, the continents become immense, thick, bright red, as the cold worsens my condition. In the summer, the continents transform into archipelagos and gradually disappear, as if submerged by the hungry ocean. The sun and the heat make me feel better. I recover in the summer. “You need to move to a warm and humid country” dermatologists would tell me. I have always lived in Paris; far from the safety of heat and humidity.
At the age of 15, I met with a renowned dermatologist, who specialized in rare genetic diseases at a Parisian public hospital. While she examined the world map deeply anchored in my skin, she asked: “Where are your parents from?” I told her that my mother is a Palestinian born in Nazareth, in the region of Galilee and that my father, born in France, is the son of Algerian immigrants from a small mountain village in East-Algeria, near the city of Setif.