I talked to young men and women about their career aspirations and what role they sought to play in shaping Egypt’s future. A young woman studying broadcasting said she felt it was important for veiled women to have a prominent role on television. When I asked her why, she said, viewers should know that Muslim women are about more than just their veils.
It’s been a time of furtive e-mails, phone calls and Facebook messages for me and anyone else with ties to Egypt, fearing for my friends and their families and hoping for news.
With images of protests in Cairo and Alexandria and sometimes conflicting reports on events there, I reflect on my visits in 2006 and 2007 –– the latter was a four-week trip sponsored by the Rotary Group Study Exchange.
When I think of those trips, I think of the wondrous antiquities I had the privilege to witness, including crawling through a narrow chute into the heart of the Great Pyramid.
There were other unforgettable sights, such as the dazzlingly beautiful temple of the goddess Hathor at Dendera, in Upper Egypt, and the blazing sun setting over the Nile River.
I will always be grateful for the opportunity to witness these wonders, but mostly, when I think about Egypt, I think of my many friends there.
I think of the friends who braved the frenzied Cairo traffic to take me wherever I needed to go, who praised my Arabic in the most charitable terms, my New England accent notwithstanding.
I think of long hours in a cafe, drinking tea and sharing family photographs while a gaggle of exuberant youths clustered around a large screen television to cheer a soccer match.
Wherever I went, I talked to young men and women about their career aspirations and what role they sought to play in shaping Egypt’s future.
A young woman studying broadcasting said she felt it was important for veiled women to have a prominent role on television. When I asked her why, she said, viewers should know that Muslim women are about more than just their veils.
I talked to two young medical students who said that they hoped to serve the people of Egypt as doctors. But they were uncertain whether they would find career opportunities or if they’d have to travel abroad in search of employment.
I saw extremes of wealth and poverty, and I listened to Egyptians’ concerns about this gap, and what to do about it.
Whatever their views, Egyptians expressed a desire to forge the destiny of their own nation.
During the first week of the uprising, I heard from two of my friends who happened to be out of the country when the protests began to escalate, which allowed them to circumvent the Internet shutdown.
A repeated request: “Pray for us.”
In the Arab and Islamic world, it’s customary to end a stated plan or intention with “inshallah,” meaning, “if it is the will of God.”
Among other things, it can mean hope in the face of uncertainty.
My friends and I have only started a journey together in a conversation between civilizations, and it is one that will continue and grow, inshallah.
Margaret Smith is editor of The Beacon in Massachusetts, a GateHouse Media publication, and Arts editor at GateHouse Media New England’s Northwest Unit. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.