International students balance western culture with Libyan, Egyptian unrest
Published: Sunday, October 14, 2012
Updated: Monday, October 15, 2012 02:10
Wrapped in a black and white striped hijab and donning a white blouse and jeans, sophomore biology major Rowana Mohamed sang along to a Taylor Swift song delicately playing in the background of a coffee shop. She has learned to adapt to two different cultures, two different countries and two different political systems.
Her two worlds merged, when her home country of Egypt was introduced to democracy after a violent revolution.
“Egyptians never cared about politics before,” Mohamed said. “Everyone silently hated [the previous government], but felt they couldn’t do anything about it.”
Mohamed said the path to democracy was anything but easy and even affected her decision about where she would attend college.
“It was really scary. [After the revolution began,] I wasn’t even considering going to college in Cairo. In Cairo, there was chaos,” Mohamed said. “We weren’t even sure if Egypt was going to be a country in a few months. My mom would call home all the time to make sure everyone was OK.”
Mohamed said nothing too catastrophic happened to her family, but it was still a time of uncertainty.
“When there are no rules, you really don’t know what is going to happen,” she said. “It added a whole different element to it.”
Mohamed and her parents, who live and work in College Station, stay connected with current happenings in Egypt using the Internet and TV.
“My mom always tried to incorporate both cultures in my life,” Mohamed said. “After the revolution, it changed from watching movies to news channels. She even bought Arab channels on Dish.”
Mohamed said because freedom and democracy are such new concepts to Egypt, they are often topics of discussion for her family here in the U.S. and in Egypt.
“This summer it was all people talked about,” Mohamed said. “My mom has been following it and debating it with my dad.”
According to Mohamed, everyone who was of age voted in the most recent election. During the voting process, voters used black ink to stamp and fingerprint.
Mohamed said her family tried to keep the black ink on one of their fingers for as long as possible because it was a mark of democracy that they were proud of.
Similar to Mohamed, junior psychology major Maysun has a personal connection to the recent uprisings and revolutions that are bringing democracy to the Middle East. Maysun’s family lived under the reign of Moammar Gadhafi and witnessed the horrors of his regime.
“He had spies everywhere,” Maysun said. “You couldn’t say anything because he would find out.”
Maysun witnessed the Libyan revolution through video clips on the Internet.
“I had to watch everything on YouTube,” Maysun said. “There were snipers and children being shot. My parent’s told me not to watch it.”
During the revolution, which occurred in 2011, Maysun lost two family members. Many of her parent’s friends were also killed. She said it was difficult to have very little connection and communication with her loved ones in Libya.
“I knew I was safe living here in America but at the same time I wish I could have contributed something more to my country,” Maysun said. “The phones and Internet were not working during the war and I could not contact most of my family members for months.”
After a recent visit to Libya, Maysun said the scars from the war were evident.
“So many people died,” Maysun said. “You could feel it. There were less people. It was sad. One of my cousins has to wear crutches.”
Despite this, Maysun is optimistic about the future of Libya.
“Everyone is excited,” Maysun said. “They actually voted for something. People aren’t going to get killed for having an opinion.”