Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Hope In the Time of Despair: Based on a True Story

Hope In the Time of Despair: Based on a True Story [EDIT 8/26/12] The post no longer exists on's forum, therefore I will just share the entire story here with you on my blog.
I did receive positive feedback from women on the site who appreciated the story during the time the Egyptian revolution was still very fresh on people's minds.


Amidst the stories we hear today in the news about the Middle East, one particular story that transpires hope is about how two young individuals overcame through the power of love. Love for each other and for their fellow citizen. 
Rhoda Ismail was still in her mother’s womb when her parents decided to leave their life in Egypt behind and start anew in the land of opportunity. That was 23 years ago.
Her story began in Brooklyn, New York, growing up as your average American child. First generation children usually assimilate into American society by adopting a new way of life and expression while fitting into the environment around them. One wouldn’t think twice that she was just another exotic face in the melting pot of cultures that New York City contains. Sometimes the cost of this two-dimensional opportunity may take its toll on one’s heritage by default.
Even though Egypt is at the center of the Arab world, Ismail wasn’t necessarily affected by Islam. She neither spoke nor understood the Arabic language. But her parents on the other hand weren’t shy to share their culture with her. They would converse in their native tongue even though the irony rested in the fact that they didn’t necessarily look nor dress like traditional Arabs. Her father could pass for someone of Spanish decent while her mother wasn’t sheathed in black abayas, but instead wore the latest fashions. Embarrassed at times when her mother would speak their language in public, she refused to learn.
Years passed and life continued with normalcy, in addition to two younger siblings being added to the picture. That was until the tender age of 10 when her parents made another decision that would change her life forever. Her mother’s fear that her three children would completely disregard their Egyptian heritage in favor of their accumulated one resulted in the decision to return to the same country they fled before she was born.  Except this déjà vu meant three young American children would leave behind not only physical belongings, but the simplicity of their livelihood. They were to say goodbye to their school and the familiar faces whom they called friends. 
“The day I moved out and left the United States of America was literally the worst day of my entire life,” recalls Ismail.
Ismail’s family settled in Alexandria which sits along the northern coast of Egypt. Despite living in the majestic golden desert with the Nile River along the horizon, she longed to come back to the states. But she let time heal its own wounds and eventually moved on. The transition allowed Ismail to become a citizen fluent in Arabic, learn the Islamic religion and also meet her entire family in the country she was to call home. The void of childhood friends she left behind was filled with those whom she could relate with and share similar backgrounds. The group of friends she gained never made her feel like an outcast, but rather united as Egyptian youth. One friendship she holds dearly began five years after the big move, in 2002, when she was just 15 and entering high school.
The day she met Ahmed Gamal plays vividly in her mind. She recalls him coming up to her with a digital camera in hand and snapping a picture of her.  Ismail was taken back when this random sophomore stranger had the nerve to take a candid shot of someone he barely knew except through mutual friends. To paint an imaginary photo of Ismail’s reaction to the shot, picture her as a Metallica loving-tom-boy with her eyes smirked in pure disgust and her mouth open in disapproval.  Despite their innocently awkward first moment, they remained friends and continued into a best-friend kinship. It wasn’t until the course of their friendship reached six years that Ismail realized she had a deep feelings beyond just attachment for Ahmed.
Ismail just returned from a trip and during the time away, the pair’s correspondence further justified her feelings.  One morning in October 2008, she rushed Ahmed out of bed to have breakfast with her at Starbucks and to express her feelings for him.  In an ancient land full of marvel and mystery, grew a love so magical.
         Fast forward to three years after entering a new stage for the two and the same land full of marvel and mystery that bred this relationship was facing an uphill battle in political unrest.  On January 25, 2011, Egyptian citizens drew to the streets to voice their rights against who was their current president at the time, Hosni Mubarak. Even though Mr. Mubarak is cited to have reclaimed Egypt’s strength in the Arab world with the return of the Arab League to the capital in Cairo, people were fed up with his years of power. The capital city that Mr. Mubarak brought prosperity to was the same one that was set to host all protests.
For Ismail and Ahmed, as well as the rest of Egypt’s citizens, life was at a standstill. Demonstrators gathered from the streets of Alexandria to the capital’s Tahrir Square ready to boldly risk their lives for what was to come.  Three days later on January 28th, many news stations portrayed on their newscasts scenes of the most dramatic day of protest. Yet the escalated clashing began when the now-former Interior Minister Habib El Adly forced civil fire on its own citizens executed by his own officers.
“Neither me nor Ahmed were in the streets, we were both home that day,” said Ismail. “But deep down in my guts I felt sick of the idea of a civil war just a few miles away from where I live.” 
The possibility of civil war only fueled the citizens’ fire for freedom. For Ismail and Ahmed, the panic almost caused the couple to have to part ways. American charter planes were being sent to bring Americans back home and with Ismail’s dual citizenship, the option was a possibility. Even with a chance of survival in the States, Ismail wanted to opt out. 
“I would never leave the life I have, especially leaving as a refugee,” recalls Ismail. “I could never do that, and never do that to Ahmed.”
By this time, most communication was shut down and not to mention the government imposed a nighttime curfew of 6pm. Forms of contact were sparse. Blocked cars and traffic in the streets were piling. The one thing to calm her fragility at the moment was Ahmed’s voice. Risking the consequences, he made it a point to see her that day. It was an hour before curfew when Ahmed finally came walking to the footsteps of her home.  With no time to spare, she rested in his arms to hear his reassuring words of comfort.
“Look at the positive side,” said Gamal. “Egypt has never stood up for herself like today. So we just have to wait for the best to come.”
But waiting patiently while their country faced civil unrest and bloodshed wasn’t easy.  Four days after the tumultuous protests began, the couple alongside a group of their friends, decided to hit the dirty streets. Cleaning, that is, the garbage that was piling on the streets since city services such as garbage disposal were on halt. The group took it upon themselves to purchase medical gloves, shovels, brooms, garbage bags, masks and all tools necessary for a grass-root -type clean up system. Come to find many people their age were doing the same.
“Awareness began in every person's heart,” said Ismail. “We all became united and wanted the betterment of Egypt.”
And for the first time, women played a dominant role bringing about awareness and taking a stand. Ismail started campaigns on social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter to collect funds for those who had been without job during the days of protests. £E5000 Egyptian pounds, or about $1000 dollars, was distributed through her mother’s membership with the charitable organization Ahbab-El Jenna, who aids to the poor and sick. Those who would benefit were workers paid on a daily wage such as janitors and gardeners.
Another week passed and former President Mubarak was still in power with no signs of stepping down. During that time for Ismail and Ahmed, they were closer than ever. They would take advantage of any chance they had at seeing each other.  Neither of them had the energy to be at odds with each other because life meant more than an irrelevant quarrel.  It wasn’t until February 11th when the two were returning from their friends’ Katb Ketab, a small Islamic ceremony marrying off an engaged couple, that the hostile climate seemed different.
The couple got out their friends’ car to hear gun shots and noises. That’s because what was happening simultaneously in Tahrir Square was shouts of pure jubilation. The course of Egypt changed after 18 days of revolt when Mr. Mubarak’s then vice-president had announced that their leader passed all authority down to a military council. 
“To retain what has been lost from you and to feel that you have a voice is a feeling that one must experience in life,” said Ismail. “Ahmed and I were on cloud nine along with 80 million Egyptians all over the world.”  
What is yet to come steadily awaits a land filled with those hungry not only for a new future, but for a new today. Ismail has great hopes for Egypt, but can vaguely foreshadow its place in 10 years.  Words wander in her mind such as non-existent oppression, a better place and development.  As for her relationship, she can easily envision living in a white Victorian American house with kids running all over the place.  From there, she hopes to write her translation on the future of Islam ideology using her knowledge in Arabic. While nothing is guaranteed on both fronts, it’s safe to say love may conquer all. 

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