Wednesday, February 23, 2011
WALLA WALLA -- When foreign exchange student Sara Badwy came to Walla Walla from Egypt, it was to learn about America, and in the process perhaps she learned how to speak her mind like an American.
"When she first came here she wasn't very comfortable with that because in Egypt people didn't make jokes about the government and everything. And she was timid about that," host family parent Leslie Hamilton said about the quiet 15-year-old girl who came to live with them for almost a year.
But after 11 months with the Hamiltons, during which time Badwy attended Walla Walla High School as a junior, the Muslim girl grew bolder and more politically vocal, even speaking out against Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.
Looking back, that ability to speak her mind was a mixed blessing for Hamilton, who noted that the two would often hold lengthy conversations about home, country and faith.
"We talked about what is in the Bible and the Quran and we had the most wonderful conversations about the similarities and differences," Hamilton recalled.
But there was that day in June 2009 when the Hamiltons said good-bye to the teenage girl who had become part of their family. (Her American experiences were reported in a June 9, 2009, story in the Union-Bulletin.)
"My fears are that she learned to be too vocal here in the Untied States. I mean I am kicking myself that we encouraged her to be more vocal," Hamilton said.
Especially in the light of the recent protests that Egypt has gone through, which left thousands injured, hundreds dead, saw a president deposed, a constitution annulled and a military taking over.
For Badwy, 18, who is now in her last year of high school and lives with her father, mother and brother in Cairo, there were some scary moments.
"Yes, we have to be (scared) but truly everyone were caring about each other protecting our country and our buildings ... no matter Christian or Muslim (or who) you are, everyone had to protect their building and people grouped in each district," Badwy wrote in an e-mail to the Union-Bulletin on Friday.
The young woman recalled how she was in her physics class around 3 p.m. on Jan. 25 when she first heard about the thousands of political reformers who marched in downtown Cairo.
In the days that ensued, the demonstrators would gather strength and spread their message via Facebook, Twitter and other social media outlets.
Those outlets were also the only connection between Badwy and her Walla Walla host mother whom she came to call "Mom."
On Jan. 27, 5:22 p.m., an anxious Hamilton posted on Facebook: "Sara, Please, Please, Please! Send us a message and let us know you are all right!!! We are praying for you. Your worried Mom."
It would be two days before a message would come back. During that time, thousands of protesters would be injured and dozens killed across Egypt. Troops were ordered onto the streets of Cairo, Suez and Alexandria, as riots continued through the night.
Mubarak would eventually dismiss his government, but the president refused to step down, which only escalated demonstrations across the country. In Cairo, 250,000 protesters would take over Tahrir Square.
Internet access across Egypt is now shoddy at best, but the world, including Hamiliton, is aware of what is happening. On Feb. 1 the number of protesters in Tahrir Square was reported to have grown to a million.
Then on Feb. 2, violent clashes raged around Tahrir Square, with an estimated 1,500 people injured and at least three deaths.
It was also on that day when Hamilton heard back from Badwy.
Feb. 2, 8:07 a.m., Badwy posts on Facebook: "Mom, We are now alright ... but we had really tough time here in Egypt ...After what the president Mubarak had said yesterday, everything should be calm...," Badwy wrote.
Her posting went on to describe how Cairenes faced a period of anarchy, when police were no longer on patrol as the army moved in.
"... Was no one to protect the street and the thieves thought it will be their chance to steal and moving free and no one will interrupt, so they started to damage the most important building downtown ... the Egyptian museum...," she wrote.
Near the end of her posting, Badwy confirmed that Internet access had been interrupted, perhaps targeted. And that was why she delayed communicating.
"Mom there was no internet access so I just had read your message today ... even their wasn't phone call cards and I tried to get them to call you but their wasn't anything and they cut the cellphones connection too ... I love you all so much mom and I hope I can see you soon. your daughter Sara."
In her e-mail to the Union-Bulletin, Badwy went on to describe how most of her time was spent at home. She also said food and medicine were ample. Probably one of the worst parts of the protest was the release on hundreds, perhaps thousands, of inmates from local prisons.
"The worse thing that had happened that some of outlaws (the illegal people) had done many wrong things like (stealing ..., burning buildings, bothering some people) We knew that was really awful thing but the good thing of that we cooperate to gather with the army to catch all the bad people and ... protect our life and our country...," Badwy wrote.
In the days to follow, thousand of protesters would continue to camp in Tahrir Square, refusing to budge, becoming more furious with each day Mubarak insisted he would remain in power.
Then on Feb. 11, Mubarak resigned. The country was turned over to the military. In the days to follow, Egypt's constitution was annulled and other protests spread across the Arab and Muslim worlds.
For Hamilton, there is hope in the fact Badwy has returned to school. It was the last thing the two spoke about in a phone call this weekend.
"She's OK, and she is back in school. And she has resumed her normal life," Hamilton said.
Then she added, "She wanted to hear our voices, she wanted us to know that she still loved us."
In her e-mail, Badwy showed support for the president who had once led her country for three decades.
"I wasn't really happy when the president Mubarak resigned, because I couldn't imagine my country without a president. We do respect him a lot; he is like our father who stayed with us many years. But there was lot of corruptions but noT by his hand," she said.
Badwy's current goal is to pass physics, along with algebra, geometry and statistics. She said high school is very difficult.
Eventually, Badwy hopes to attend American University in Cairo, where she will major in political science.
When she is not studying, she likes to hang out with friends, but no boyfriend.
"Having a boyfriend it's something not really good in our cultural ...," she said.
But going shopping at the mall, hanging out at Al Azhar Park in Cairo or visiting friends' houses -- "just girls" -- are some of her other pastimes, as well as helping the poor.
And as for her country now being ruled by the military, she said her "people are really happy and love the army.
"I have a dream that Egypt will have more fair and peace and the most safe country in the world like in the past," she wrote.
She ended her correspondence by writing, "I'm really proud to be an Egyptian."