Journey to SIWA

George Orwell was already dead by the time I even opened my mouth or picked up a pen or embarrassingly read his essays. I have just begun to observe what makes for a good essay. What age am I? Let’s just say I am ripe and ready to write. Finally.

 

My son and I sat in a public bus for 12 hours across the Sahara desert. We were the only ones who were not Siwan Berbers. I wish I could say we wound our way across the lush landscape but the truth is the road was as straight as the horizon. It had a slight bend. There was nothing lush about it, until we got hit by an enormous sand storm that totally engulfed our vessel and brought us to a dead halt. The sand entered every crevasse covering our view of the planet and our bags underneath. We saw nothing but white and then it passed. As quickly as it had come, the sun burst upon our senses.

Inside our vessel was adorned with baskets made of plastic, sod, striped canvas, a Sponge Bob doll hanging from the oversized bus mirror with an Eye of Horus dangling around his torso.

Our fellow mates aboard our sandship were occupied with sleeping and eating. Eating dates and pomegranates and salted pumpkin seeds and talking about their troubles with money and their children’s marriages and their government’s corruption and what one ought to do when one’s mother goes mad and her eyes roll backwards. They told jokes and wagged their index finger at each other imitating the scoundrel who was now called al rice the president.

Outside the desert was beautiful and monotonous like a Barbie doll woman.

The sky moved like a massive wave in the sea and clouds began to align themselves like soldiers on the frontline of long ago wars. The clouds moved at full tilt, as fast as their legs could carry them they galloped onto the Sahara and like greased lightning they dumped their lake, their river, their ocean, upon us without sacrifice. In a flash, the desert was flooded and again our vessel stopped, begging mercy min al donya the mother of earth.

In a swift instant or the blink of Horus’ eye the sun burst through creating a triple spectrum of light in-fractured upon the desert sand. We saw pools and puddles and seas of water gathered across the sandscape colored by the arcs.

We all gazed out the window in wonderment exuding ma shah allah – allah ahkbar. The water on the road dried up and moved and disappeared in moments and our vessel moved on. Two more times during our voyage the gods flashed upon us and the Sahara became a great ocean for minutes.

After many hours of sleep and eating and reading and card playing we left the straight road and existed on to a much smaller straight desert road that head south to the Oasis of Siwa, the largest oasis in all of Africa. It was there that the great pharoah Akhnaton, the inventor of monotheism, built a temple to the one and only god Amun Ra, the god of the Sun, the god behind all the other gods, the god of gods, the only god.

He built the temple in the most auspicious of places in the very center of this magnificent miracle of an oasis that comprises hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of date palms, thick as my son’s hair. Hundreds of natural hot springs venture up from the depths of il donya.

Upon our metal horses we cycled for hours between the palms and lands and springs. We shedded our clothes and bathed in the bath of Cleopatra and Anthony, where in love they bathed in preparation and cleansing to pray in the temple of Amun Ra.

In the evenings we ate Berber delights by the fire of our temporary home, the Shali Lodge. There my son played with the fire for many hours, feeding it, rebuilding it, throwing salt rocks into her mouth and catching the sparks in his eyes. There his mind was at peace, there was no talk of Ed Snowden or wiki-leaks or drones. There was peace. There were kind Berbers feeding us from their souls and their handmade bread.

There in Siwa we were one with the earth, the soil and sand and dates and palms. Our home was made from the earthen clay just as we were made. Our window shutters made of palm wood with elaborately simple latches that turned and held tight in our minds. We slept on cots made soft by the palm leaves and downy silken Egyptian cotton bedding that embraced us fully.

We didn’t speak profoundly. We just lived. We saw. We smelled. We tasted. We felt all that was Siwa.

Raising Public Awareness Through Televion

This Spring 2013 I created a new course at the American University in Cairo (School of Global Affairs and Public Policy)  called Raising Public Awareness through Television Production.  Here is a bit about the course followed by the LINKS to the Videos that the students produced under my leadership.Students were required to conduct in-depth research on their topic and create mind maps.  They were then required to conduct focus groups in the community and test their ideas and ultimately their scripts with their target audiences before filming. Their community partners were amazingly helpful.The students decided to address the following issues:
1.) Domestic Violence, 2.) Trash and 3.) Sexual Harassment.

Students talk about awareness-raising and this class gives them a chance to go beyond talk and develop the research, writing, and film-making skills to make concrete progress in that direction. My students have been very enthusiastic about this experiential learning opportunity and I hope that AUC will be able to repeat it in the years to come. We already have request from UNDP to explore working on Regional women issues and empowerment by collaborating to have PSAs on common issues amongst Arab women to be aired on Satellite Channels.

A course such as this is an excellent way for AUC students from different disciplines to work together and at the same time to work within their communities and give real service to their country during this transitional period.  I can see this course expanding to include working partnerships between students in other disciplines including environment, women’s studies, public health, urban planning, development studies, water, etc.

After decades of keeping Egyptians in the dark about issues that affect their every day life, it is time that Egyptians are given pertinent information that will help the country develop and the people become educated and aware of their problems and more  importantly their solutions. PSAs televised on Egyptian TV are one instrument that can fulfill this promise.

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. – Margaret Meade

I am very proud of my PPAD 570 students. They have worked very hard. I admire them and I expect great things from them in the future. I know they will continue to serve their communities and their countries. They have proven to be committed, intelligent, sensitive, tolerant, hardworking, thoughtful and I believe some of them will be Egypt’s future leaders.  FYI – they are all young women.  Below are the PSAs that they produce under my teaching and leadership.

The PSAs are all in Arabic and are made for Egyptian Audiences.  (We are working on English Subtitles for international audiences).

I would love to hear your comments and reactions.

Many thanks for your consideration.
Please share the PSAs with others.
Sincerely,
Nile El Wardani, MPH, PhD

Here are the links:  Please GIVE US FEEDBACK!

Domestic Violence:

http://youtu.be/pRmA2olerAY

http://youtu.be/DKAbAQ7luX0

Trash:

http://youtu.be/L40B5Tvst-Q

http://youtu.be/qfeCsZH-dzQ

http://youtu.be/8H_B8FpRnJE

http://youtu.be/zIJtjq6H-qg

Sexual Harassment : Group 1

http://youtu.be/pq5f0xz846A

http://youtu.be/n7O3i_RhR9k

Dr. Nile Regina El Wardani, MPH, PhD
Adjunct Professor in Public Policy
Public Policy and Administration Department
School of Global Affairs and Public Policy
American University in Cairo
Cairo, Egypt
www.nileelwardani.org