Searching for Mentors in Memories
Just like the old days, I picked up a book to escape into for the weekend. I’d been recommended Nawal El Saadawi’s memoirs’ by one of my professors during office hours and when he described her as a radical Egyptian feminist exiled from Egypt, I was immediately sold. For the weeks before break, I had been reading “A Daughter of Isis”, her first memoir, in the moments right before sleep. When the break came around, the quiet gave me the opportunity to explore her work beyond the first five pages that I found myself rereading while cocooned in my bed.
In my sophomore year, the Women’s Center was always a space of comfort and healing. Despite being in the basement of a building, surrounded on all sides by brown-red earth and its darkness, I found beams of light there in hot tea, a collection of books, welcoming smiles, and couches where I could sit and unwind. Take down my guards. Breathe easily. The ground around its walls seem to hug me in rougher moments.
As I bear witness, as the videos and headlines and articles and raw pain make their way into my bloodstream, I feel my cells transforming into sparks which fuel the fire that burns inside me. Each tear I see on the news becomes a flare, each story of fear and trauma and pain intensifies the rage. I find some comfort in its warmth; anger is nothing new for me, and the familiar sensations activate the muscle memory from my Semester of Rage, the four months I spent living — breathing, eating, sleeping, advocating, dancing, writing — incensed, embracing the flames fully and allowing them to engulf me. Now, I fall into old patterns, etching dark words into my journal, waking up drenched in sweat, snapping at people I love, melting into hopelessness.
If all the world’s a stage, Harvard is one too. On my first day here, among other things, I found in my freshman welcome packet some metaphorical script, statements on a “commitment to diversity and inclusion” in pamphlets with people of various shades. Highlighted were the lines I was expected to read out to the world: “Students of color contribute so much to this community …”, “Bridging divides across experiences is vital...”, “There is so much to learn from diversity….” Overwhelmed and confused by its contents and the bustling energy of freshman move-in, I skimmed my lines quickly and threw the script haphazardly onto my dorm room desk, where it would soon get lost amongst syllabi, textbooks, flyers, and the other things I imagined would open new worlds for me.
I didn’t remember Egypt at all. I was only three years old when we relocated. It came to me in dreams sometimes, through fractured images of crowded marketplaces selling hijabs and abayas, cold water on my small hands, washing the butter and honey off after stuffing my face with more feteer than my stomach could handle. But in a state of consciousness, the country was a story my parents told me to remind me that the palm-lined streets of Miami, no matter how reminiscent they were of our m0ther land, were not home — not really.