The content of each post is solely written by that contributor and only expresses the contributor's personal views. Each post does not represent the views of all the contributors or Women of Color Living Abroad as an organization. Each contributor is speaking from their own person experiences and/or perspective.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Race and Revolution: An Interview with April G. Brooks

By:  eternitysojourner

A self-proclaimed "Southern Belle," April G. Brooks hails from the Mississippi delta but has seen so much more in her years.  Having lived and landed on five of the globe’s continents (with a goal to reach all seven!), she is a groomed lover of adventure and hater of oppression.  Somewhere between spelunking in Oman and skydiving in Dubai, our paths crossed and I’ve come to know April as more than a globetrotter but as a sincere soul and sister in the path of life.  Her tales of Cairo amidst a chaotic revolution intrigued me and I trust they will do the same for you.

Tell us about your decision to study abroad, generally, and at the American University in Cairo, specifically.

Initially, I decided to study abroad after my undergraduate studies, where I focused on Arab American Relations.  Wanting to continue in International Relations, I attended the American University in Dubai for my first semester of graduate matriculation but it was extremely expensive and ate up my year’s loan in one semester!  I knew that I wanted to remain in the Arab world and thought of Egypt.  I applied and that’s where my journey began.

What’s life like in Cairo and how are you received as a woman of color there?

Life in Cairo depends on who you’re asking.  For me, it has been a mountainous journey.  I’m at the top, climbing down now, but getting to the top has been a hardship.  From the moment I stepped off the plane, I was faced with negativity, racism, sexism and any other –ism you can think of.  Life is really difficult for anyone of color, especially African Americans and Africans.   Modern Egyptians don’t equate African features or dark skin with being American, so that has been a real culture shock; especially for someone like me who is pro-black, coming from America to the motherland of humanity, expecting to be received with open arms.  It’s almost like the racism encountered in America in the 60’s and the civil rights movement- that’s how severe it is!  Egyptians will argue that there’s no racism in Egypt but it’s clear from the billboard signs for whitening creams to the physical treatment of those with darker skin to the verbal abuse and lack of employment opportunities for the Sudanese.  All service workers are dark-skinned.

When I arrived, I only spoke two words in Egyptian Arabic, so that was a major barrier.  I thought it was very important to learn the language of the people and that enabled me to speak for myself and defend myself.  In the aftermath, life is okay.  It’s better now--for me--because I understand the culture and mentality and understand their way of life now.  It really has nothing to do with me; their views are based on the life they’ve had- it’s their struggle, so I don’t personalize or internalize it any longer.

Where were you when the revolution jumped off and how were you affected?

When it started, I was in the U.S. because my family had a fatal car crash but I returned just before it [the revolution] ended, so I was able to witness the chaos, the rioting, the shootings and killings.  I don’t live near Tahrir Square but the whole country felt the stress and chaos of revolution.  It’s still an interesting time.  With the revolution, we realized that we’re living in a historical time where people are trying to liberate themselves.  The air was so thick when Mubarak fell and the government was ousted.  There was complete chaos- no police to protect property, citizens, or expats.  You would see people stealing, snatching cell phones, people fighting all the time- the stress was beyond their coping mechanisms. 

To avoid the chaos or being victimized, I would stay home.  You can pick up the phone and order something- you don’t really need to leave your flat.  I didn’t go out unless I had to.  Then, to go to Tahrir Square and see others rioting, people being killed, and military tanks appeared like something from a movie.

Are things in Cairo better new?

Now, people are up in arms because everyone is awaiting election results.  Egypt will learn who their new president is and most citizens are not happy with either candidate in the run-off.  One is from Mubarak’s regime- his "right hand man". Even though he’s trying to establish democracy, this would be a waste of a revolution.  The people feel that the other doesn’t have the experience to get the country together.  So people are still unhappy and want a re-vote.  Everyone is waiting to see.  Hopefully, there won't be more protests and riots because more people will die and get injured.

So, what’s your next adventure?

I’ll be in India for about two months facilitating women’s empowerment workshops in rural New Delhi to uplift and liberate women from their struggles and trials.  I’ll graduate in December with a Master’s degree in Global Affairs and Public Policy.  My plan is to relocate to Abu Dhabi, UAE or Doha, Qatar.  I want to remain in the Arab region or a Muslim country, preferably in the Gulf.

I recented started an organization called the International Consortium of Global Leaders. The women’s empowerment workshops I'm organizing in India are my first project for the organization.  So, I just want to continue to build my organization and focus on women's empowerment and sustainable education which are both really important to me as a woman.

Read more about April's reflections and adventures here and here!

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