Thursday, May 09, 2013

Post-revolution class: To be a 2011 graduate

 Tahrir square after midnight in front of our camp site two nights before Mubarak's resignation on Feb 2011
I was studying for a Genomics research paper on a camera flashlight
There are hundreds of issues that are troubling me on a daily basis that I could talk about extensively here but I guess more than any of these issue I'm always wondering about what I like to call: The "post-revolution class". 

The post-revolution class consists of all fellow students who graduated in the post-revolution 2011 and the classes to come whether here in Egypt or the Arab world in countries that experienced and/or going through political unrest due to transition.

Many of those who followed what was happening in the region don't probably know enough about how it is really like to be a student during an unrest, or how does it feel to be graduating while it's happening and then come out to face an unstable socio-political situation and an unknown future.

I'm not only talking about the students who voluntarily choose to be involved as a student activist, or the student movements, or even the crackdown of the authorities on it. That's a whole bunch of separate and complicated issues. It could actually be just anyone who happened to be graduating during these events.

My personal experience however was a mix of both some how and this is what I'm going to talk about. 

Because of #Jan25 I was stigmatized in my school and avoided by classmates due to my political involvement, I couldn't attend my graduation ceremony as a massacre took place in my hood in July 2011, I turned down a scholarship application in a very reputed British Genomics research institute after being in the short list to the finalist stage, I never had my diploma in my hand until April 2013, and I haven't done anything related to my major after investing in it for 4 years.

All of this happened mainly due to the effects of the uprising and the political turmoil in Egypt on my life and of course my active participation in the beginning. Even if things were already bad here in Egypt, my last semester and my graduation experience were especially bad. It didn't seem or feel like anything I would have expected to go through before #Jan25 happened. 

Alienation in a campus the revolution didn't reach


In early March 2011 the "revolutionary" euphoria was gone for most of the Egyptian people , the "revolutionary" spark was fading slowly everywhere, the international media celebrations were over, and it was time for me to go back to the reality in parts of Egypt where the revolution didn't reach.

Only after a few weeks of Mubarak's historical resignation and a set of overwhelming experiences including detention and being filmed by tens of international media outlets, I had to go back to being an undergraduate low income Biotechnology student in a private university administrated by Mubarak's era businessmen. I had to go back and start attending classes with pro-Mubarak and/or anti-revolutionary classmates and staff who didn't like what I participated in or what I was up to.

I came back to my school with that "Utopian Tahrir Spirit" I had in mind in the early days of Jan-Feb 2011 presuming that the whole country has been through the same transformation process me and my "revolutionary" friends have been through. This was latter proven wrong in my school and everywhere else in the country.

It was clear that my classmates, my staff, and supervisors attitudes were not the same. I was the only person in my class who saw the protests for real and not on TV.

It was clear that not so many people from this apolitical private school and elsewhere experienced the events outside of their apartments which eventually created a stigma about those who stood out.

In several occasions I was made fun of, warned by staff, and eventually avoided completely on campus. Many of my "friends" stopped talking to me either because I changed a lot and wasn't fun cool anymore or because of their positions on #Jan25 or out of fear. 
Fearful looks and hurtful jokes about "The girl fromTahrir" who's grieving on the dead were some of the things I had to deal with regularly.
All of that made my campus a very hostile environment to be in and a painful experience.  

Between the revolution work and the school work:


#Jan25 was exactly in the winter break during my senior year and that placed me in a tough situation balancing my academic aspirations and scientific passion, and the important historical moment my country and the whole world was going through. 

In Tahrir during the 18 days sit in I had my Genomics scientific papers with me to write a review article for the UK scholarship on developing Genomics research globally, something I still don't understand why I decided to do. I also continued to go to the small protests in March with my lab coat and books and this is when people I know got detained or disappeared for the first time. 
I witnessed tragic transforming events in April, I co-organized for a day in action against SCAF in May that we called the second revolution, and I got injured in a protest in June the month I had my finals.

All of this was happening while I was supposed to study and work on 5 heavy courses (Genetic Engineering, Comparative Biology, Commercial Biotechnology, Proteomic Analysis, Bioremediation and Biodegradation).
I was also supposed to finish my Medical Biotechnology graduation project that required collecting blood samples from hospitals, do lab work, and scientific writing. 


Presenting my Medical Biotechnology graduation project June 2011 

My performance in this last semester was the worst performance I had in my whole educational life. That was mainly due to the traumas, stress, and the continuity of the protests. I thought I was definitely going to fall this semester in school and I reached the point where I was thinking about dropping out, a crazy thought I would have never considered after being on the top of my class for years and majoring is such a complex rare specialty I was passionate about. 

It was such a pain, and I was torn apart between school and "revolution", it was clear something needed to be sacrificed. 
I turned down the scholarship application and eventually I had to pressure myself to pass my final semester with the lowest GPA in my undergraduate years. 

Sometimes all these experiences about school, the bitterness of the uncertainty about the future, and the sense of vanity and randomness in all what happened in my life don't allow me to enjoy the other things I have done and I'm doing away from Biotechnology.

Sometimes I feel bad when I think that If #Jan25 didn't happen maybe I would have been a researcher in Genomics, Cancer Biology or Molecular Genetics by now.

In other times these thoughts seem ridiculous and I feel very grateful that I got a golden chance to explore different areas in life and that I continue to learn more about things like world politics, media, journalism, religion, spirituality and more things mainly because of #Jan25. I feel thankful when I realize I wouldn't have had the same amount of time or dedication to learn about these things if I was a full time Biological Sciences professional. 

I think the question whether the choices I made in the last 6 years were right or wrong is no longer valid.
Apparently, God had a totally different plan than what I was envisioning and regardless of where I'm going to be in the next stage of my life I should stop beating myself up and just be thankful for it. 

At this point I'm not sure about where I'm headed to and I'm tired of thinking about it. I keep trying to find the way to be of use and in the meantime, I'm still searching tirelessly for a solid definition for myself to meaning, value, and worth. I'm still praying that I shall be guided to a place and a condition where I could serve the good cause I was created to serve be it in science, media, politics, languages or who knows what.

To all the fellow students in the 2011 class who might have been through worse than what I have been through: Keep in mind you're not alone in this, you're in my thoughts and prayers continuously.
I'm praying that things will turn out to be a little bit better to all of us and that we will somehow use the knowledge we were blessed with one day to serve our own countries, our peoples and the rest of the world.

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