Day: February 1, 2010

I am not the 1st anyone to summit Kilimanjaro!

Only two days after I first announced to my friends that I had successfully summited Africa’s highest peak, Kilimanjaro, I read the first article that claimed I was the first

My summit picture - holding the Egyptian flag against the cold winds

 something to summit the mountain. In this case it was the first Muslim woman and it was published on IslamOnline.net.

I immediately called my friends there and asked them where they got their information. “What’s your source,” I asked. Journalists aren’t supposed to write information based on instinct. They have sources of information. There was no source, I learned. They just thought this was the case. I went into ugly Nadia mode. “There’s no way on Earth to know who the first person was of any religion to summit Kilimanjaro,” I explained to them (actually, I pretty much yelled it). “People don’t register themselves when they come back from the mountain based on their religion,” I continued. The article on IslamOnline.net was thankfully edited into telling the story of a woman who summited Kilimanjaro.

One of the first things I did when I reached the base of the mountain was that I called the Park authorities to find out if any Egyptian women had summited the mountain before me. It took two days for the authorities to get back to me. In the past two years alone, I was told, at least four young Egyptian women had summited the mountain.

Since then, I’ve made a point of telling journalists who interview me that I am not the first Egyptian to summit Kilimanjaro. I know this as fact. Journalists assure me that they understand this. Nonetheless, twice now (in Egypt’s Shabab and Kul Annas magazines) there have been articles about me with titles claiming that I’m the first Egyptian woman to summit the mountain. When I ask the journalists who interview me how this happened even though I was very clear with them about this point, they tell me that they don’t write the titles. They write the article, hand it in to the desk, and someone at the desk writes the title. Some idiot, that is. That idiot either imagines things and writes up a title based on his/her imagination, or decides to spice things up by writing a lie.

Now when a journalist calls me up for an interview I make sure they know while we’re still on the phone that I am not the first anyone to summit the mountain. And if you accept that fact and still want to interview me, you are welcome to my home. They usually do accept and ask for the interview.

But this whole thing has really upset me about how the media function in our country. I’ve also learned first-hand why scientists, for example, have reservations about talking to journalists about their research. It seems that in some cases, no matter how clear you are with the journalist,  she or others above her will manage to get things wrong – if only to sensationalize a bit.

It’s disturbing. 

So for the record, world, I am not the first Muslim woman to summit Kilimanjaro. I am not the first Egyptian to summit Kilimanjaro. I am not the first Arab or Egyptian woman to summit Kilimanjaro.

And none of that matters.

Nadia El-Awady, a then 40-year-old Egyptian mother-of-four, summited Kilimanjaro. And to me, that’s a pretty amazing achievement without being anyone’s first.

Love me and not your expectations of me

Last night was a great win for Egypt against Ghana in the Cup of African Nations 2010.

Cairo celebrations Photo credit: Nadia El-Awady

After the win, I went out to Pyramids Street, near my home, to watch the street celebrations and take some photos. The celebrations felt so anti-climactic to those only two nights before when Egypt won against Algeria. I didn’t stay long on the streets and walked home. At home I continued to watch the celebrations on TV. I couldn’t help but notice how silly Egyptians get when they are happy; especially after winning a football match. To tell you the truth, I’m pretty much the same myself. The masses were dancing foolishly, chanting silly chants, and saying the most ridiculous things in front of television cameras. It was all quite funny.

So this is what I posted on Twitter while I watched:

NadiaE: for a country where the majority doesnt drink alcohol, we certainly celebrate like a bunch of drunkards when we win a soccer match!

NadiaE: im watching coverage of egyptians celebrating all over the world and laughing my head off. Ppl not even talking straight!

NadiaE: sha3b genetically m7ashish sa7ee7 (rough translation: we’re a people who are genetically stoned)

Before I come to the reaction I got from one of my followers, I must admit that I have always been thankful that I do not drink alcohol because it is prohibited in my religion. The main reason I’m thankful is that I can quite easily get into a “drunken mood” all on my own. So this thought about us being “genetically stoned” is not a new one and has mainly been a thought I reflect on myself until yesterday. Yesterday, I discovered that it seems this applies to many Egyptians when they are happy as well.

I have absolutely no interest in pointing fingers, so I’m not going to include the Twitter name of the person that reacted negatively to my last statement. And for the record, I’m pretty sure this person had absolutely no bad intention in what he said. It just pushed a very sensitive button of mine:

“I am not expecting this statement specially from u Nadia, please note that people r inspired by your writings & blogs. Take care pls”

This statement from a Twitter follower elicited a tirade of comments from me, the last being this morning. They summarize in short 140 character tweets what I feel about the whole role model concept and our high expectations from them:

Tweets from me:

@x not sure what u read into what i wrote, but i have no intention of being a role model becuz im not 1

@x I tweet what I think and won’t stop because of others’ expectations of me. I wont be careful. Ill be me

I say NO to self-censorship because of others’ expectations! That makes me so angry!

I have no wish at all to be a role model. And I will not self-censor myself becuz some want me to act like one

question to my tweeps: if some ppl think of u as a role model, does that mean u have to start acting like one?

even more importantly, does it mean u have to act like the role model THEY want u to be?

and wasnt it you being genuinely you that made you their role model to begin with?
 

These are some of the responses I got to that question from different tweople:

No, not acting like one as in changing ur characteristics and who you are to who they want you to be. But taking the responsibility. That your actions & behavior might influence some other people, so giving more emphasis on being a better YOU with less mistakes.

Nope, if you change then فيه عقد نقص (rough translation: you have an inferiority complex if you change for that reason)

i guess wn u r a role model then it pushes u to be better even for urself !!

i think it’s the other way around..

I really hate the “exposure” I get, scares the hell out of me.

dear no body like it, but sometimes u r :) so act based on that..

Right, but it’s natural for everyone to search for someone who practically resemble what he/she is seeking to be, it’s natural.

If someone thinks of u as role model, so its for who u r.. not anything else. So be urself.. don’t try to idolize urself.. :)

wat u r is wat make u role model 4 them so dont react differently when u know. B wat u r but carefully manage their expectations

What is it with people’s eternal urge for censorship??? It’s you as you are that inspired them and nothing should change that.

When you get that comment it’s more like what they would want you to be, not who you are. It’s an equation in their brains.
 

And I continued to rant…
this whole concept of taking role models worries me to begin with. Its idolizing ppl. Putting them on a pedestal

no one should have to be put on a pedestal and idolized because no one is that perfect. Do u realize the burden that is?

let me be very clear b4 i end my rant: i dont want to be anyones role model, do not have high expectations of me or u will be disappointed..

and i will not practice self-censorship and i will continue to be just ME

and ppl shouldnt be “as me”. They should simply be themselves. Thats what will make them unique

And my last tweets on this the following morning…

if coming into the public eye more often means I must put up an act of being an angel for people, I don’t want to be in the public eye

I’d much rather just be myself wherever i am; with all my beautiful imperfections and slips. and if that isn’t enough for ppl it’s their loss

Why is this a sensitive subject for me?

Being a Muslim woman who wears the veil (hijab), makes me the object of peoples’ scrutiny all the time.

For those who have reservations against it, if I don’t act like an angel 100% of the time I’ll hear comments like, “See what women in hijab do?”

And from those who fully support it I hear comments like, “You can’t do that because you represent women in hijab.” Or “You are such a good representative of women in hijab.” Or “How could you do that as a woman wearing hijab? Doesn’t it mean anything to you?”

I’ve heard all of this and more. And for some odd reason, most of those people do not realize that I’m just a normal, imperfect person who chose to wear the hijab. I do not and cannot represent every single woman who wears it. And I cannot – nor do I wish to - represent the whole of the Islamic nation because I have chosen to wear the hijab.

It’s just a head cover for goodness sake. That’s all it is. It does not mean that I have managed to become the “perfect Muslim”, whatever that might mean. It does not mean that I have even chosen to act like the “perfect Muslim.”

The same applies for any person who happens to come into the public eye for any reason. Perhaps someone has managed to achieve great professional accomplishments: reached greatness as an actor, an artist, an athlete, etc. They have achieved greatness in these areas. That does not mean they have achieved greatness in all aspects of their lives. They might be complete flops in their personal lives, for example. Does this diminish their level of greatness in what they’ve achieved? It doesn’t. Should they be required to be great in all other aspects of their lives simply because people suddenly have high expectations of them? No.

Part of the beauty of the human being is his imperfections; the fact that one can be great in one area and a failure in another.

There are people in my life I have always looked up to. But the knowledge that these people are imperfect is a relief to me. It allows me to push myself to be a better me on the one hand, but to accept my own imperfections on the other. It’s human nature.

So, I will end by summarizing my earlier tweets:

I will continue to be me in all my beautiful imperfectness. Do not take me as your role model. I do not wish to be in that position. If I have ever done something or said something you have learned from, well and good. I’ve learned a lot from you as well. Do not expect me to be perfect because of a few things you’ve seen in me and liked. Your perfect is not my perfect is not our neighbor’s perfect. Love me and not your expectations of me. Just let me be me. And I sure as heck hope you continue to be you.