University News

After Egypt, students take separate paths

By
Staff Writer
Thursday, March 10, 2011

Since studying abroad together in Alexandria, Egypt, and then evacuating the country together by way of Prague, Michael Dawkins ’12 and Amanda Labora ‘12.5 have taken very different paths. While Dawkins has returned to campus to resume classes, Labora is taking a semester off for Arabic study in Syria while also working on a project collecting personal accounts from Egyptians in the Middle East.

Labora and Dawkins shared their experiences March 3 in a Janus Political Union event entitled “Mubarak’s Downfall: Views from the Ground.”

A small crowd gathered in MacMillan 117 last Thursday to hear Dawkins and Labora — who participated in the event via Skype from her home in Miami — speak about their final days in Egypt. They described in detail the troubles they went through in their efforts to evacuate, emphasizing the peaceful conduct of Egyptian civilians and their appreciation for the Alexandrians who helped them as unrest seized the city.

Dawkins said he hoped the event would eliminate any fears Americans had about Egypt’s revolution and help people understand “the humanness that we were interacting with.”

Both Labora and Dawkins have retained a connection to the region since the evacuation. Dawkins said he has stayed in touch with Egyptian friends, including some who are hoping to exploit an environment ripe for change to promote gender equality in the region.

Labora has been involved in Mideast Reports, a combination blog and public Google document founded by Pathik Root, a Middlebury student who also participated in the Alexandria program this semester. Root and the other students began the project as “Reports from Egyptians” by collecting a variety of first-hand accounts from Egyptians, including Facebook statuses, e-mails and children’s drawings. This was a useful tool, “especially when there was more control of the media,” Andrew Leber ’12 said. Leber took part in Middlebury’s Egypt program in the fall and now offers his services as a translator for the project.

The students originally reached out to media when they were waiting to be evacuated from Egypt, Labora said. She and fellow students continued communicating with friends they had made in Alexandria once they arrived back in the U.S. They passed along news updates from Egyptian friends to their new media contacts. These efforts culminated in a Feb. 2 interview on Fox News International with Nehad Heliel, the Middle East director at Middlebury College, who was in Egypt at the time.

The project has since evolved into the Mideast Reports blog, which provides articles summarizing recent events and giving the perspectives of Labora and Root, among others. Their current goal is “to provide broader coverage and solicit contributors,” Labora said. The blog’s reports have already expanded to include accounts from protests in Bahrain, Libya and Oman.

“A few people have found the website independently,” Leber said. But with few contributors outside of Egypt, they’re “trying to get more people involved.” He and Labora both said they will continue contributing to the project for as long as it is feasible.

Labora is currently writing under a pen name for “political reasons” since she is living in Syria this semester, she wrote in an e-mail to The Herald. After considering a return to Brown, Labora said she decided to take a semester-long leave to further her study of Arabic in Syria.

Though she said “nobody really knew what to do with us” once they returned from Egypt, she commended the University’s overall response, particularly on an individual level. She said professors were eager to work with her while she was making her decision, and she was assured she would not lose a grant she had been awarded based on her intended study in Egypt.

Dawkins, who elected to return to campus this semester, said he had difficulty catching up in his classes, and not all professors were accommodating. But overall, he said, the University faculty and staff were “extremely nice, extremely professional, extremely helpful.”

He said the University wanted to be sure they did not suffer from the traumatic experience.

“Most people’s biggest concern … was that we had witnessed people’s heads getting blown off and stuff,” he said.

He got lucky with housing, he said, and found an open spot in the co-op he lived in last semester. Although everything worked out, Dawkins said he would have liked to go abroad this semester. Many of his alternative countries are now on the travel warning list. “If there had been another option … I would have done that,” he said.

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