Yasmin Nouh had never felt ashamed of her Egyptian heritage until she came to Al-diwan, a language institute in Cairo, to study Arabic for four months.
Three months into her stay, Nouh was mugged and had her purse stolen. Less than a month later, someone tried to break into her apartment while she was home alone in the middle of the day.
“I thought, ‘This is where I come from? This dark society where people rob each other and treat each other like dirt?’ I didn’t want to tell people I’m Egyptian, you know? I’m just being honest,” said Nouh, a 2006 La Cañada High School graduate who earned a bachelor’s degree from University of California, Irvine last year.
The 22-year-old’s outlook began to change in late January, as she witnessed her fellow Egyptians’ revolt against President Hosni Mubarak’s rule. She left Egypt on Feb. 10 — one day before Mubarak resigned — at the prodding of her parents, who were worried about her safety.
Nouh shared her story Thursday with students at La Canada High School as part of the school’s Multicultural Week. In an interview after the talk, Nouh explained how difficult it was to leave with history going on all around her.
“When I saw people telling that reality openly, I felt they were redeeming their country and my feelings about the country by fighting for what is right. That’s why I wanted to stay; I was attached to the feelings I had. For the first time I felt like [Egypt] can be home,” said Nouh, adding she doesn’t regret coming back to put her parents’ minds at ease.
What would eventually become the Egyptian revolution began building during Nouh’s four months in Egypt. She said she could feel the energy of change in the air.
“You could really taste and understand it in all senses of the word,” she said. “You understood what they were fighting for, why they were chanting what they were chanting and why they were doing what they were doing. Poverty is rampant there, and the people just want their services and human rights back.”
During the protests, the country’s beauty was marred by trash-covered streets and random acts of violence, like those that had been committed against her, but she could still see it shining through.
“You know the city is beautiful in its heart, and it could be very beautiful if the leadership just cared about it,” Nouh said. “It was so beautiful to see Egyptians protesting and being dignified and honorable in how they were going about demanding their rights, after they’d been treated subhumanly for the past 62 years.”
As the protests began, Nouh sensed a lot of Egyptians opposed them, but the protesters believed what they were doing was right.
“I know it sounds cliché, but justice really does prevail,” Nouh said.
The four short months Nouh spent in Egypt has changed her forever — and she hopes that change will last.
“It brought poverty home for me,” Nouh said. “I come back here and there’s so much to do now. I don’t feel as complacent, and I hope that continues. I want to contribute more to my society.”