'The Other'

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Other  |  House: Booksie Classic
'The Other' is a story about a young Egyptian woman who moves to London to study and fears being discriminated against due to her background. She is surprised to find that people are very friendly and that Westerners are equally misinformed about Arabs and Muslims.

Submitted: July 15, 2009

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Submitted: July 15, 2009

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The Other

My mobile phone rang and woke me up from my deep sleep. At first, I thought it was the alarm, but then I realized that it was a ring tone. I picked it up and stared at the screen, still half asleep. The caller was someone whose name began with an N, or was it an M?
“Hello.”
“They’re going to kill you! They’re going to kill you!”
I sat up in bed, petrified.
“What?! Who is this? Who’s speaking?!”
“It’s me, Mona. They are going to kill you! It’s all over the papers today. An Arab teenager got beaten up somewhere in America and …”
I sighed and lay down again and did not bother to pay much attention to the rest of the story.
“I am not going to America,” I said after she was done, “I’m going to ...”
“They are all the same to me. They all hate us! I don’t want you to get killed or end up in Guantanamo!” she went on.
I sighed again, not knowing what to say.
“Mona, how many times are we going to have this discussion?”
“As many as it takes to convince you not to go!”
I then went on to repeat everything I had ever told her about the whole issue. But as usual, it was absolutely useless.

The day before I left, Mona came to see me. She said goodbye as if she would never see me again and I went on with my plans undeterred.

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I got off the plane clutching my huge handbag clumsily with both hands. I was quite lost, so I just walked along in the direction that everyone else seemed to be walking in.

As I approached the counter I could feel my heart beating unusually quickly. I gave my passport and all of the other required documents to the immigration officer and he started going through them immediately.
“Was he taking longer than usual?” I wondered.
He suddenly looked up at me and then went back to flipping through my passport.
“Oo, here it comes,” I thought. “I’ll get deported back to Egypt,”
“I see that you have a student visa. What are you going to study?” he asked.
The interrogation had started, I thought and tried to compose myself as I replied:
“A Masters in International Business,” I replied.
“Which university are you joining?” he went on.
“SOAS,” I replied beginning to picture this as an interrogation that would last for hours and culminate in sending me off to Guantanamo, as Mona had repeatedly warned me.
“Where will you live?” the interrogation continued.
“At the halls of residence.”
“O.K.”
He went back to the documents and then a few seconds later neatly put them together and held them in his hand towards me.
I was taken by surprise and did not immediately take possession of my documents. I eventually did though, passed through the gate and there I was; in London.

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Next morning I was supposed to attend the university induction at 9 o’clock.
I sat there on the bed in the tiny motel room- where I would spend a week or so until I was admitted to the halls of residence- all dressed up and ready to go at 8 o’clock, but unable to embark on my journey.
I could think of nothing else but Mona’s words:
“They are going to kill you! An Arab guy…”
The clock kept ticking and time went by. It was already 8:15. I started agonizing about being late.
Eventually- at 8:30- I decided that there was no way out. I got up and left.

I asked the motel receptionist about directions to the nearest underground station, to which she replied very eloquently.
As soon as I got there, I told the teller that I wanted to go to Euston Square Station, which is the closest station to the university, according to its website. He recommended that I buy a return-ticket, so I did.
I then headed for the platform expecting a blow at any minute, but it never came.
The train arrived shortly. I got on and started looking around me. I was surprised to see that people with me on the train seemed to come from all around the world; there were people who were apparently British, others who came from India, numerous people who came from China … I suddenly heard a male voice speaking in Arabic! I looked around for him, but the carriage had become so crowded, it was quite impossible to see beyond those standing right next to me.
Most people were preoccupied with reading the newspaper. So I started staring at the back page of the newspaper held by an African man who was facing me.
Were they all reading the same newspaper?

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I arrived to the induction about ten minutes late; people had already started introducing themselves. I sat in the first empty seat I could spot.
My fellow classmates to-be were even more diverse than the people whom had been with me on the train. The person who was introducing himself as I sat came from Vietnam, the one next to him came from Italy. The next came from America and there was even someone from Brazil.
It was suddenly my turn.
“My name is Marwa. I am Egyptian,” was all I said.
After we had all introduced ourselves one speaker after another from various departments in the university informed us of various issues we needed to know for our studies.

During the coffee break a young man who had introduced himself prior to my arrival came up to me and said:
“Excuse me.”
“Hi,” I replied.
“You are from Egypt, right?”
“Yes.”
“So what is it like in Egypt?”
“It’s great! The sun’s shining,” I laughed but he only forced a smile.
“But I mean, what’s it like for foreigners?” he asked shakily.
I was still baffled about what exactly he was trying to get at.
“It’s fine. We have a lot of tourists and some foreigners live in various parts of Egypt, but not that many.”
He finally made himself clear:
“You see I adore Pharonic monuments and I would love to visit Egypt to get to see them all. But I am scared to death.”
I was as shocked as ever.
“Why?!”
“I don’t want to die, to get killed. Every time I consider going I envision myself being shot as soon as I arrive there and start walking in the street that’s right next to the airport.”
It took me a few seconds to take in what he had just said. Images of the streets in various parts of Egypt flashed through my mind, where I had never spotted anyone carrying any weaponry of any sort. Nor had I spotted anyone being beaten up, let alone being shot- Egyptian or foreign for that matter.
“No, no. It’s not like that at all. Actually foreigners are very welcome in Egypt and people are very friendly.”
He seemed totally unconvinced.
But the coffee break ended before I could say anything else and we had to go back to business.
I decided to have a lengthy discussion with him later on and wondered whether I would end up having similar discussions with other people during my stay in London.

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After the induction was over I asked around for the library, where I was glad to be informed by one of the librarians that I could use one of the available computers to surf the net, although my student ID had not been issued just yet. The first thing I did was email Mona.
“I’m still alive!” I typed, and then proceeded to the fascinating details.



* This story was one of the winners of an international short story competition co-organized by Anna Lindh Foundation & European Institute of the Mediterranean.


© Copyright 2019 Aliaa. All rights reserved.

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