Thursday, October 16, 2008

MEPI Welcome Ceremonies & Reception on Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The MEPI Welcome Reception in the Katzen Arts Center on Wednesday night was the perfect finale to what turned out to be an incredibly inspiring day—for myself and certainly for the Middle Eastern ladies as well.

As a part of the WPI office staff, I got to sit in during the ceremonies earlier that morning. To say I was impressed would be such an understatement. Every single one of the forty-four women is extraordinary in her field, or fields. I realized that I was not among passive women who kinda-sorta wanted to check out how United States government worked. I was in the company of a strong and proactive group of ladies who knew more about American politics than probably a lot of our own citizens. All of the women were eager to share what they knew and to learn what everybody else knew.

A microphone was passed around, giving each woman a chance to speak of her background and her goals. A lot of the women spoke English, and I was able to hear what the others who spoke only Arabic or French had to say through an earpiece provided by the translator team. “Thank You” in one of the three languages was sure to mark the end of each introduction. Everyone was appreciative.

At this point in my day, however, my interaction with them was limited. The only people I spoke to at the morning ceremonies were a woman who wanted to know if she should take notes, and a translator who wanted to take a picture with me in front of the School of Public Affairs Women & Politics Institute sign.

I was excited to learn that the MEPI Welcome Reception was intended to be a few hours exclusively for socializing—my favorite thing to do—and something that there was no time for that morning.

After running across campus in high heels and professional attire, I found myself in a section of the Katzen Arts Center welcoming the ladies back to American University.

While dining on the very good food, I made my way around the room to personally speak with our guests.

A few women particularly stand out in my mind for various reasons.

I approached Rasha Hefzi of Saudi Arabia because she had mentioned earlier in the day that she was very interested in the youth vote. I attended the American Panel’s Youthquake ’08 Tuesday night, where five panelists spoke about how they thought the younger voters would influence the upcoming elections here in the U.S. I thought that Rasha would be interested in knowing about the event, and also that the executive director of Rock the Vote was there. Rasha told me that she is ambitiously seeking creative ways to mobilize the youth in her country to vote in next year’s election. She also wants younger people to run for office. I am now in the process of finding a way to get Rasha in touch with anyone from Rock the Vote so that she can hopefully take some ideas that have worked here back with her to Saudi Arabia. The coolest touch to my interaction with Rasha, though, would have to be how she asked to take a picture with me and then asked me if she could add me as a friend on Facebook! There are more ambitious and friendly (and hip) people in this world than one might think!

I then had a chance to speak with May Akl of Lebanon. She is a relatively young woman who told me that even though the women of Lebanon are not as oppressed as the women of the countries with a heavy Muslim population, she was on the trip to learn more about United States politics so that she could go back to her job as a more informed person. I was not sure of her exact position title (as her business card is in Arabic, and on the reverse, in French) but she is the person who “all visiting journalists to Lebanon go through first.” She is also getting her PhD, working in politics, and attempting to maintain a social life. She told me to absolutely get in touch with her if/when I visit Lebanon (where my father was born and raised). That’s how great these women are; they’re juggling multiple heavy responsibilities but do not hesitate to do what they can for others.

I left the MEPI event feeling absolutely ecstatic not only about my opportunity to meet these women but also because I was genuinely elated knowing that the MEPI women had already done so much in their countries and were only to go back in a few weeks and initiate more positive change.

I now have another forty-four women in my life to admire.

I can only imagine who they look up to.