The Middle East Through My Lens

Lara Bedewi, Stone Ridge High School

"I tether onto my rich Middle Eastern heritage because I view it as everlasting. I know for certain that this proud personal facet of mine will never, ever vanish from my blood."

(Published: 2019)

What is something in your life that you consider to be permanent? This might take you a moment to come up with, as many things in life that seemingly last forever actually diminish with time. Tattoos fade, people disappear, and memories flee. But what about your ethnicity? Personally, I tether onto my rich Middle Eastern heritage because I view it as everlasting. I know for certain that this proud personal facet of mine will never, ever vanish from my blood.

As a child of Arab immigrants, I grew up hearing heroic tales of my parents fleeing war countries so they could come to America and live a safer life. For this reason, I am relentlessly passionate about advocating for the rights and respect of my people. Every time I get “randomly selected” for an extra security check at the airport, my name gets mispronounced by a teacher, or I get stared at for the dark hair on my face and body, society takes one step back in time.

I remember the first time I was old enough to realize I was being racially profiled at an airport. I was twelve years old, and my family was flying to Egypt out of Dulles International Airport. I was so excited to go that I had I been counting down the days until the trip for months.

However, my cheerful mood soon collapsed as our handbags were torn open and our belongings were thrown all over the floor. Piles of clothes, shoes, and toiletries were strewn about. I gasped as the TSA employees ripped open my packages of pads and tampons and flung them onto the floor without taking a moment to consider this protocol. I had no idea what they could possibly have been looking for.

Our vacation was off to a miserable start. As my belongings were thrown on the floor, one by one, I was humiliated. Since this traumatic experience, I have built up a thick skin regarding my race. Nowadays, instead of crying, I make my voice known through a more effective means of communication: filmmaking.

Movies are the perfect combination of visual arts, storytelling, music, and theater, making them incredibly complex, and in turn, effective medium. I believe that the sum of these parts is greater than each on its own, giving films the power to change the world for the better. Consider the amount Of times a movie has triggered a visceral reaction from you, whether that be through tears, laughter, rage, or any other profound emotion. I believe these sensations can be used to open people's eyes and hearts to pressing world issues. Through beautifully complex character relationships intertwined with themes and symbolism, I possess the ability to convey narratives about diversity, poverty, disease, and discrimination to fill people with social awareness.

It is incredibly important to me that all types of voices are clearly expressed by a narrator. The purpose behind the underlying messages found within my work is to get the audience thinking about the world around them. After watching my films, I hope my viewers feel inclined to research controversial topics, become advocates for the issues that they are passionate about, and spark difficult conversations.

I recently completed a short documentary titled "Hidden Treasures of Egypt." In this film, I track the lives of five Egyptian workers — a camel herder, a shisha server, a bread baker, a hotel employee, and a bazaar painter. I debunk the dehumanizing stigmas surrounding these seemingly “menial” laborers by unlocking their most relatable profound facets—stories of their lifelong hardships, triumphs, and dreams.

Hassam Karam Mohamed, the shisha server, shared that after fighting in the war, he saved up enough money to open his own shisha café. After the revolution, however, he lost everything he owned and had to build his life up again from scratch. He believes that in five years, he might have enough money to open up another cafe. Yet, despite all the hardships he has faced in his 31 years, the one thing that makes him happiest in the world is seeing others around him happy and successful; he has his health, and that is more than enough to thank God for.

I am proud of my culture because we are fighters; not the stereotypical, violent fighters one might associate with Arabs, but fighters for our lives and for what is right. We fight for justice because we know what its absence feels like.

I sincerely hope that you, too, will speak up about the issues you are passionate about and stir up a brouhaha the next time you see someone being belittled or scrutinized. Ethnicity lasts forever, and as long as diversity exists, so will judgment, ignorance, and insensitivity. However, because your heritage and education can never be stripped away, that should give you all the more motivation to use your powerful voice to push for progress and create a wider movement towards the common good.