Cairo’s Couch Corner: The Human Library

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Written by Mariam Amr

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HELLO CAIRO CONTRA READERS! (Sorry I can’t contain my excitement for my first post!)

Personally I believe that all forms of art are agents of change, but writing truly has the ability to connect people together which is what I hope this column will do.

Even though there’s still one more month to go, this summer has sprinted right before our eyes. Despite all the things I could have written about going on in Cairo this summer, I decided I didn’t want this article to be a repetition of what you’re already bombarded with on social media, so that’s why I’m writing about a Human Library event I went to which was nothing like what I expected! I had heard about the concept before and once I saw the event on Facebook I knew I had to experience it myself.

As obvious from its name, this worldwide organisation plans events that introduce you to people with life-changing experiences to share, giving you the opportunity to ‘read’ their journeys like an open book. Their journeys are ones you probably never experienced first-hand as they’re not commonly discussed openly in our society. The stories were so diverse they ranged from depression and other mental illnesses, to drug addiction and physical disabilities, and even college drop-outs and successful business-men. I’ll be sharing the most interesting and influential ones with you.

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The Depression

My favourite book! The speaker was so open about his 10-year battle with a mental illness that is so misunderstood and belittled in our Egyptian society and probably even in the Middle East. That itself is enough to make any person feel out of place and unaccepted by society which only makes his emotional state deteriorate. I’ve always thought I understood a lot about depression through books, movies and people I know, but after hearing someone’s complete, intense struggle I realised this was something I would never understand, as everyone’s experience is completely different and affected by their surrounding environment and personality. He shared his suicide attempts, mood swings, panic attacks, and nerve-wrecking journey with us and it made me understand that it takes so much willpower to overcome a disease that makes you question everything around and about you.

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The College Drop-out

My second choice, which was my first session at the event, was the story of a young man, who despite his parents’ wishes and society’s barriers, chose to leave his university studies and work on a company founded by him and a few of his friends. At that time, it was such a risky move and to top it off, he was even working to create websites for online-shopping companies, which was a field that wasn’t that popular in Egypt those years ago, making it harder for him to oppose all the negativity trying to convince him to forget this reckless idea that would lead him nowhere. Seeing him sitting there in his suit with a big smile, and his face lighting up whenever he told us how determined he was to see this project through, I knew this story had a happy ending… and it did. One thing he said though really stuck with me, he was asked if his company is successful and as he put it ‘success is not a certain place you reach, but the journey you take to reach your goal’.

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Obesity

The name didn’t attract me at the beginning as I had no idea what the story behind it would be like, but like everything about this event, it surprised me. The very confident speaker told us about her health issue which made her overweight since her childhood. Back when she was younger, all the eyes she felt on her, the words she overheard, and the mean comments she got, made her uncomfortable in her own skin and even made her hate her own body. Later on when she truly accepted her body and began embracing it, she felt herself reborn. It wasn’t easy for her to reach that level of acceptance in a society that rejects certain body shapes and sizes, but eventually she realised that it wasn’t about looking a certain way to impress others, but that it was about living a healthy lifestyle. She then took several health courses about ways to maintain such a lifestyle, and even became a Zumba instructor. I felt as proud of her as she did of herself for her persistence to achieve something not just because she felt the pressure to fit in, but because she felt worthy and deserving of a better life. She mentioned how she still often feels those eyes staring at her, but this time, she appreciates herself too much to let them get to her.

That’s it! I hope these stories inspire you as they did me, or at least shed light for you on uncommon topics seen as taboos in Cairo.

Thoughts?

Tell me what you think in the comments below and if you’d be interested to attend such an event, or perhaps even share a story there!

 

 

 

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