You walk out a different person

26-12-2011 11:26 AM

Rania Farid


When I was asked to write about my experience with Watani International, a powerful wave of overflowing emotions engulfed me; I seemed to float in a stream of much treasured recollections and I did not want it to stop.

 
 
When I was asked to write about my experience with Watani International, a powerful wave of overflowing emotions engulfed me; I seemed to float in a stream of much treasured recollections and I did not want it to stop.
I grew up in a family that was—and still is—a strong supporter of Watani. I opened my eyes to Mum saying that it was almost a national duty to buy Watani, since it was a paper with a mission that warranted support. Watani was, some seven years ago, the only paper to express the Coptic voice in a thoroughly Egyptian, civil context.
When in my third year at university, I visited Watani with Mum to sign our names to the “Council of Wise Men”, Magliss al-Hukamaa which the editor-in-chief Youssef Sidhom had called for to promote better, more sympathetic relations between Egypt’s Muslims and Christians. The secretary let us meet Mr Sidhom even though we had not asked to. He was warm and friendly and, when he knew I was studying English language and literature, suggested I might come back later to work with the yet-to-be-released English version of Watani.
I did go back, and it was on 4 February 2001, just the right time. It felt really special to have the privilege of starting with the paper in its early days. The job was, for me, a dream come true. I continued to see Watani through the same perspective as Mum, the paper was a value in its own right. On the professional level, I watched my values, view of the world and language skills for journalism purposes (very different from essay writing and academic contexts) evolve in an amazing way. I felt the intellectual maturity creep through and instate itself in my life.
You walk into a place like Watani hoping to make a difference and you don’t expect what the place will do to you. Samia Sidhom, my managing editor, was the type of boss who practices tough-love. The working environment with her was coated with a large amount of love and care that you’d think she could be your mother. I remember her looking at me from under her glasses and this was when I knew I was in trouble. Then she would wear her motherly face and explain to me what I did and teach me a better way to do things. She was always generous with her knowledge professionally and personally. She offered me the training of a lifetime, which I extended and still do in different aspects of my life.
The workplace atmosphere was like a Utopia to me; friendly, co-operative, supportive, caring, mentoring, you name it, it becomes Watani. It was as if the time has stopped at the 1950’s when Antoun Sidhom had started the paper. Everything around me felt and smelt the beauty of that era.
When I took the life changing decision of leaving Egypt to settle down in Australia, Watani was the biggest regret and loss after my family.
I still talk about my time at Watani with great pride and cherish the work I did which went into print. My husband who has never been to Egypt, loves and respects Watani from my stories about it.
Happy 10th anniversary Watani International! I wish you many more years of informing and enlightening generations to come. You are like the pinch of salt to the Egyptian intellectual circle and this is what makes all the difference.
 
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