After spending a very nice day in Budapest, I hit the road to Prague hoping it would be as beautiful as Budapest; nice, cozy and full of nice people. I arrived to Prague late on a Saturday night, and as it was night the tourist office in the Prague’s train station was closed. There was nowhere I could find a map of the city, and my internet connection didn’t work in Prague, so I was left with no map and no idea where to go. Luckily I had my hotel’s reservation printed in which there was some information on how to get to the hotel. I thought it would be easy but oh boy it wasn’t! I followed the instructions and took the metro. Once in the metro a guy started coughing while saying “TERRORIST” over and over again while everyone laughed and pointed at me. I was too tired to give them attention and all I wanted was to get to the hotel since I knew it was a Saturday and they might be drunk.
I stepped out of the metro ignoring what just happened and started my, as it came to be, “famous search for the hotel.” I followed the instructions given again – it mentioned that the hotel was only two streets away from the metro station. Apparently it wasn’t, I got lost, and proceeded to ask a group of guys on the street. They were very helpful and even offered to take me to the hotel but I insisted on just getting the directions. I followed those directions but again I ended up getting lost.
This time I was asking everyone about the famous “Ostrovni” street, and even though it was only one street behind the street I was on (which I discovered later on), no one was willing to help me; whenever I asked someone they said “ We don’t know sorry …”. I ran into another group of guys and asked them about the street location but they didn’t seem to know where it was exceot for one who told me, “follow this street you’ll get to Ostrovni street, you know what follow this one…!” So I followed the last street he mentioned and once I got there and it was a wrong direction I heard him saying “ Now what will you do “Allaho Akbar BOOOM” or what?!” At this point I was tired, sad and the only thing I could’ve done was cry.
At the end of my extensive journey looking for this hotel, I found a girl who offered to take me there; this time I didn’t refuse. She asked me where I was from, she told me she had visited Marrakech, so I asked “did you like it?” and she said “ I was with arab men” with a weird face. She went on to say “you know here is not like Iraqi, Syrian or Arab men and women in general, it’s hard to find someone who will pay you much money”. By then I was next to the hotel and said goodbye to this girl in astonishment.
I understood then that as a MENA girl, I was known for either being a terrorist or a prostitute. And there was a stereotype that men in our society spend millions to only have sex. I felt ashamed, disgusted, and horrible. We are giving a very wrong picture of the MENA community, and it’s not only the responsibility of one person or one group to change it, it’s OUR responsibility. It’s our REPUTATION and we should save it, because apparently on its way to being destroyed. So stop making it WORSE and stop making us feel ashamed of saying we’re from the MENA region.
YaLa Young Leaders