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Nawal Ali Gibreel, 7 17 2011, Draft 2, Page 1 Nawal Gibreel July 17, 2011 Esam Alhadi, Interviewer and Translator for University of Florida George A. Smathers Libraries Edited by Jardee Transcription Alhadi: My name is Esam Alhadi. Today is Saturday July 17, 2011, and it is now 1:40 PM. I am here with Mrs. Nawal Gibreel and we are conducting this interview in her house in Ocala, Florida. This interview is part of the Arab Immigrants Oral History Project of the University of Florida Digital Library Collection. Thank you Mrs. Nawal. Would you please start by giving us general information about yourself, early stage of life, education, place of birth and full name? Nawal: My name is Nawal Ali Gibreel. I was born in Kuwait. I finished high school in Kuwait, then I mo ved to Jordan for three years. I studied business administration. I was working for a bank. I got married in 1983. In 1994, I came to the U.S. and have been living here since then. Alhadi: Did that mean you had all your elementary, middle and high sc hool education in Kuwait? Nawal: Yes, it was all in Kuwait. Alhadi: Were you born in Kuwait? Nawal: Yes. Alhadi: How long has your family been living in Kuwait? Nawal: Twenty six years.
Nawal Ali Gibreel, 7 17 2011, Draft 2, Page 2 Alhadi: Then you moved to Amman? Nawal: Yes. Alhadi: Did you study at the university in Amman? Nawal: Yes. Alhadi: Where, which university? Nawal: It was a college. Alhadi: What is it called? Nawal: The Cardinal College. Alhadi: Where is located in Amman? Nawal: It is in Zarqa. Alhadi: By the way, I lived i n Jordan and that is why I am asking these questions. You said you studied business administration? Nawal: Yes, it was accounting and business administration. Alhadi: After that you worked for a bank. What is it called? Nawal: It is called the Real Es tate Bank. Alhadi: Was it in Amman? Nawal: It was in Zarqa. Alhadi: Then from there you came directly to America? Nawal: I got married, moved back to Kuwait, lived there for one year and then my husband decided we should come to America. Alhadi: Did y ou come directly to Florida?
Nawal Ali Gibreel, 7 17 2011, Draft 2, Page 3 Nawal: No. I lived in New York for six years. We had a business in Manhattan and I was living in the Bronx, then we moved to Baltimore, Maryland, for another three years, then to Florida in 1993. Alhadi: Why did you choose Florida? great. A friend of ours told us to come and see Ocala, which never existed in our mind. We came over. Alhadi: When did you come? Nawal: It was in 1993. Alhad i: And since that time you continued to live here? Alhadi: How did you find Florida compared to Baltimore? Nawal: For us as Arabs, we, in the first place, look the place that provides us a goo d living. If you find a good living anywhere, you will see that place to be the best. I liked Florida because it is a good place to raise a family. Ocala is like between a town and a city. It has everything you need close to you. It is like a town whe n you compare it to Baltimore. Alhadi: So you feel happy here work wise and everything else? Nawal: Thanks be to God. Alhadi: And how about the family? Nawal: Family is good. I raised my three children here. They went to nice schools here. Alhadi: Which schools do they go to and how old are they?
Nawal Ali Gibreel, 7 17 2011, Draft 2, Page 4 courses. Alhadi: What does she study? Nawal: She is still a freshman. She just started. Alhadi: She is in her fir st year? Nawal: Yes, she is in her first year. Alhadi: Is this your elder daughter? Nawal: Yes. Alhadi: What is her name? Nawal: Her name is Dana. My son is going to Vanguard High School. He is in an IB program. My younger son is six years old and he will start elementary school. Alhadi: Have you ever been to Palestine? Nawal: Yes, of course. Alhadi: When was the last time? Nawal: In 2006. Alhadi: That was your last time? Nawal: Yes. Alhadi: Before that, did you used to go there regularly? N awal: Not regularly. It was like once every four or five years. Alhadi: Was that the same case when you were in Kuwait? Nawal: I used to go regularly when I was still living with my parents. We went in 1976 and 1978. I got married in 1983, and after t hat my parents never went back. It
Nawal Ali Gibreel, 7 17 2011, Draft 2, Page 5 Alhadi: Did you ever consider going back to school after you arrived here? Nawal: Yes, of course. Alhadi: What did you study? Nawal: It is not a regular academic course. I studied cosmetology and I obtained my license. Alhadi: Is that what you do now? Nawal: No. I am just maintaining my license. I keep renewing it to make sure that I am not going to lose it. I mainly watch my kids and, as y ou know, this is a full time job by itself. Alhadi: That is absolutely correct. Nawal: I am keeping it and when I need it, I will have something in hand. Alhadi: It is known that Arabs and Muslims keep very close relations with their families and rela tives. How is your relation with your relatives back in Palestine, and do you still have family members in Kuwait? Nawal: I have only one sister in Kuwait. The rest of my family members are all here. Alhadi: Do you prefer I call you Mrs. Nawal? And do you have another nickname? Nawal: I am also called Um Abid. Alhadi: Which one do you prefer? Nawal: You may use the one you feel comfortable with. Alhadi: Okay. Mrs. Nawal, you said that you studied in Kuwait which is an Arab educational system. Your children go to school here which means they are part of the American education system. How do you compare the two systems?
Nawal Ali Gibreel, 7 17 2011, Draft 2, Page 6 Nawal: They are 180 degrees different. Let me start with the math. I think the math teaching in the elementary school is mu ch better than the middle and high school. Alhadi: Which system? Nawal: In the USA. I am involved with schools and with my kids and teachers. Sometimes I attend classes with them to watch the teacher. This is because if my son needed help, I will be ab le to understand the way the teacher is doing it, and when I go back home, I just reinforce it. The way we learned back home was different. To be able to express the idea you need to know how to make it reach the children. The elementary school in the US A is excellent. In middle and high school, I feel as if things start to get loose. Why is this? Maybe because the kids are getting older and they start behaving differently. Teachers also start to back off. They leave it up to the parents. The system gives the children a choice as to what to take. Back home, it is a must that we take English, math, four years of physics and four years of biology. Kids here have so many advantages, but they are not really into studying. This is sometimes disturbing. Alhadi: If [you] want to evaluate the two educational systems, which one do you think is better? Nawal: I would say the one we have back home. It is more strict on the account that the students who come from any country such as Kuwait, Palestine, or Jo rdan and join a school here, they become leaders in math. Alhadi: Since you believe that the education system there is better, what advice would you offer to schools, parents, and school systems in general here to make the education become better? What c ould be done?
Nawal Ali Gibreel, 7 17 2011, Draft 2, Page 7 Nawal: First of all, I feel that the whole system is made to work around the FCAT. They are not teaching the children. That is what I hate. Teachers focus on having a good rate of success by teaching the students how to answer the questio ns. They are making the students like puppets. They are teaching them to solve a problem by following steps one, two, and three, but no foundations are made to help students build up an understanding of how a problem solution works. Alhadi: Mrs. Nawal, if I may propose a different point of view: Educational systems are measured by their ultimate outcome. If you really believe that the education Nawal: From what I hear, educational syst ems in our countries are currently not at a good level. What I am talking about is my own experience thirty years ago. I have no idea why it is that the education system there is deteriorating. Here, they count on parents a lot. Also, kids have to do r esearch which is good, but they need to be given the foundation and base so they can work on it. They need to have a solid base. Alhadi: Now, after about twenty years here in Ocala, how do you see the Arab and Muslim community here in Florida? Is it co nnected and integrated? Nawal: Yes of course. Relations exist because of religion and language. People know each other because it is always the norm that minorities stick together, group and gather. I used to teach Arabic language to kids in Ocala. Ma ny people are interested in having their kids learn to speak the language and read the Quran. We have communications with each other and our community that is expanding and getting bigger.
Nawal Ali Gibreel, 7 17 2011, Draft 2, Page 8 Alhadi: How do you evaluate the contribution of the Arabic Islami c community to the surrounding community here in Ocala? Do you think the Arab community is offering any contribution at all? Nawal: It is a very weak contribution. We are, however, trying. This is especially after the growing negative look towards the Arabs and Muslims. As a matter of fact, going to have some activities in schools. We have to be certified to do that. We are attending this class at UF for a couple of weeke nds. It is an outreach program. We have an interfaith group now for the youth. Alhadi: Can you tell us more about this interfaith group? Nawal: We have two interfaith groups. The first one is for adult women. We Muslim, Christian, and Jewish ladies me et and have a round table discussion. We have a dialogue with each other and talk about differences. Another group is for the youth where they pick a place, either in our center or at a church. All kids from the three religions meet and eat dinner toget her. Kids of other religions also join them such as Buddhist or other religions that I never heard of before. We interact with each other. We also have a culture day in October and we make sure that everybody participates. We bring music, food, and dan ces. People now started to know about each other and to become familiar with each other. This is an every year activity that takes place at the same time. Alhadi: Is this dialogue helping? Do you see these groups getting closer to each other? Nawal: Not really. The people that you meet with, become familiar, and they start to look at you differently. Changing the whole idea is like washing the entire brain.
Nawal Ali Gibreel, 7 17 2011, Draft 2, Page 9 You have to be strong enough in facing the media and the propaganda which is really strong and it is against us. Alhadi: Now after being in the States for about thirty years, do you feel that the way Americans look at the Arabs still remains as it is, or do you think that it is changing? Alhadi: Is it getting better or worse, or is it remaining as it is? Alhadi: Based on your personal experience. e. Alhadi: Do you think that Arabs and Muslims in general are responsible of this negative look, or is it the Americans and the media who should shoulder this responsibility? Nawal: Let me tell you that, to be honest, it is a combination of all of them. Propaganda here is very strong and we all know who in charge and who is controlling that. Another fact is that the Americans consume whatever is given to them without looking behind. For us as Middle Eastern people, we always learn about history and geo graphy. That gives us some background and helps us to know what is worry about other sides of the world. I witnessed about ten American people who came to our center and who h appened to have the opportunity of visiting Palestine or other places in that region and became familiar with the culture. They changed and eventually converted because being there gave them the opportunity to see
Nawal Ali Gibreel, 7 17 2011, Draft 2, Page 10 things differently rather having their br ains stuffed here all the time. The strong enough to unite them and make them speak in one voice. We as immigrants came over here and spread all over the country. This ma kes it difficult to have a lobby that unites us. It is really a combination of all of these. Alhadi: Mrs. Nawal, after thirty years in America, do you feel America has offered you anything, and if yes what is it and also what did you offer to her? Nawa l: I came here not because of a war or a conflict or lack of food. I have always had a good life. Coming to America gave me the opportunity to raise my children live reason coming to America was not a major change in my life. It basically remained the same. t. Alhadi: And from your side, what did you offer in terms of experience and culture? People always give and take. Nawal: Cultural contribution was to my community and to the kids who were born here. I share with them and with my own children what we lea rned there. I teach them Arabic and Quran and help them to maintain their customs and traditions. Alhadi: Since you are very keen about Arabic language and culture, I want to ask if your children at home speak to each other in Arabic or English?
Nawal Ali Gibreel, 7 17 2011, Draft 2, Page 11 Nawal: Thanks be to God that my children speak both languages, but they speak Arabic more. Alhadi: You mean they speak to each other and to you more in Arabic? Nawal: True. Alhadi: Does that mean they have no language problem? Nawal: Not at all, thanks be to God. Alhadi: And how is it between them and their Arab friends? Nawal: Arabic language wise, they are more advanced than their friends. Alhadi: Do you teach them all aspects of language such as grammar and vocabulary? Nawal: I teach them, but I give them limited grammar rules because it is very hard. They read very well. Alhadi: Shall we say that the official language spoken here at home is Arabic? Nawal: It is Arabic. Alhadi: Do you interfere in what subjects of study they should take or not take ? Nawal: Of course I interfere. Parents should direct and advise their children. I know end up struggling. I advise them and they have to give it a try and should do the b est that they can do. I am involved in what they study, how they study, and I make sure that they study. Alhadi: Mrs. Nawal, did you have the opportunity to travel outside America other than going to Arab countries? Nawal: Not really. We only made a st op at in Spain on our way to the Middle East. Alhadi: Not a real visit?
Nawal Ali Gibreel, 7 17 2011, Draft 2, Page 12 Nawal: No. Alhadi: And what Arab countries beside Kuwait, Palestine, and Jordan have you visited? Nawal: I visited Morocco. Alhadi: Was this a private visit? Nawal: It was just f or a tour. Alhadi: Did you take your family with you? Nawal: Yes, it was me and my family. I also visited Egypt. Alhadi: Was it also for a tour? Nawal: Yes. Alhadi: When did you visit Egypt? Nawal: It was in 1986. Alhadi: Having been to many Arab c ountries, you may be following what is going on now in the Arab countries. I want to ask this question and you may opt not to currently talking place in Egypt, Tunisia, an d Syria give a good indication or is it a normal change? Nawal: Change to the better is always good for everyone. We, as Arabs, dream of seeing our countries equal to other advanced ones. Unfortunately, there is pressure which may result in making these changes taking a different direction and become negative rather than positive. It is good that people in our countries are open minded and well educated. Although they may be falling under heavy pressure and not having the most favored life circumstance s, but they are still willing to challenge and to achieve a better life and progress like other people in Europe and
Nawal Ali Gibreel, 7 17 2011, Draft 2, Page 13 America through freedom, democracy, equality, and justice and all other things that Islam calls for. Alhadi: But, do you think that the A rab people are ready for democracy? Nawal: People there actually have eagerness, love, and ambition to democracy. People are educated and have started to travel abroad. A big portion of Arab people are now well educated, have higher degrees, and live ab road. We have many intellectuals, high level thinkers, and people with good brains. All we need to have is the opportunity that we build our countries with pressure falling on us, and without limiting our freedom or obstructing us from becoming advanced people. The advantage that we have in the Arab countries is that we have a young productive generation that is active and willing to give. Europe is called the in our regi on. This is a region that is trying to revive and become stronger and bigger and more developed. Alhadi: So, you think this is a good introduction to a good future? ne gative things. The more you advance in your life, the more pressure you fall under in an attempt to limit your success. People need to have will and persistence. I am optimistic and I hope this feeling turns out to be correct. Alhadi: My final question Does your commitment to Islamic dress give you any troubles? Nawal: At some point I was really afraid because many people who dress in the Islamic uniform experienced some problems. Thanks be to God, I personally never had
Nawal Ali Gibreel, 7 17 2011, Draft 2, Page 14 any problem. On the contrary, some people may ask and you can see it also Now they began to understand that this is an Islamic uniform. Thanks to God, I am lucky that I had no problem except for some uncomfortable looks, but nothing physical. Alhadi: How about daughter? Are you leaving that up to her? Nawal: I prefer she gets dressed in Islamic uniform. I am sure if she becomes convinced of it, she will continue to wear it. I am not going to force her. She is keeping her prayers. I always remind her to enforce religion on her social and school behavior. I show here what is correct or what is incorrect. I support my arguments by citing some v erses from the Quran. Alhadi: Thank you very much Mrs. Nawal. We are happy to be with you here. [END OF INTERVIEW]