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Camellia Zakaria, (date), Draft 2, Page 1 Camellia Zakaria ( 10/25/2011 at 1:00pm, Pugh Hall ) Gainesville, Florida Esam Alhadi, Interviewer and Translator for University of Florida George A. Smathers Libraries Edited by Jardee Transcription Alhadi: Welcome Mrs. Camellia. Camellia: Hello. Alhadi: My name is Esam Alhadi. This interview is taking place in my office in Pugh Hall at the University of Florida. We would like to start by asking you to tell us about the early stages of your life, including your name in full and place of birth. Camellia : My name is Camellia Zakaria. I was born in Cairo, and I am sixty four years old. I graduated from Cairo University with a major in education in 1970, and I obtained a teaching certificate. I worked in Bahrain as a teacher for six years before coming to America with my husband and daughter. At that time, I was pregnant with my second daughter. Upon our coming to America, we lived in St. Louis, Missouri. I and my husband had huge differences in the way each one of us was brought up at home. My famil y was not that conservative. We were three girls and I was the youngest. My older sister graduated from the college of engineering and later migrated with her husband to France. She got divorced and then married a French man. My sister who was in the m iddle graduated as a doctor and later became an osteopathic. She worked in Libya and Saudi Arabia as a
Camellia Zakaria, (date), Draft 2, Page 2 really doing well because he was not focusing on his study and may have been missing his mother. My mother called my sister and told her that her son will be dismissed from the college and advised her to leave everything and come back to take care of him. She did, and he managed to graduate and became a cardiologist, and later migrated to Canada. Alhadi: Would you tell us about your life in Cairo which part of Cairo you ca me from and which schools did you go to? Camellia: I came from an area called Garden City which is very close to the city center and Al Tahreer Square. It is walking distance to Al Tahreer Square, and from there you may go anywhere you want. Since we di d not go to school on Fridays, we were allowed on Thursday night and Friday morning to go to the movie theatre. I and my sisters loved going to watch movies. After getting our weekly allowance, I and my middle sister always went to see a movie. My elder sister acted like a grown middle sister were one year apart and this made us always close to each other, but the elder sister is five years older than us. Alhadi: How about school? Camelli and check if we were able to memorize some of the school lessons. Each Monday she used to go to each one of our schools to meet with the school principal. All the teachers u sed to come and report to her on our performance of [the previous] week. Alhadi: Did you go to private or public school?
Camellia Zakaria, (date), Draft 2, Page 3 Camellia: We went to public school. Schools were good and classrooms were not as crowded as the ones of today where you find about fifty students in one room. We were about twenty to twenty five students in the classroom and the teachers did a great job. We used to go to school six days a week. Alhadi: Which high school did you go to? Camellia: It was called Saniya High School. It is a big school and was named after a well known woman who served the revolution. Alhadi: Do you remember some of your classmates with you in high school, and where are they now? Camellia: Yes. One of them has become an actress who plays roles in mov ies. Her name was Nadia Subaih, but I am not sure of the name she took after she became an actress. Another one was a sister of a very famous actor. Her name is Fatima, and we used to watch her brother either on the stage or the roles he played in movie s. I also remember my friend Nabeela Suliman who later became a lawyer. Our families used to know each other. Visiting each other was very limited. families and also wanted to know what goes on in their homes. This is because alcoholic or drug addict, and we were not allowed to go there had that been the case. When my father died in 1963, my mother t old the three of us that nothing should be on our mind except school, and we were told to work hard to graduate
Camellia Zakaria, (date), Draft 2, Page 4 Alhadi: You mentioned earlier that you studied at Cairo University. Would you please tell us about your college study? Camellia: True. I studied music at the music institute. I also took roles in some plays. The country at that time was very peaceful and secure. Once I took a role in a play with a very famous actor and I used to get back home by bus at 2:00 AM. I used to walk from the bus stop to my house, without being scared or fearful of anyone that may obstruct my way. Alhadi: Does that mean your major in college was music? Camellia: True, but I also studied education. When I went to Bahrain, I worked as a music teacher in one of the two year post high school institutes for girls there. Those who graduated from this institute also became teachers. I taught them music in order to make them qualified to offer music less ons in the elementary schools where they got appointed. When I was there, I composed some musical displayed on the screen, the minister of information who was a religious man and the bro ther of the prince thought I was the same Camellia who reads the news on the Egyptian TV. They corrected this misconception for him and told him that I was actually a teacher with them. They gave me an offer to work for the TV, but I refused because I wa contract that needs to be renewed every year, and no one will be certain if it will be renewed or not. Alhadi: Why did you decide to study music, and did your family agree that you go into that fiel d?
Camellia Zakaria, (date), Draft 2, Page 5 Camellia: Yes. I had the option to study English literature, which would have qualified me to become a teacher of English. Although this would have been good for me, I always loved music, and I was always part of the school music band in high school and played many instruments such as clarinet, soprano saxophone, alto saxophone, and I also played solo. I won many prizes from my solo playing or we should study whatever we wa nted. The important thing for her was to finish college. She also always told us that we may get married to whoever we wanted so as to be the ones who bear the consequences of our decision in the future. It is the right decision. This is why soon after we arrived in St. Louis, Missouri, my husband and I got divorced. He is still in St. Louis, Missouri, and I am here. I brought up my two daughters. One of them lives in Atlanta, and the other one is here. Alha di: Let us now talk about your move from Egypt to America. What was the reason that pushed you to think of coming to America? Camellia: My husband had a brother here, who came here after the war of 1967. He used to work for TWA. He became sick and had to have surgery. He had four children and his wife never learned to drive and never learned to help with anything else. It was her husband who used to do everything. Their children were still young. This brother of my husband called us and asked us to think of coming to America. He said he wanted us to be here just in case something happened to him, then we will be there to help his wife. He also wanted his children to grow up in this country. This is what had happened ten years later in
Camellia Zakaria, (date), Draft 2, Page 6 1976. I ag like the idea. Camellia: They were in Hawaii, and our plan was to come to Hawaii. It happened that the TWA station in Hawaii was clos ed the same month we were supposed to Alhadi: Is the TWA you are talking about the aviation company? Camellia: Yes it was. We arrived in St Louis, and it was a complete culture shock for me. I used to see Hollywood movies when I was still in Cairo. I moved from the overcrowded Cairo that never sleeps. I was used to the public transport system there. I arrived in a city with snow and a climate with freezing rain. Nobody talks to a in the house because my husband used to take the only car we had, to work. I had to stay home with a three month old baby daughter and another two year old. I was unable to go anywhe re. It was really depressing. I thought of going back to Egypt, but my husband objected and insisted that we should stay. I tried many times throughout the eighteen years that we spent in St. Louis to leave it for another city. Alhadi: And when you got the chance to leave St Louis, did you come directly to Florida? Camellia: I went to California where his brother was staying at the time. I wanted to find work there, but figured that California is not the best place to raise children. Alhadi: Are you talking about the same brother that you mentioned earlier that was sick?
Camellia Zakaria, (date), Draft 2, Page 7 Camellia: Yes. He moved to California. I was unable to stay there because it was too dangerous. Alhadi: What part of California? Camellia: He was in Redondo Beach in L.A. They had a very beautiful house, but after my younger four year old daughter was diagnosed with cancer, I decided to return back to St Louis. That is exactly what we did, and my daughter had a successful operation there. I realized that the environment there was not ideal and the pollution was too much. When a four year old is diagnosed with cancer, then that is too much. I, however, stayed there until my eldest daughter was ready to join a college, and I suggested for her to think about Florida. I and my s ister, who is in France, came many times to Daytona Beach in Florida to spend the summer there. It is true that we loved Florida and Daytona Beach very much. They knew that I loved Florida, and because of that my daughter picked the University of Florida to Alhadi: When did you come to Florida? Camellia: It was in 1993. Alhadi: And which school did your daughter go to? Camellia: It was the University of Florida. Alhadi: What did she stud y? Camellia: She studied education, and later did her M.A. in business education from Duke University in North Carolina. She got married and lived with her husband in Raleigh, North Carolina. She worked here in Gainesville for a computer lab and receive d a lot of training in the computer field. In Raleigh she became a computer
Camellia Zakaria, (date), Draft 2, Page 8 programmer and held the position of a project manager there. One of her latest assignments was in a hospital in Atlanta. She and her team were there to help the hospital to deci de where they can make cuts in their workforce. Unfortunately, many people got laid off following the suggestions they made. They offered her a job in Atlanta. When she was doing that assignment, she used to stay in Atlanta for the whole week and go bac k home on Saturday and Sunday. Now she has a moved to Atlanta. This coming Friday will be the day when they sign up for their new home. Alhadi: Do you go back to Cairo, and if y es, when was your last visit there? Camellia: In 1999. Alhadi: And you never have been back since 1999? Camellia: No. My mother died, and my sister comes from France to visit. My other or Microsoft in Seattle. She came here once to visit him and I went to see her. It is very hard to afford the tickets and other traveling expenses these days. Here in America, you have to work hard to be able to cover your basic needs. Also, going to E gypt means you have to get a long break from work. Alhadi: Do you still have family members in Cairo? Camellia: Only my sister and her husband. One of her two sons is in Canada and the other one is in Seattle. My other sister is in France with her so ns. As for my Alhadi: Do you still have your home in Cairo?
Camellia Zakaria, (date), Draft 2, Page 9 Camellia: It was a rental apartment which my sister has transferred to her son. The landlord wanted to get bac k because the rent is at an old rate. Alhadi: Do you still follow up with all the changes and events that are currently taking place in Egypt? Camellia: I watch the news, but my sister usually tells me when big things happen. They are in Cairo, but they Tahreer Square because they currently live in Al Maadi suburb. They are both retired doctors. All they do is that they sometimes send money to their son in Canada. Alhadi: How did you feel about the big change that took place in Egypt [t his spring]? Were you happy? Camellia: I felt happy that the constitution was changed. What always scares me are those fanatics. I came from a Muslim family, but it is a very easy family. We were raised in a way that motivated us to think about everyt hing and then decide children. They have to think about if anyone wanted to go to a mosque or a church. I keep telling my children it is not enough that somebody tells them this or that is what the Quran says. You are intelligent enough to read it for yourself because they will try to make you believe in any idea that they are biased for. I lived in an area in St Louis where many doctors and engineers lived. It is true that we were not as wealthy as they were, and their children were enjoying a higher living standard than ours. Whenever those people meet, [they] do the prayers and sit together to c hat. The chatting turns into nothing but gossip about this woman
Camellia Zakaria, (date), Draft 2, Page 10 or that. I decided this is not how I wanted my children to grow up. I kept telling my children they have to keep God in mind in whatever they do. Alhadi: Would you please tell us what do you do here in Florida and what is your job now? Camellia: I used to work as a social worker with disabled adults with the government department of children and families. I have just retired this past August thirty first. Most of my work was with mental ly or physically disabled people. I also worked with abused children. My jobs always focused on protecting weak people. This is where I can act as a fanatic. It is probably due to the fact that I have seen discrimination firsthand when I first arrived anybody else to be in the same place where I found myself. Alhadi: Do you still work in the same field? Camellia: I am now a nurse assistant. Even when I was doing this work in the hospital, I was deeply concerned about observ the hospital will make. Patients were more important for me than saving on supplies for the hospital. Alhadi: Where did you get the nursing and hospital work experience from? Camellia: When I was in St Loui s, I worked for a government establishment. One day, a new manager was appointed and immediately called for a meeting. She asked us to submit our resignations within thirty days. She said after the previous manager She said she wants to work with people that she selects. I was, indeed, a very hard worker all the time. When I first joined that establishment, I found the
Camellia Zakaria, (date), Draft 2, Page 11 disabled children there uncared about. One example was that I found their skins peeling off as nobody cared about changing their diapers. In many cases I found true that some people to force him to leave. I decided to resign and go. That was shortl y after I got divorced from my husband and got custody over my two daughters. The deal I agree not to touch the savings we made, and also that he will not be responsible of paying any bill that is left behind. I was ready to say yes as long as I will have custody of my children. We got divorced and I had custody of my children. I filed for bankruptcy because I was unable to afford the house payments. Until that time, I wa stamps or the financial helps services. This difficult family situation became harder when I Alhadi: All this was in St. Louis? Camellia : Yes. Alhadi: Then you came to Jacksonville and started working. Camellia: This happened two years later. I filed for bankruptcy and had to start from the beginning. But it was even harder without having my own car. I decided to work as a companion degree in that field. I taught myself how to do it. People were very good with
Camellia Zakaria, (date), Draft 2, Page 12 me. They gave me a residence for me, my daughters, and my dogs, in addition to a weekly payment. How can y ou say no to an offer like that, in exchange for being a housekeeper, being a companion, and cleaning the house or giving a bath to somebody? There is nothing wrong with an honest job. There is something wrong when you stretch your hand and ask for somet hing free. Alhadi: What happened to your music hobby? Camellia: No more music. Alhadi: Not even in your free time? keep my old piano. She shipped it from Cairo to Alexandria and then to Raleigh. Now it is on its way to Atlanta. She wanted to keep something that reminds her of her Grandfather Zakaria. She even named her son Zakaria, after her grandfather. ask you about your relations with the members of the Arabic community in Jacksonville. Are you in touch with the ladies and other individuals in that community? Camellia: No. I only know some people who own a grocery, and I go and buy food from them. T hey are from Jordan. I talk briefly to the lady in that place. It is not more than the shopping time. I have always been doing two jobs, and sometimes I worked seven days a week. That leaves no time to visit anybody. Alhadi: You mentioned that you are currently working here in Gainesville. Camellia: Yes. I am taking care of an old man. There is a staff with him around the clock, and I do the night shift. I feed him, give him shower, give him his
Camellia Zakaria, (date), Draft 2, Page 13 medication, and I serve him with everything else he may need. He has a daughter in New York who pays me. I return back to Jacksonville on the weekend. There, Alhadi: That is very good. Thank you very much, Mrs. Camellia, for this inte rview. We are very happy for having you with us here today. It was great seeing you. Camellia: Nice seeing you too. [END OF INTERVIEW]