“There is no sincerer love, than the love of food”– George Bernard Shaw
Food is the universal symbol of togetherness. It is a way of learning about different cultures, exploring and expanding your world by trying different paletes. Communication during a meal provide opportunities for family, friends and colleagues to bond, plan, connect, and learn from one another. It’s a chance to share information and news of the day, as well as give extra attention to the individuals at the meal. Family meals foster warmth, security and love, as well as feelings of belonging as our casual and formal meals between strangers or acquaintances can be an enlightening and a unifying experience for all.
At the beginning of the semester we were informed about the Virtual Dinner Guest Project which we would be participating in at the end of the semester. This “virtual” dinner was between a group of individuals in one country (in this case Egypt) having dinner via/on Skype with a group in another country (American University Students). Personally, I have had several meals on Skype with family and friends in different states and countries across the globe, so this project was not new to me at all. It was a new adventure and I was ecstatic to take part in it. This dinner was meant to essentially have two groups of world citizens from different cultural and educational background come together to talk about and exchange information and knowledge about media, cultural stereotypes and coming together to make this world a better place to live in.
And as stated on its website-The Virtual Dinner Guest Project is an international multimedia initiative born from a simple premise: It is harder to ignore, vilify or harm those with whom we have broken bread. The overall take away from this project was for both groups to come up with one question which wil be exchanged at the dinner and each group will have 2 weeks to interview citizens after which the video is edited and exported on the VDGP website.
Instructions for this dinner was simple. Bring any snack or beverage to class and brainstorm on what question to pose to the Egyptians. Before the class both groups were asked to read the following articles a New York Times article: In Egypt, a Chasm grows between young and old and an Al-Ahram weekly article Between isolationism and exceptionalism. Eric Maddox, founder of the VDGP facilitated the discussion. Our class was also advised to watch The Square to get acquainted with the task ahead.
After making sure our technology was working and everyone had a snack infront of them we were ready to get the conversation started. Before we started my course mates and I discussed how we would ask questions and what the culturally acceptable topics were.
Thankfully, though we had a slow start the conversation went from cordial pleasantries to serious political banter, to anecdotes on stereotypes and electricity blackouts. A few excepts of our conversation was the discussion of generational education and the concept of revolution and radical education of the old people in Egypt. We also discussed President Obama’s effort in foreign policy. Stereotypes stories came in the form of how people viewed Egypt as a land of Camels, Pyramids, terrorists, sexual harassment cases and bad traffic. And bad traffic was the only accurate stereotype.
We also spoke about ISEC and the one thing they learnt about the revolution. Dahlia, one of our dinner guests mentioned how most of the youth in Egypt thought removing Mubarak will solve all their problems and that was not the case. Instead of protesting, she said it will be beneficial for the youth to focus on helping the poor communities in Egypt. In all the conversation was very insightful and we powered through an electricity black out on the Cairo end and technology issues on the USA end.
At the end of the conversation the question posed to us to use in our interview was
“Is America the best place for people to come to and make a better life and why or why not?”
We broke into mini groups, as some students did solo projects and we took to the streets of Washington, DC to film our project. My group convened at the American University campus on a day which experienced rain, sleet and snow but we powered through it all. Our interviewees signed a release form and I must say I was VERY proud of the outcome.
Stay tuned for the next installment of the VDGP where I share my experience about asking people to be interviewed and post production and our second Skype date with the Egyptians.
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~ A. Kaye.