Inside my bounty: Raghda's journey

Art work by Mariam A, used with permission.

My name is Raghda, but you can call me “Bounty.” In Arabic, my name means “abundant,” “prosperous,” or “bountiful,” hence the word “Bounty.”

Bounty is also the nickname of my imaginary ideal world, one which is built around parallel lives. I am addressing you as a 32-year-old young lady, who was born in 1990 and grew up in the relatively conservative and tranquil city of Al Mansoura in Egypt, with a childhood full of joy, love, lofty dreams — and loneliness.

In the scorching summer of 1996, a bored six-year-old Raghda stole a magazine from beneath her father's ashtray and hurried inside her room, feeling excited. She closed the door and changed into a sleeveless white dress. She then sat on the ground holding the magazine in her hands. She excitedly turned the pages till she came to one with an all-male portrait. She had no idea why these men were posing for the picture and didn't care either way!

She stepped on a wooden chair and peered at the motionless men. Then, with confidence, she began to dance and shake her hips imagining these men were staring at her in admiration!

Thinking back at the moment, I didn't necessarily want to be a belly dancer when I grew up; all I wanted was to be noticed, adored, or to be someone's dream girl.

A very innocent glimpse into my childhood, one of the few serene moments among many challenging situations I've faced as a result of a neurological condition. I can't count how many times my speech disorders and stuttering, known as childhood-onset fluency disorder, made me detest being seen or interacting with others.

I don't believe I had the opportunity to learn about this disorder at the time, let alone the correct medical name to describe it. Strangers, teachers, and classmates all seemed to know precisely what to label it: dumb. Yes, I was known as the dumb, short, and chubby girl who couldn't say a single word.

My family was compassionate, and they tried to support me as I stuttered. However, I was unable to talk to them about the harassment and abuse I was experiencing away from home. Deep down, I felt ashamed or just thought it wasn't worth telling.

Needless to say, the harassment was so frequent that I began to isolate myself, and keep myself locked inside my very own world, the world of Aida!

The world of Aida

Aida Ibrahim is a dark-skinned, fictional weaver and belly dancer. She has long black curly hair and a curvy, voluptuous body. She is a medium-sized woman with dark eyes and a natural mole on her plump right cheek. 

Aida was a fictional companion that I created to cope with my isolation and loneliness. Perhaps she was the alter ego that I immersed myself in when I was 18 years old to do what I couldn't do at the time. Aida fought for what she believed in. She was confident, endearing and inspiring.

Here is the tale I made up for her over those extended periods of time alone in my room.

Aida Raed Abdel Salam Ibrahim. Born in the mid-1980s in Akhmim, upper Egypt to an Arabic teacher father and a deceased homemaker mother.

Raised in a hostile environment by an obstinate, short-tempered, and aggressive father, she ran away from home at the age of 14 with no particular destination in mind.

Years later, just like a movie, we discover that she has her own weaving loom and she creates collections of Egyptian traditional clothing that are popular among men and women in southern Egypt.

She found healing in dancing, particularly oriental dancing, in which she moves her body gently like a mighty serpent. Yes, a serpent, a very enigmatic creature. 

Dancing during her period was her favorite time for healing, as she caressed the scars caused by her father. Crying with ecstasy imagining period cramps to be drums!

Aida, as I imagined her, was charming, brave, and feminine. I, on the other hand, was frightened and timid; it was difficult for me to accept that dormant Raghda was the real person and that Aida, despite all her charm, was only the creation of my restless mind.

At one point, I felt that Aida, not I, deserved to exist in the real world and not just in someone's imagination. I despised my very existence. I quickly realized that I had fallen into a very dark place. 

A journey of healing

I resolved to get back up and started a path to address my OCD, generalized anxiety disorder, and social anxiety! I started speaking with a therapist. Since then, I have gone a long way in my journey to embrace Raghda as who she is, with all her amazing characteristics and flaws.

I took violin classes and enrolled in a translation course, all while being terrified of speaking in front of people or being in the spotlight, but I had to get through it or I would remain confined to my make-believe world.

But why not go one step further?

I registered for a workshop on storytelling. I learned how to express myself, to tell my side of the story, to cry, laugh, scream, and yell, and above all, to share all of this with understanding people who, in turn, shared their pain and joy with me. Personal storytelling helped me process and relieve suppressed emotions and thoughts in a healthy way. I had a sense of liberation from long-held traumas.

Regaining control of my life

Why not go yet another step further?

I decided to confront my fears by working in customer service. I was well aware that this industry would not treat me with the same affection and empathy as the storytelling workshop had. But I wanted to improve my communication skills, interact professionally with others, and be patient, understanding, and helpful. Instead of treating customers as numbers, show empathy and recognize their problems.

I went through a wide range of emotions while working with friendly and grumpy customers. I could handle customers when I was calm and composed; when I was nervous, I stuttered again and seriously considered resigning out of shame. 

I coped by comparing my job to “a box of chocolates,” where I never know what sort of customer I'd receive, just as I never know what flavor I'd get.

I mean, I turned into a playful child who doesn't take things too seriously. Don't get me wrong: I'm committed to my work and my life goals, but I've started to see life as a game. I consider myself to be a curious human living an adventure.

The girl who rose from the ashes

Despite regaining control of my life, I never forgot the fictional Aida! I imagined her staring at me in agony and saying, “Ah! You've already forgotten me, haven’t you? Why did you create me and give me such a rich existence, just to deprive me of this paradise? I was alive, I was your fantasy girl!”

To be honest, I'll never forget Aida; she was a solid rock in a turbulent sea to which I clung in fear of being submerged in my deep darkness.

I didn't say much about Aida, but during those dark years, I brought her to life with a slew of adventures, happy and tragic moments, and if I ever wanted to compile them all into a book, it would be nearly 300 pages long! Today, however, the spotlight is on Raghda rather than Aida.

Sitting in one of my favorite spots in the city of Alexandria, the Ramsis Rooftop, getting some quality me time, and establishing clear boundaries with my masterpiece, Aida, telling her, “NO MORE LIES,” “I'm your Goddess and you are my creation,” or else both of us would die!

I carefully touched the rim of my glass of Apple Cinnamon Whiskey, my eyes misty, and looked off into the distance. “To Raghda, the girl who rose from the ashes,” I toasted in my honour.

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