The Middle East Unfiltered
by Carolyn Shea
When Janine Gates '87 was 14, her mother gave her a tremendous gift:
she whisked her off to Europe for a year. No ordinary classroom could have provided the teenager with the education she received that year. The experience forever changed the way she looked at the world.
When she became a parent herself, Gates made it a goal to someday give her own children the lifeenriching gift of traveling abroad with them. So this year, she took her 18-year-old daughter Jiana and her 13-year-old son Tristan to the Middle East.
Prompted by an Evergreen summer field study class in writing, photography, and art, Gates and her children spent six weeks exploring two of humanity’s cradles of civilization, Egypt and Jordan. For three of those weeks, the trio accompanied faculty member Char Simons and a group of more than a dozen students who traveled to the region to see for themselves what life was really like without the filters of mass media, government propaganda and public opinion.
In Egypt, the Gates family saw the ancient pyramids at Giza and the tombs of the pharaohs in Luxor’s Valley of the Kings. They roamed the bustling streets of Cairo, the Arab world’s cultural capital, which was founded in the 10th century and is now home to 6.8 million people. They met an American expatriate writer living in the city and toured the Egyptian Museum, where they viewed treasures from the Tomb of Tutankhamen and other antiquities.
In Jordan, they stayed with Bedouins in the desert of Wadi Rum and toured the rock city of Petra, one of the world's most celebrated archaeological sites. They visited the Jordan National Gallery of Fine Arts, a showcase for contemporary Jordanian painting, sculpture and pottery in the city of Amman. They also attended a camel race and went to a newspaper where Gates, a photographer, and the group met with a local photojournalist who showed them his images and discussed censorship and media issues in the country.
Gates had been to the region once before, in 2007, with her youngest child. Mother and son traveled with another Evergreen summer program that explored Turkey and Jordan for 21 days. “Tristan was a sponge,” she said. “He soaked it all in and looked forward to going back again this year. On the latest trip, he even got to return to his a favorite juice bar in Amman. The shopkeepers remembered us from our first visit and welcomed us back.”
An Olympia resident, Gates took 2,000 pictures during her family’s recent trip, several of which are published on her Web site (www.janinegatesphotography.com). She exhibited a selection of these during downtown Olympia's ArtsWalk held in October.
Gates volunteers as president of the nonprofit South Puget Environmental Education Clearinghouse (SPEECH), which publishes the bi-monthly South Sound Green Pages. She has stayed close to her alma mater as both an alumna and a community member. She served on Evergreen's Alumni Association Board. Gates says she picked the hot zone of the Middle East to take her kids because she “wanted to understand the issues behind the headlines.”
Gates did her research before departing, which left her undeterred about traveling there—in spite of its negative image. “I’m privileged to be an American,” she says, “and I feel that Americans have an obligation to learn about the world and see how they can make it a better place. I’m doing this by educating my kids, going over there to see what’s really going on, being respectful, and helping to dispel misconceptions. We were ambassadors of peace and good will and hopefully, we succeeded in showing people we met that Americans are kind and do think and feel differently from our government. My kids now know what’s going on. Hopefully, they will be part of creating solutions for peace in the world.”
Al-Azhar Park is located in the heart of Islamic Cairo. This view looks to Al-Azhar Mosque and University, the world's oldest university, founded in the 10th century, and the City of the Dead. Photo by Janine Gates.
Tristan Gates, 13, Jiana Gates, 18, and Janine Gates pose with a willing camel at the Giza Pyramids in Cairo, Egypt, in July 2008. Gates took her children to Egypt and Jordan for six weeks last summer.