Lost Girl of the Week: Stephanie Dahle

Lost Girl of the Week — By on September 8, 2010 at 2:06 pm

Stephanie Dahle is a Fulbright Fellow studying Arabic in Egypt and women’s healthcare and education in Oman. Perviously, she was a journalist at Forbes. She blogs about her travels at www.stephaniedahle.com. Stephanie grew up in Minnesota and spent many weekends traveling with her family around the midwest, camping at Mt. Rushmore and visiting Paul Bunyan Land. Her first trip abroad was to Austria, to preform concerts with her high school choir. Since then, she traveled to report on child slavery in Ghana, practiced her French in Montreal and studied the world’s monotheistic religions in Spain.


I was sitting next to my calligraphy professor when he asked how to spell my last name in Arabic. His tongue pressed against his lips as he painstakingly wrote the letters, showing me how to form the intricate script.

“Daal,” my professor paused. “It means one who is lost in the desert.”

He looked at me and smiled. “It’s true,” he said.

On the first day of class, through my limited Arabic skills, I had explained how I ended up in Cairo.  I had just quit a dream journalism job, packed up the New York City apartment I shared with my boyfriend and kissed my mother goodbye, promising her I would stay safe during my travels in the Middle East.

It was the start of a year-long adventure, beginning with intensive Arabic classes in Cairo and ending by researching women’s healthcare and education in a small city in Oman.

Yes, I thought, I suppose I might look slightly lost in the desert to my professor.

The irony is that I don’t feel lost. I am not traveling to run away from something (or someone). I don’t travel to “find myself.” I travel because it challenges me to dig deep within and discover what I am capable of doing. Sometimes I discover good things, like how I can argue my way out of an undeserved ticket, but often, I discover I complain. But being in uncomfortable situations gives you the catalyst to change and grow.

In fact, less than 36 hours after that calligraphy class, I pushed my physical limits by hiking up Mount Sinai in the middle of the night, guided by a Bedouin man to the top of the peak. We had lucked out– the moonlight was so bright that we didn’t need flashlights. It was still a steep climb, but the hard work paid off as I was treated to a gorgeous sunrise in the same place where Moses received the Ten Commandments. That sort of experience is priceless.

I chose the Middle East for my Fulbright year because I love history, the world’s monotheistic religions and… Arabic. I feel like I am really living every day; simply going through the motions would not be an option, at least for me in Cairo. I am always alert, drowning in Arabic words that shower down on me constantly– I hear new phrases I want to mimic and repeat. At night, I dream in Arabic, even thinking in my sleep how tough it is to hold a conversation in the local Egyptian dialect when all I’ve learned is textbook Arabic. It’s a language that at first seems so chaotic and messy, but actually is so well organized that it is like a giant mathematical equation. It is exhilarating.

For the last two years, while clocking long hours at my media job, I had a poem on my computer screen by the Lebanese wonder Khalil Gibran. “Work is love/ Made visible.” This year, I am finally able to see my passion manifest itself in my work. My marching orders are to explore, learn and grow. Now that is my dream job.

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  • TareX says:

    By the end of my first (and last) hike up Mount St. Catherine in Sinai (we did it in January), I had lost all sensations in my lower body…. I cannot remember anything being as physically challenging. I remember quite vividly the group of Japanese tourists who were already ahead of us even though they started a couple of ours after, each with a smile on their faces 🙂

    Arabic is -like you say- a mathematical equation… Every last letter in each word is pronounced differently according to the placement of a word in the sentence… This placement -or word “identity”- is known through a series of variables beginning with the type of the sentence, how it starts, and the words the precede and follow the word in question… It’s pretty complicated, but I loved “Nahw” during high school (i.e. Grammer), where the examiners would underline a few words in a paragraph, and ask us to identify these words “identity” in the phrase, and how it will be pronounced…

    I leave you with Amr Diab’s “Always with you” (subtitled)….

    …and Abdel Halim Hafez’s “Why do you blame me (for falling in love with her)?”

  • Hi, Assallam u Allaikum

    i was searching through the web for middle east for any suitable job for my sister who lives in Houston Texas for several years. she is getting marriage in December and she wants to settle in any middle east or far east country like Brunei and others. i came across your page, shooting in dark, i decided to make a request regarding my sister for her job.please if you give me any solid contacts that you have in Islamic countries or if you can help or guide her to find a job and settlement in middle east or far east countries so please do it. in the name of Jesus Christ PBUH. you can email me if you have intention to help her or i can send you my sister’s CV so you can estimate her qualification.

  • Thanks for a very useful post!