One day, 6-year-old Katrine Melika wondered why her classmates couldn’t understand the Arabic word she used.
“Nobody knew what I was saying,” freshman Katrine Melika said. “I was like why does no one know what I'm talking about?”
Up until that point, Melika had thought she was speaking Arabic anytime she opened her mouth. She also believed that everyone else spoke it, too. Melika remembers that day as when she first learned she was part Egyptian.
Melika is originally from Illinois but spent most of her formative years in Cleveland, Ohio. The Egyptian heritage comes in through her father who is from Egypt. He was 26 when he left Egypt and landed in Cyprus where he would meet his future wife, Melika’s mother.
Her mother spent three years in Kenya where she met many missionaries, one of whom she visited in Cyprus for Christmas. The church her missionary friend attended happened to be the one Melika’s father pastored, sparking their meeting and the formation of Melika’s family.
Melika recalled a few experiences growing up in a household heavily influenced by Egyptian culture.
For example, in her family, Christmas is celebrated on a different day. She and her sister also would use the occasional Arabic word mixed in with English ones, neither realizing they were speaking two different languages.
Her Egyptian side of the family may be far away, but Melika has been able to keep in touch with them through phone calls. In fact, she has grown quite close with them, despite the language barrier and the sometimes-rocky phone reception.
Although her mother was in Kenya only a short time, Melika saw that she kept parts of the Kenyan culture with her.
“There's also an emphasis on family in Kenyan cultures as well, and my mom definitely picked that one up,” Melika said.
This emphasis on family is evident in both Kenyan and Egyptian culture causing the value to be ingrained in Melika.
From this family value also comes a generosity Melika can see in herself because of her upbringing.
“Knowing that I'm surrounded by so much of my family who are hospitable and generous to me makes it easier for me to be generous to others because I'm not afraid of like, oh, am I going to have enough when, of course, I do,” Melika said.
Because of her father’s heritage, she has always wanted to visit Egypt, learn Arabic and experience the culture he grew up in.
This dream has yet to be fulfilled despite multiple attempts, but after wanting to visit for so long, she won’t give up hope so easily.
“It's been a lifelong thing ever since I learned I was Egyptian,” Melika said.
Melika and her father had plans to travel to Egypt before the COVID pandemic began. Unfortunately, their plans were foiled when her father had a sudden work-related commitment he had to stay back for. Once it was clear her father couldn’t go, Melika knew she didn’t want to go without him.
The two tried several other times during the COVID pandemic and after things had settled down a bit, but were still unsuccessful. A large reason they were trying to go was to help Melika’s aunt and uncle who have been trying to travel to the U.S. for approximately 17 years. Fortunately, they were able to help with the paperwork over a video call.
Melika made it clear she still holds hope for someday traveling to Egypt to appreciate the culture and to see the family that have already affected her life so much.
“They're so perseverant and strong and dedicated that I definitely hope to have determination as strong as they do,” Melika said.