They stood with thousands in Tahrir Square as a resurgence of the revolution swept through Cairo, wept with grieving parents who lost children to police bullets and accepted gifts of food from former political prisoners holding a hunger strike in Tunisia.
Throughout a summer odyssey that took them inside the revolutionary movements shaking the Middle East, they tried to make sense of it all.
Now back in the safety and routine of campus life, NC State students Mohammad Moussa and Sameer Abdel-Khalek are just beginning to reflect on their life-changing journey. The two traveled to Cairo in June with poets Kane Smego and Will McInerney for a multimedia project called "Poetic Portraits of a Revolution."
For two months, the team traveled throughout Egypt and Tunisia, meeting the ordinary people who toppled two dictators and collecting their stories through photographs, video and audio recordings. During the summer, their poetic reflections aired weekly on WUNC and twice on National Public Radio's Morning Edition.
Moments in Time
"It was amazing capturing these moments in time," said Abdel-Khalek, an environmental technology major who served as the team's photographer. "It's an experience I'm never going to forget."
Moussa, an electrical and computer engineering major, was the team's interpreter and one of its three poets. He found inspiration in the stories of sacrifice and courage recounted by people who brought down repressive regimes with nothing more than their voices.
"They'll talk to you about a personal revolution that took place inside themselves," he said. "Each person said, this is enough, we can't take this anymore. And when they came together, they found that there's power in a group of people who hold the same ideals and are working toward the same cause."
Along the way, the students braved tear gas, dodged rubber bullets and barely escaped arrest as spies. Despite the danger, they gave voice to a revolution and created what could become a new form of journalism.
Journey With No Road Map
"We didn't have any road map for this," Moussa said. "We hadn't really seen anything like it beforehand. But there's a lot of power in art. Poetry can add another layer to the news. It can take you beyond the facts, to the emotions, to the heart."
Poetic Portraits of a Revolution, a production of the Academy Award-winning organization, the Empowerment Project, will create a documentary film, photo installation and theatrical production in the coming months. The team is also working with Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill to publish a book. Learn more about upcoming events at the team's Facebook page.