Leisure & Travel
in Silver Spring, MD
Sonya Edelman fell in love with her archaeologist husband and moved to the Middle East. In Abu Dhabi, she gave birth to her two children and also went on to have an internship at the Middle East International Film Festival. One of the most important lessons she learned living and raising children overseas was how to have a deepened sense of empathy. She also learned that feeling uncomfortable in another country means growing as a human being. Now living again in the United States, Sonya is taking on another new adventure going back to get her Master's degree after fifteen years in TV/Media/Production. I Admire U Sonya, for your appreciation for adventure and your love of the greatest gift, other human beings.
Nominated by: Anne-Michelle Ellis
Sonya in her own words...
Man, great question. I want to keep this short and punchy for you, but you’re asking the deep questions, which makes it hard to answer succinctly! Can you just ask about my fave moisturizer? It’s Cetaphil.
So listen, confronting our fears is freakin’ hard, right? And I found myself confronting fears I didn’t know I had when I moved to Abu Dhabi. I thought I was open-minded and worldly, but I really wasn’t. I had fears that Arabs and Muslims and Muslim Arabs would harbor resentment toward me because I was American. Was that true? Not so much.
I think my time overseas taught me a deepened sense of empathy. When we see how similar we are as human beings, we feel each other’s pain more deeply. When I watch the news it doesn’t feel like “things happening to other people far away,” it feels real and present and horrifying. But I think we need to see the world through this lens, otherwise we lose the greatest gift we have, other human beings.
2. To help you transition from life in the United States to life in Abu Dhabi, you created very candid videos to document what you were experiencing emotionally. How does it feel when you watch the videos? Did you share them with family and friends?
When I made those videos, I was very careful. There are no First Amendment protections in the Emirates and if you say something that offends the government or the local population, you could be deported or go to jail. Those were two options that didn’t appeal to me. So I bit my tongue. I made some videos about a stray cat I found and adopted, then some videos about wearing hijab (Muslim head covering) to see if people would stop staring at me so much (no luck). I made one about how difficult it was to communicate with people in English, nothing too hard-hitting. But I did post them publicly on YouTube.
I feel some intensely nostalgic feelings when I watch those videos. I miss the foreign-ness of it all, the element of adventure.
3. For a woman faced with immersing herself into a new culture, what nugget of wisdom would you share?
Know it’s ok to feel uncomfortable and in feeling uncomfortable you are growing as a human being and learning profound lessons. Finding your place takes time. There’s no “right way” to do it there is only “your way.”
4. You gave birth to both of your kids in Abu Dhabi. That statement is bold and moving. What do you remember the most about being pregnant and raising your kids there?
I do not think I knew how alone I was or what a lonesome experience it was until I came back.
I remember giving birth to my son in a maternity hospital with a Pakistani Muslim doctor attending. I tore a bit when I delivered. As the doctor was stitching me up and I was gritting my teeth through the pain, I remember her telling me, “Babies are a gift from Allah.” It was an unforgettable moment.
"I think my time overseas taught me a deepened sense of empathy. When we see how similar we are as human beings, we feel each other’s pain more deeply."
5. While your husband was working at a university, you not only worked on digital projects, you also worked at the Middle East International Film Festival. It sounds so fascinating! What did you learn while working abroad?
I learned that you have to make your own opportunities!
I applied for an internship at the Middle East International Film Festival and the next day they called and asked me if I wanted a job. Like, a paid job. We were based in this amazing palatial hotel, some days were ridiculously long, but I went to some incredible parties and even got to work the red carpet! Talk about glammy!
6. Currently, you are back in the U.S. and are a full-time working mom. What is your point of view when it comes to the pressure of moms having to balance it all?
I struggled for a long time (years) feeling like I COULDN’T go back to work full-time but now that I AM back at work, I see how it was the right choice for me. I would love to empower other women to feel like they can make decisions that are right for them, in spite of all the cultural pressure to adhere to one role or another. That shit SUCKS. Like, you have the pressure of taking care of tiny people who you care about so desperately, and you also have the pressure society places on you to BE a certain kind of mother and contort your life in ways that might not work for you.
7. On top of continuing your successful fifteen year career in TV/Media/Production, you trusted your gut and decided to go for your Master’s degree. How does it feel knowing you graduate in May?
I’m just a few months away from graduating I am so glad I didn’t listen to people who told me not to do it. (Like, what friend says that!? It’s sort of like running a marathon. Who says, “Oh, you don’t need to run THAT far!”) I learned how to create deep, multi-faceted, meaningful STORIES! And it feels SO awesome. Realizing I can make choices that others don’t agree with, but feels right for me, is so liberating.
8. Here’s a crazy question: As a producer for Upworthy.com, if you created a show based on what you have experienced in your life so far, what would the title be and what would it be about?
I think if I could develop a show, it would be a web series and it would be about how ridiculous life is. The point would be to laugh a lot and make mistakes and show the world that life is imperfect! It’s just a grand experiment. I’d call it “Le Grande Fu*k Up.”
"As the doctor was stitching me up and I was gritting my teeth through the pain, I remember her telling me, “Babies are a gift from Allah.” It was an unforgettable moment."
9. You are a badass. I’m curious, what’s next for you?
Thanks for saying I’m a badass! I think you’re a badass for running such a tight ship with this project! It’s seriously cool.
What’s next for me!? I wish I knew! I wanna keep producing meaningful stories, have more amazing adventures and I would like to bite off more than I can chew a little too often.
10. I Admire U, who do you admire?
I admire my father for raising me when my mother wasn’t able to. He didn’t volunteer for the role, but assumed it with grace. A man can raise a little girl just beautifully. Ideas about what a man or woman can or can’t do because of their gender is just hooey.
I also admire my mom for being exactly who she is. She lives boldly, brightly and with love.