My name is Hilary (Jamila) Johnson, recent and proud member of the Cairo Branch. I came to Cairo the latter part of June 2004 and intend to stay until approximately June 2005. This is by no means my first visit to this country, but you’ll find out more about that if you keep reading!
I was born in Portland, Oregon on 29 March 1978 to Roland and Gloria Johnson. I have three siblings—Monique (married, lives in SLC), Lindsay (married, lives in SLC), and Andrew (passed away 17 April 2001). I love my family. We, The Johnson Family Variety Show (as we like to call ourselves), have a great time together.
I have been interested in international cultures, languages, travel, and politics from the a young age. My first big adventure was in the sixth grade. I participated in study abroad program in Puebla, Mexico. I learned some Spanish, ate tortas, developed a crush on my host family’s neighbor, and had a great time.
This was followed by a semester during my junior year of high school working as a Senate Page in Washington D.C. What a time that was. I LOVED it, but was exhausted by the ceaseless responsibility. I was more than ready to return to “regular teen life” after six months of the adult world and went back to good old Roseburg Sr. High School. However, I had changed considerably during this semester away from home, and I couldn’t seem to go back to a relaxed life. Shortly after coming home I changed gears again and enrolled in the local community college in order to complete my high school requirements. While I graduated with my class in June 1996, I spent my last year and a half of high school on the college campus earning college credit.
August of 1996 found me, strangely enough, at BYU-Hawaii. My decision to attend this school was primarily based on the idea of my best friend at the time, who ultimately decided not to come with me. I set off on my own, and quickly made great friends. My days at BYUH are unforgettable. I developed a true love and loyalty to Polynesian Culture, and enjoyed the tight-knit atmosphere the small campus provides. Most importantly, I benefited from the gospel-oriented lifestyle of BYUH. Although I originally had no intention of attending a “church school,” my testimony solidified and became what it is today due to the constant positive influences around me.
I was sad to leave BYUH, but decided to pursue my political science studies more diligently at BYU-Utah. It was a tough adjustment, but thanks to my fellow transplanted BYU-Hawaii friends and the great social network of The Colony (500 N. 750 E.), I managed to right myself once again. One year at BYU passed rather uneventfully, aside from a few minor auto incidents, and the following summer (1998) found me back in Hawaii—this time in Honolulu. I worked for the summer and prepared for my next two back-to-back adventures—a Fall 1998 internship in Washington, D.C. and a Winter 1999 semester abroad at the BYU Jerusalem Center.
The internship in Senator Orrin Hatch’s office wasn’t the most thrilling experience of my life, but returning to D.C. certainly was satisfying. A highlight includes driving down to Winston-Salem, NC with my good friend Steve and my mother to a Neal Diamond Concert. Another highpoint was hosting my father and sister and traveling with them to the New England church history sites.
The following four months in Jerusalem were, in a word, delicious. I could go on and on, but I’ll simply mention that it was while spending time in that wonderful city I grew to love the Middle East with my entire heart. I visited Egypt and vowed to go return.
I am proud to say that the next year and a half (1999-2001) was spent serving a mission in Sapporo, Japan. Just writing those words gives me a chill—it was a life-changing experience that I can’t possibly describe in an entire book, let alone in a short paragraph. Suffice to say that I was happy to have my parents join me at the conclusion of my service for a mission tour, but broken-hearted to leave. I would have stayed if they had let me.
My last year at BYU (2001-2002) was difficult, but eventually ended in success with a B.S. in Political Science. I worked hard (MTC Japanese teacher), studied hard, and played hard. I was ready for a break upon graduating in June…so I took off for Africa. A best friend from BYUH, Heather, accompanied me on a hitchhiking expedition across Africa—from Cairo to Cape Town to Casablanca. We covered 14 countries on this fabulous trip, searching out random service opportunities and meeting great people.
I returned from Africa to spend six weeks in wonderful New York working on Wall Street, and than took off in October 2002 for Ukraine. I spent several months in this fabulous country under the auspices of The Peace Corps learning Russian and teaching English. I returned to the United States and, after a brief stint in Provo, Utah, moved to my next home—New York. I taught Japanese in a public school in Harlem for the 2003-04 school year. What an experience that was. Hard. The hardest experience of my life, no doubt. I survived it, however, and a highlight was a trip to Japan with ten of my best students.
As much as I love New York, I was happy to leave it for new adventures. I stored my things and came to Cairo to fulfill my dream of learning Arabic. And here I am! I live with a wonderful Egyptian family in Imbeba and study Arabic with one of the daughters. Aside from my friends/experiences at church and a few English teaching jobs, my entire life is spent in Arabic. I love it and love these wonderful people. I am truly blessed and grateful to be a member of the church with the knowledge and blessings of the gospel in my life!