Exchange Student Starved While in Egypt

Feb 27, 2008 Full story: Reading Eagle/Reading Times 36

“He was outgoing, a straight-A student, very athletic. Now, he's less spontaneous and more subdued”

AP Photo: McCullum family This January 2008 photo provided by the McCullum family shows Jonathan McCullum, of Hallowell, Maine, during his 13-day stay at Barbara Bush Children's Hospital at Maine Medical Center ... via Reading Eagle/Reading Times

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ZinbadAlive

Alexandria, Egypt

#1 Feb 29, 2008
Exchange Student Starved While in Egypt

US Exchange Student Starved While Staying With Host Family in Egypt;

Parents Consider Lawsuit

By JERRY HARKAVY Associated Press Writer

The Associated Press

HALLOWELL, Maine - Jonathan McCullum was in perfect health at 155 pounds when he left last summer to spend the school year as an exchange student in Egypt.

But when he returned home to Maine just four months later, the 5-foot-9 teenager weighed a mere 97 pounds and was so weak that he struggled to carry his baggage or climb a flight of stairs. Doctors said he was at risk for a heart attack.

McCullum says he was denied sufficient food while staying with a family of Coptic Christians, who fast for more than 200 days a year, a regimen unmatched by other Christians.

But he does not view the experience as a culture clash. Rather, he said, it reflected mean and stingy treatment by his host family, whose broken English made it difficult to communicate.

"The weight loss concerned me, but I wanted to stick out the whole year," he said in an interview at his family's home outside Augusta.

Friends and teachers at his English-speaking school in Egypt urged him to change his host family, but he stayed put after being told the other home was in a dangerous neighborhood of Alexandria.

After returning to the U.S., he was hospitalized for nearly two weeks. The 17-year-old has regained about 20 pounds, but his parents say he's not the same boy he was when he left under the auspices of AFS Intercultural Programs.

"He was outgoing, a straight-A student, very athletic. Now, he's less spontaneous and more subdued," said his mother, Elizabeth McCullum, who was shocked when she met her son at the airport on Jan. 9 and saw he had lost one-third his weight.

Jonathan McCullum's parents said the exchange program should have warned them that students placed with Coptic families would be subject to dietary restrictions.
ZinbadAlive

Alexandria, Egypt

#2 Feb 29, 2008
Zinbad's Comment:

I am surprised to see that our Coptic Fasting doing such harm effects on a teenager, American or whatever.

I am a Moslem Egyptian man. I used to have a Coptic secretary when I was a General Manager in the Egyptian Oil Industry. She, like most of our Egyptian Copts, is very strict religous person. She observes every event in the Coptic Calender. I recall asking her to make a copy of that Calender for me so I can keep following her taking days off-work. To know what for and the name of that feast/event.

I tell the American viewers that our Copts have a very busy Religous Calender the Whole Year. The Copts take paied days off-work as the Labor Law demands so. They also take days off with the Moslems' feasts. Some Moslems ennvy our Copts for such double holy-vacations previlege.

But I have never observed such weight loss on my Coptic secretary or any of my Coptic friends. Last december, I invited my Coptic Classmate during college years who lives in the heart of the Nile delta town, to come over Alexandria for a Reunion. He is a retired General manager with a very brightful career in the Egyptian Iron & Steel industry. with us a third member of our class, a retired General Manager out of the Oil Industry (Moslem one) also came over from another Nile Delta town to be with us in that ReUnion.

We, the 3 retired General Managers, spent a lovely sunny Friday at the country club I have membership with. Dinner/Breverage was on my account. I & the Moslem friend ordered grilled steak while our Coptic friend was in that 3 month Fasting ritual. He ordered spaggetti, just white water-boiled Spagetti. Before he ordered, I excused my friends as if going to the Toilet while on my way I talked to the Head waiter (we call him: Captain) to consider having a Coptic friend and that he is Fasting, Coptic Fasting. The Captain assured me that the Chief at the kitchen knows verywell how to prepare meals for the fasting Copts. Nothing in the Food has any relevance to Animal source, this is the Coptic Fasting for 3 months. But our Coptic neighbors, most of them, are overweight, some Fat?!!!!
ZinbadAlive

Alexandria, Egypt

#3 Feb 29, 2008
Zinbad's Comment:

1- I wonder, if that American boy was in Cairo, how comes he had ignored the McDonalds/KFC/Chilly and the likes of fast-food restaurants everywhere in Cairo.

2- At the Refinery I used to work for, the European exchange students having their training assignment in the Refinery, get invitations to have dinner with the families of the employees, very unofficial friendly gesture.

Why that American boy didn't have any Moslem friends at all? If he had some; He could rather have got back to his Mom with overweight problem! Was he ideological-poisoned with the NeoCons' propaganda against Islam/Moslems fearing that if he could have accepted invitation to have dinner with Moslem families they likely would food-poison him?!!!!

3- I will Forward this piece of news to my Coptic friend at his retiring home at the Heart of the Nile Delta to see what he would comment with. I promise to publish it here.
Joanna

Norwalk, CT

#4 Mar 3, 2008
Maybe this fellow developed an eating disorder?
ZinbadAlive

Alexandria, Egypt

#5 Mar 3, 2008
Joanna wrote:
Maybe this fellow developed an eating disorder?
Hi JoAnna

I wonder how comes in the time of Internet (visible communication through PCs) and Cellular Phones with Cameras, the Mom of this misfortuned American young man didn't notice how he is steadily losing weight.
Even without Cameras, the 1 st question from Mom should be: How yu doing, do yu eat well? what about yr health? then the guy would explode with his disappointment with that All vegetable meals.

He was in Alexandria, we have here KFC, McDonalds, Chilli, Pitzza Hut & the rest of the Junk Food chains, not only one shop each but several shops covering the city from east to west. He could have just called by his cellular phone and home delivery must have been available to him in less than an hour, wherever he was in Alexandria.

The American Junk Food restaurants are most propably the source responsible for the Female-like breasts in our Males of the younger generations. Dear Wife's nephew, a teenager, find himself embarassed from swimming in the summer so he wears a T shirt to hide his swollen breasts.
Egyptiandoll

Paris, France

#6 Mar 4, 2008
My husband is a Copt, he fasts, and he has not lost any weight. Maybe we should both go live with this particular family and lose some of our weight. The Copts do not fast for 3 continuous months. When they do fast, they don't eat any animal products. They can eat fish, vegetables, fruit, etc. In fact, this is quite a healthy diet compared to the food I eat. There must have been another reason for his loss of weight, because it sure wasn't from the food he received at his Coptic host family.
ZinbadAlive

Egypt

#7 Mar 4, 2008
Egyptiandoll wrote:
My husband is a Copt, he fasts, and he has not lost any weight. Maybe we should both go live with this particular family and lose some of our weight. The Copts do not fast for 3 continuous months. When they do fast, they don't eat any animal products. They can eat fish, vegetables, fruit, etc. In fact, this is quite a healthy diet compared to the food I eat. There must have been another reason for his loss of weight, because it sure wasn't from the food he received at his Coptic host family.
Egyptian Doll

Good Morning France

I called - long distance - my Dear Coptic Classmate in College years (I & him now retired General Managers) to see what he would say about that misfortuned Am teenager. He has very realistic explanation: The boy got disgusted from the quality of the food in our meals (my friend wasn't specifying Coptic but Egyptian food in geneal) so I (my friend still speaking) think that the boy had his appetite escaping as he was looking at the food on the table. Not used to our meals, didn't like our cooking methods, just hated to even look at our food. He added that we are used to eat whatever our budget can afford to, but that Am boy came from the richest country on earth with no difficulty in getting good meals even to the lower classes, a far from equal equation.
ZinbadAlive

Egypt

#8 Mar 4, 2008
PS. My Coptic friend added: Why on Earth that this misfortuned Am boy asked to change his Coptic host family to another one and this time to be a Muslim family? He could have avoided the long-time Coptic Fasting?

Message to the Mom of the Am misfortuned TeenAger:

Copy/Paste from my email inBox


The Greatest Virtue... and the First
by Alexander Green

"

Dear Reader,

Frustrated with your job? Bored at home? Would you like your days to be filled with excitement, adventure and a strong sense of purpose?

If so, you can volunteer to work alongside my nephew Conrad Schwalbe. Conrad is a U.S. marine in Iraq. Currently, he spends his days searching for weapons and clearing houses in Ramadi.

Aside from never knowing whether the house he's about to walk into is booby-trapped - he's already lost several members of his company - there are other inconveniences. Like improvised explosive devices. And snipers.

Then there are the minor inconveniences: missing several meals in a row, staying up for more than a day at a time, going more than a week without a shower, and getting woken at night by mortars and gunfire.


"

Zinbad's Comment:

Lacking Meals = Minor Inconveniance

Message sent from where? CIA or FBI offices in Cairo or Washington DC?

Can anyone here tell from where?
ZinbadAlive

Egypt

#9 Mar 4, 2008
PS. My Coptic friend added: Why on Earth that this misfortuned Am boy asked to change his Coptic host family to another one and this time to be a Muslim family? He could have avoided the long-time Coptic Fasting?

Correction:

Why ------- didn't ask ----------
Give me a break

Freeport, ME

#10 Mar 6, 2008
Why would you blame the child???????
It is the host parents that acted irresponsibly and should be arrested for abuse of a child!
RamesesII

AOL

#11 Mar 6, 2008
This is retarded. Unless this family was very poor and had to ration their meals severely, the "fasting" done by this Coptic family would not explain this kid's weight loss. The word "fasting" to describe the dietary habits of the Copts is a significant misnomer. They do not abstain from food/drink during these time periods, only are not allowed to eat certain foods like animal products. Many of the traditional foods eaten during "fasting" times are still high in calories because they are fried in oil. No Egyptian family that I know would ever starve a guest in their house. If this kid didn't feel there was enough food that he liked available, he could have asked his family to send more money so he could go out and get a Big Mac or a falafel. I suspect this kid did develop an eating disorder while he was in Egypt, or perhaps was a moron who didnt see the KFC signs on the street.
ZinbadAlive

Alexandria, Egypt

#12 Mar 9, 2008
RamesesII wrote:
If this kid didn't feel there was enough food that he liked available, he could have asked his family to send more money so he could go out and get a Big Mac or a falafel. I suspect this kid did develop an eating disorder while he was in Egypt, or perhaps was a moron who didnt see the KFC signs on the street.
Quote:
"
1- If this kid didn't feel there was enough food that he liked available, he could have asked his family to send more money so he could go out and get a Big Mac or a Falafel.
2- I suspect this kid did develop an eating disorder while he was in Egypt, or perhaps
3- he was such a Moron who didnt see the KFC signs on the streets. "

I go for #2 your highness.
Jenn

Denton, TX

#13 Mar 20, 2008
Dude I lived in Egypt as an American my whole life. One of my best friends is a Copt. My question would be why didn't the kid eat when he left the house? There are street vendors all over the place that sell tamiya and foul sandwiches (which are really good and basically refried bean and fried bean sandwiches). The vendor food costs less than a US quarter for God's sakes. Besides that, Alex is known for having reasonably priced good food- it's on the coast. And the LE is still weaker than the dollar. The parents that want to bring the lawsuit should have invested a little time at the Western Union office and sent their kid some cash if he couldn't afford to buy a sandwich that costs less than a damn quarter.
Being a Coptic Christian has nothing to do with this. He obviously never got THAT hungry, b/c in Egypt you have to TRY, as a foreigner, to go hungry. Lastly- when they say "fast" it doesn't mean that they didn't eat, Copts fast for so long a time because they cut certain foods out of their diet, but they still eat! Perhaps the kid is a meat-a-tarian and wouldn't eat rice and yogurt and bread. His problem.
"Give me a Break"- Have you been to Egypt? Don't look at this through "American eyes" ok? If the boy was like six then ya ok it is neglect but he is a teenager for crying out loud.

A pre requisite for foreign travel should be the possession of a functioning brain.
Jenn

Denton, TX

#14 Mar 20, 2008
Oh yea and FYI all you American "Oh my gosh this poor child" boo-hoo-ers- I can waltz into a McDonalds in Cairo or Alex and get a cheeseburger, small fries and a small coca cola for a DOLLAR. Ok Ok maybe with the sluggish dollar now it is a dollar and a half.
More so, Copts have extremely healthy diets, but even if this kid doesn't like healthy there is an American fast food chain on every corner. We even have Burger King in Cairo now! And this is the biggest thing- EVERYTHING DELIVERS Mcd's KFC Arby's Hardy's, so essentially he didn't even need to WALK to go get the food he was, so desperately, lacking.

Another pre requisite for foreign travel should be knowing how to use a phone. And trust me, everyone in Egypt speaks basic English.
Jenn

Denton, TX

#15 Mar 20, 2008
Give me a break wrote:
Why would you blame the child???????
It is the host parents that acted irresponsibly and should be arrested for abuse of a child!
You have no idea what you are talking about.
Jenn

Denton, TX

#16 Mar 20, 2008
One last thing- If it had been Ramadan and he was with a Muslim family he would actually not be able to eat. He might, depending on the views of the family, but most likely he would HAVE to eat outside of the home or wait until sundown. They ACTUALLY fast...no water, no food.(Man that means this kid would have actually died given that scenario...) Coptics are way more subtle about fasting. Really it's more like fluctuating dietary restrictions rather than "fasting".
So let's all be glad he was put with a Coptic family b/c if he had been with a Muslim family he would have risked actually starving to death.
(This is not meant to be offensive to Islam, just pointing out another over looked cultural difference)
Get off my surrogate country lame kid and his family!
RamesesII

AOL

#17 Mar 21, 2008
Jenn wrote:
One last thing- If it had been Ramadan and he was with a Muslim family he would actually not be able to eat. He might, depending on the views of the family, but most likely he would HAVE to eat outside of the home or wait until sundown. They ACTUALLY fast...no water, no food.(Man that means this kid would have actually died given that scenario...) Coptics are way more subtle about fasting. Really it's more like fluctuating dietary restrictions rather than "fasting".
So let's all be glad he was put with a Coptic family b/c if he had been with a Muslim family he would have risked actually starving to death.
(This is not meant to be offensive to Islam, just pointing out another over looked cultural difference)
Get off my surrogate country lame kid and his family!
Jenn I like your attitude...you have some spunk in ya :) You expanded really well on the points I made above...well said. Do you live in Texas now or still in Egypt?
Tamer

Saint Paul, MN

#18 Apr 11, 2008
okay, so im living in the US, my hometown is alexandria though. They never mentioned what school it is, until i spoke to my cousin who turns out that she was in the same class as Jonathan so lets say i got the inside story. Everyone did observe the weight loss, his peers and teachers all gave him money to get food, one of the teachers took him ouot to dinner more than once. They told him to change host families but he refused, and what my cousin heard is that he told another exchange student that he was doing an experiment!!!!
im just thinking logically, assuming they did starve him, would you rather starve or live in a bad neighboorhood? and trust me there is nothing that can be classified as " bad neighborhood" in alexandria..I KNOW!!! the only bad neighborhood would be the really poor ones, which can never afford or have the resources or even the education to host an exchange student.
Another point, so he was starving, easiest thing to do, CALL THE AMERICAN EMBASSY!!
something is not right about that kid;s story, im guessing his parents (who happened to be lawyers and are not doing very good) want to sue AFS for compensation.
and thats just my humble opinion
thank you
nancy

Norwalk, CT

#19 Apr 19, 2008
I still am of the opinion the boy developed an eating disorder. The development of such disorders usually occurs during a period of drastic change- move to college, etc. It usually involves females but males are not immune. "doing an experiment" would be the type of excuse he might use to explain the loss.
It is also fishy that he did not tell his family.
Umberto

United States

#20 Apr 20, 2008
Now I have read two "inside" stories. The other one was that he had a credit card for money but mailed it to his girl friend so that she could come visit him.

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