Monday, January 31, 2011
I must definitely be living under some kind of rock, because I just really realized the gravity of the situation in Egypt. It has rocked my entire world and left me in tears as I have a very special connection with that very special country. No other place on our planet has ever affected me in the profound ways that Egypt has and continues to. Besides Canada, Egypt is the first country that I really spent time in outside United States. Here's how it came about.
In 2005 I was on a mission to leave USA and see and live in other areas of the world. As the dreams became plans, I signed up to take an English teaching course in the great city of Alexandria. As I searched the various locations to take the course, Alexandria stood out as one of the more obscure, thus sparking my interest. I chose to go to Egypt for the course in lieu of more comfortable and obvious options offered in Europe. That and the course in Egypt included a trip to the pyramids and one to a resort on the Red Sea after completion of the course. Free stuff, no problem.
I prepared for months to go to Egypt with no plans on if or when I would return to United States. I would take my English teaching course, travel to other areas in the Middle East, and then pursue a life in Africa. I left in February 2006 and immediately upon arrival knew I was totally in for a life changing adventure. Cairo is the first place I saw police and guards at the airport with rifles. The intensity of things I was seeing had certainly never before been matched in the well developed nation where I am from. Homeless children, donkey carts and chickens in the streets, the most amazingly bad traffic imaginable, the mosques, the staring(holy shit, the staring),the call to prayer, the population density, the air pollution, and on and on. . . Over the next two months, I would go through a metamorphosis.
I spent the first month in Alexandria taking my English course. I lived in the apartment provided by the school with my classmate Nicki, and learned how to shower in a third-world shower that spit scalding water and steam in place of anything I had ever known to come from a shower head. I made many Egyptian friends(mostly men obviously), and even went on some Egyptian dates. Perfect strangers opened their homes to me to enjoy food they could barely afford. I hung out until late at night in hookah cafés, and walking the streets and alley ways with friends and classmates. I explored my neighborhood and the sights of Alexandria, stood by the Mediterranean Sea and watched the fishermen cast their poles into the sunset, marveling at life. I battled intense culture shock that drove me to tears and had to learn how to walk away from beggars and homeless, because I could easily give all my money away in a single day. And I got stared at everywhere I went.
One weekend off of class, Nicki and I went to Cairo with our guide Mohammed and did the Pyramids and Museum of Antiquities. This day I will never, ever, ever forget. The Pyramids of Giza are a force to be reckoned with. And being that we went on a Friday, the Muslim holy day, we got to share the experience with many Egyptians. Being the proper tourists, we even did the camel ride into the desert for the postcard view of the Pyramids. At the museum, I got to stare King Tut's gold mask in the face and have yet to be broken of the hypnotism it produced.
After my course ended and I survived the intense curriculum, teaching six classes to Egyptian students big and small, old and young, we were off to the Red Sea for some relaxation. Four days at perhaps one of the most pristine bodies of water this earth houses, snorkeling at world class reefs and enjoying Egyptian culture in the gorgeous desert of the Sinai peninsula. When this trip was over, my classmates and I parted ways and I began to travel Egypt by myself.
During the next few weeks I traveled to some oases in the far deserts of Egypt. I spent time in an oasis named Siwa, more disconnected from the world than anywhere I had previously known. I stayed in the most charming inn on the edge of town where no electricity ran and the nights were lit by candles and the views of the dunes in the distance illuminated by the full moon. I wore a head scarf out of respect and to help reduce the staring in the very small and conservative village. One afternoon, I met a young Egyptian boy whom let me through the mud brick ruins that were the center of town. We weaved our way up and through the labyrinth and finally ended up on top of a small mountain that provided a 360 unmatched in this lifetime. Views of the Great Sand Sea to the south, the canyons and salt lake to the west, the palm tree groves in every direction and the Siwa village at my feet. The Sahara had me.
At another oasis, I took an overnight safari into the White Desert of Egypt. An otherworldly place, the White Desert is an expanse of desert with strange, wind eroded white sandstone formations and outcroppings, some as small as a cat, and some as huge as a house. Waking up in the middle of the night to pee was a special moment as the white stone was lit up in moonlight and the stars were nearly as blinding.
I ultimately stayed in Egypt for only two months. Against all desire of mine, I returned to United States to deal with a nagging medical problem. However, this time was more than enough to completely turn my world upside down. In two months, I saw and felt and experienced things I could never have dreamed. I came to love the Egyptian people and their beautiful culture totally. I had stepped outside myself and had stretched my world to new horizons from which I can never return.
I have since returned to Egypt, and will again. However, in the face of the current political turmoil that has gripped the country, I feel an overwhelming sense of loss and devastation. I have close friends in Egypt whose communication has been cut and I honestly fear the future of the country. However, through my tears and sadness at the loss of the Egypt I once knew and once embraced me, I am reminded that Egyptian culture has been around for longer than almost any that human kind has known. Egypt will not disappear, it will only add to its long and colorful history where the corner of Africa meets Asia.
Egypt changed me more profoundly than any other place. I am who I am today because of my experiences in Egypt and my life's path has been greatly determined because of my time there. My heart is with the Egyptian people as they face a great transition, inshallah to a better life and greater prosperity free from corruption and in the best interest of the people. Allahu akhbar.