I have been trying to write this blog for a while, but I kept delaying it. However, due to recent circumstance I believe it may be a good time to share this experience. It is my experience in Egypt…
My friend, Madhav, and I went to Egypt right after the first revolution, which had Hosni Mubarak thrown out of power and Mohammed Morsi recently elected as their president. Egypt was thrown into a realm of uncertainty and people were curious about the future of Egypt. Demonstrations raged throughout the streets. Tahrir Square hosted these protests. There were angry faces everywhere and they yelled for freedom. All of this was shown in the news, social media, and my daily conversations. I came into Egypt after all this madness and I tried to imagine what Egypt must have been like. It was surely in chaos, despair, anger, suspicion, and unease.
I remember looking out of the plane window down upon Egypt. It was a wide desert littered with mud-brick homes. The Nile cut through Egypt with its green vegetation following it. The airport, upon arriving, was eerily quite. As I exited the airport I could feel the sun beat down on me. We asked a cab driver to take us to our hostel although he wasn’t entirely sure where it was. Nevertheless, he took us into the mad traffic of Cairo and I was introduced to honks, which raged throughout the streets. I could see the hazy silhouette of the Cairo buildings, but I wasn’t sure if it was from the sands or smog. We checked into our hostel and we took a tour of the city. Tahrir square was empty as if everyone wanted to avoid it. People walked around it next to graffiti sprayed walls. Revolution was sprayed on the walls. Sand swept through the streets and I was filled with suspicion.
We were met with stares and I could sense their curiosity. They may not have seen a lot of tourists since the revolution. Around many of the tourist attractions there were beggars. They were desperate. They would twist up words to get a better deal. Even our cab driver, later on during our stay, insisted to take us to a mall. We originally wanted to go to the Khan Al-Khalili Bazaar, but our driver insisted that their was a riot going on. We reluctantly agreed only to be disappointed and after we wanted to go back to our hostel he said the Bazaar wasn’t under a riot. At the end, he insisted that we pay for the whole fare.
Eventually, we planned to head south towards Aswan through Luxor. The night of our departure the train never came. We were warned by an old man exiting the train station. He communicated with hand signals, but it was fruitless. We waited at the train station for an hour only to go back to our hostel. Apparently, there was a strike, which held up the train. Fortunately, we were able to get a train the next night and we made our way south. The train was in disrepair and it was covered in dirt. Later on, two couples arrived into our compartments. They seemed to be tourists and they seemed miserable. The wife complained desperately to the conductor. She went into a monologue and insisted that “the train was a mirror of Egypt.” The conductor didn’t know what to say. During our trip back to Cairo, as I was leaving the train station, the conductor ran after me with my iPhone in his hand. He was an older Egyptian with a funny mustache. He wanted to return my iPhone.
After leaving Egypt I insisted I would never come back. Later on, I began to ponder on my experience. I began to think how much of my perception of Egypt was affected by the news and social media. I wondered how much bias and prejudice I brought with me. I pondered whether my fever and cold had affected me so that I reacted negatively. I realized how much I had become withdrawn, introverted, and suspicious. I wanted to develop a connection between myself and the people of Egypt, but instead, I created barriers.
I want to make the world feel like a smaller place by welding these two worlds together. I mention “worlds” because they feel different and separate. We have different languages, cultures, traditions, and lifestyles. These difference may feel intimidating. In reality, it is these differences which make the world a better place. The world becomes much richer when we embrace these differences. Instead, of making these two different worlds further apart we need to bring them together. I wish I could have come to Egypt with an open mind.
Instead, I will try to hold on to my good memories of Egypt. I will remember the old man and the conductor with the funny mustache at the train station. I will remember the soda seller beneath our hostel who smiled after I said, “shukran! I will try to remember our waiter at Luxor who fed our leftovers to the cats. I will remember Egypt well and learn to be more open minded about its people. Especially, those whom I barely know.
Happy Valentines Day!!