I graduated from college on Sunday, May 22, 2011 and one week later I was in Boston Logan International, throwing my sheets away to make weight for baggage and wondering what I had gotten myself into.
Within twenty four hours, I was standing in the lobby of the Mayfair Hotel in Cairo, suppressing the urge to cry as I begged the concierge to let me check in without my passport, which I had left at the airport when I was filing a claim for my lost baggage. No possessions and no identity, I was ready to start the year.
Things looked up from there, however. I made friends with people in my program, found an apartment despite the fact I had never been to Cairo and didn’t speak Egyptian Arabic, and never died on the Metro (by asphyxiation) on my way to class.
That being said, Cairo was not an easy place to live for me. My (subjective) opinion of Cairo is that it’s not a great place for humans to live in general. There’s no room for them and the poverty crushes everyone. Though I had traveled before to the Middle East, to countries with dictatorships and to places with poverty (including the U.S.), I never felt it like I did in Cairo.
This was a people that had been robbed of their money, of their dignity, and in some cases of their humanity. The former regime stole billions of dollars, exploited and oppressed the people, and dis-empowered them completely through poor education programs, through intimidation, and through endless lies.
As the year went by, I slowly became more resentful of the city, of the pollution, of the seemingly endless harassment, of the constant nuisances, and at the bottom of it all I was reminded daily that I, through no power of my own, had been born in America to a nice middle class family. I was a walking symbol of power and of global injustice. The fact I carried an American passport gave access to more respect and opportunities than most Egyptians would ever get.
When people in the states ask me, “Did you love Cairo?” or something about the Muslim Brotherhood or if it was safe over there, it’s hard for me to know how to respond because these questions don’t mean anything to me.
I want to talk about a people crushed by the boots of an exploitative government and how repression reflects itself in every social facet. I want to talk about women’s rights and equality in the Middle East and in the United States of America. I want to talk about how ignorance affects political systems in America and in the Middle East (I’m not saying that people who support the Muslim Brotherhood are necessarily ignorant. That’s a different blog post). I want to talk about how violent crime is more prevalent in many American cities than in Cairo.
Usually I come back from abroad slightly more patriotic. I want to kiss the sweet American earth and hug Uncle Sam while setting off firecrackers and singing “God Bless America.” It was the same this time but different.
As I looked at the rows of American flags in the Chicago O’Hare International Airport and listened to patriotic music in the immigration line, I kept on thinking, “We can make this better.”
Like another of your commenters, I am a Canadian who lived in the Middle East for a few years. The experience made me think about the cyclical nature of countries over the ages – their rise to the peak of power, and their eventual slide down the other side. America – is it ascending, at the top, or on the way down?
It’s hard to know from within the moment. My gut tells me we’re on the way down, but that could just be pessimism, or optimism depending on your angle.
I’ve been away from blogging for a while, so I’m WAY behind on reading your posts. But now I have a chance to catch up on what you’ve been up to, while I’ve been gone.
You have far more experience than I do, with actually living for an extended period in another country where the culture and the standard of living is radically different than what we have as middle class Americans. While I try to stay as informed as I can about what life is like in other parts of the world, there’s no substitute for first hand experience, so I’ll always be interested in any post like this one, in which you write about your observations of life in Egypt and other countries you’ve been to.
Your uniquely imaginative humor is always fun to read, but I’ll also look forward to your more serious posts as well. And yes, we can absolutely make America better, because we must… or the consequences of a national lack of will to do so, will be severe.
I’m glad you appreciate it. As much as I love the humor, I do care about other stuff too. Not as much, but it’s still there.
Aw, now I’m sad.
Which means, once again, it’s time to kill myself.
Like Roly said, Africa is a cruel and inhuman. People are starving each and every day due to dictators stealing the money to enrich them self. Great post.
I can really relate to the feeling of ‘How did I get so lucky as to be born where I was – to have the passport that I do?’ In my case, Canadian. I was living in the Middle East for three years, and I loved things and I hated things about it, and it also certainly gave me a new perspective on my own culture and country.
I quite enjoy your blog postings – they’re very entertaining; but this more serious one was interesting as well. To me in particular I guess because of having lived in the same region and the things that made me think about…
I’m glad you enjoyed it and could relate. I love writing entertaining things, but sometimes I think about issues too, so I think I’m going to write a little bit about them. Not going too crazy, though.
Visit more of Africa to see some gross inhumanities to man. Write your views and air them. Become a journalist 🙂
Well, okay! I do want to write about more gross inhumanities and unfortunately I don’t have to travel anywhere to see them. Part time humorist and part time journalist is my name.
“We can make this better” – this was beautiful, and sums up what ‘living’ abroad is like, as opposed to just travel. Thank you.
Glad you enjoyed—-let’s get out there and do it. But first, a trip to Wal-Mart.
How about the Diplomatic Corp or State Department?
Never mind.Your a free spirit and those people are not fond of a free spirited journalistic type of person.
Your a writer Miss E. so keep strokin and goin. This was a good read…Set me to thinking about other times and other places I’ve been.
Once upon a time I did consider that, but I think I’ll have to find a different way….a snottier way, if you will. Keep on thinking and I’ll keep writing.
You didn’t happen to fly back over Memorial Day weekend,,,
God Bless America.