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.”