So I just watched and episode of “Louie” called “Duckling: Part 2.” The premise is that he is on a USO tour in Afghanistan and his helicopter goes down due to mechanical problems. They’re in the middle of nowhere and are approached by locals. At first the situation is hostile, then due to Louie becomes friendly. They all end up spending time together despite language and culture barriers.
This made me completely nostalgic, and I wanted to post one of my writings from when I was in Egypt. I think the message is that our world is small, and that we are more alike than different. We should embrace this fact. We should venture into the world and meet people. Explore other cultures. Be open to the world around us…
My shoes are covered with dust.
I bought them at Track and Trail, a nice brown pair of Merrell hiking shoes. “Do they look ok?” “I guess so,” says the sixteen year old saleswomen. “My dad has a pair.”
After cruising at an incredible pace, dragging the kids to ride on camels, seeing the Pyramids, the Sphinx, enduring drives through Cairo, walking in the desert heat, and pressuring them to catch a flight, I now sit on a plane flying from Cairo to the fabled Luxor. This is the second round trip I’ve made across the Sahara, this time on the eastern side of the great desert.
Upon reflection about coming to Egypt, I cannot help but remind myself that I never thought I would see this place. Not so much from a financial perspective, but more so a political one. “Is it safe for Americans to travel there?” seems to be a typical mantra of many in our country. Now, being here in this culture, seeing the sights, meeting the people, I am disappointed with the presupposition that I would never have come to this place for that line of reasoning.
Everyone we meet is gracious and kind.
Our guide to the Pyramids is a Professor of Egyptology. He is young and has the patience of a Saint, kids running, laughing, screaming, crying in the background as he tries to tell us details of the magnificence we stand before. “It is ok, I hope to have children someday too. It is nice to see you in Egypt.”
Everywhere we walk in Luxor is the same game as elsewhere. But they say, “where you from? Europe?” “No, the US.” “Obama! We love Obama! You look strong. You have sons. You have beautiful family. Welcome to Egypt.”
“We love America!” My driver to the airport says. Mahmoud, his English strained, tells us of the changes that he has seen in Egypt, and of the things that he finds curious about the visitors he meets. “Me? I am proud to be Egyptian. We controlled by many people, English, French, Turkey, for many years. We get freedom in 1950’s. I am proud. My people build great things. My people build Pyramids. We build on the Nile.” Impressive indeed. “Americans, dey come to Cairo, dey do not like it. Busy. Traffic. Maybe dirty. But the people are too kind. It is safe. Everywhere. My wife, she can go out at night. Kids out at night. No worry. You go out at night. No worry. Everyone help you if you need. People can eat. If you have a lot of money you can eat good. If you have one [pound] you can go and eat. If you have no money you go to place and say, ‘I have no money,’ and you can eat. At Ramadan, at night, after work, free food. You go out, everyone go to place where dey bring much food. You understand?”
Everywhere we go there are people of two types, rich and poor next to one another in stark contrast. The poor in this country are very poor indeed. But they help each other. And people help us when we need it. A man helps us down stairs with the stroller. Another picks up a child’s binky cast away from him for the tenth time. There are those who look for what is called baksheesh, not unlike a tip. This, though, is for doing something that you didn’t necessarily want but that was nice anyway. The customary amount varies but is usually around $1USD. You understand when you see many who have nothing, but don’t necessarily want to beg for something.
We are at the seat of civilization and we see many people. We are on the little train at The Valley of the Kings. It takes us from the ticket booth to the vast walkway housing the tomb entrances. There is a couple in the seat behind us, Saudis, the man in shorts and a polo, the woman in a full, black burka covered head to toe, the son probably five sits quietly. The man laughs loudly, “KHALLEN!” We recognize each other from the plane, and he remembers my son. We all laugh and smile. His wife smiles, I can see it in her eyes. “This my son Khallen.” I have no idea how to spell his son’s name. But our sons separated by vast distance and culture and language share something. I am humbled. “You come to Saudi Arabia some day.” “I will, and you come to the US.”
I look at my shoes covered in the dust of Ancient Rome and Ancient Greece. They’ve followed the steps of the Priests that carried a Pharaoh to his tomb in the Great Pyramid. They’re covered with sand from a great desert. They’ve walked through the Valley where ancients were buried. Maybe some day they will be covered with sands from Saudi Arabia or elsewhere.
Every time I think the world is unfathomably big, it becomes smaller still.