For the purpose of meditating on our trip (which ended more than a week ago. Impossible), Denis assigned a creative component to our final projects. That pretty much means “whatever you want”: a photo album, a journal. Anything.
It’s been a while since I felt motivated enough to write entire songs, but those five weeks worked some magic, I guess. So I’ve decided to piece together a five- or six-song EP, touching proportionately on each of the countries we visited. You can listen to a rough demo of the first track here.
We landed safely in Boston yesterday afternoon. A bit ahead of schedule, actually, after more than 20 hours of travel and a late-night layover in Riyadh just a day after Barack touched down on the same tarmac.
I need a couple of days to mull things over before churning out my last post. Not my last post ever – I’ll continue using this space, probably. Just my last post concerning this particular trip. To bring things full circle, I guess it’s inevitable this experience has altered the outcome of my future experiences, and I’ll never actually stop writing or reflecting on our month abroad, in some way or another. But for the intents and purposes of this blog, I’ll do my best to wrap up. So check back.
And thanks again for your constant support and readership. It made this space, and my efforts to articulate our daily lessons, much more meaningful.
This time tomorrow, Cairo will disappear behind us: outside the sliding doors of our vans, then through the windows of a plane.
But I’m not ready to go.
With all the (bumpy! wonderful!) camel rides, gigantic temples, cavernous tombs and frenetic markets, it’s easy to forget we’re here to report, too. Weeee. But our introductory week of hardcore tourism = done, so stories – edited by Carlene and published on the Dialogue’s main site – are on their way.
Meanwhile, Katie and I just wrote our first, on a weather phenomenon called al-khamasin.
In less than a week, we’ve already experienced countless culturally, spiritually and personally profound moments. As adults who’ve spent 20-something years learning to understand the world back home, it’s safe to say we’re trying to keep up with the changes around us in Egypt.
Luckily, Nick is here to remind us that brand new experiences – like, you know, trotting camelback along the border of the Sahara on a windy day – make for funny photos, too.
“We’re going to have to suspend our American-ness.”
That’s one of Professor Sullivan‘s first suggestions, announced through a tour-guide microphone from the helm of our coach bus after he greets us off the plane. The sky is overcast with smog, but the city is sweltering anyway. Outside the bus, Egyptian traffic makes no sense. Motorists swerve on the highway like metal-sheeted clusters of kamakaze pilots. There don’t seem to be any rules.
Maybe 30 minutes earlier, in the airport, I experienced a more jarring cultural difference, which stomped out my American notion of preserving personal space absolutely while abroad: A middle-aged woman was posted in the corner of an already-cramped and sweaty bathroom, rationing out toilet paper like an unofficial authority on personal hygiene. When I exited my stall, another woman rushed to tap the faucet so I could wash my hands. I thanked her, but she blocked the door as I reached to open it, and stuck out her hand. Culture shock #2. Number 3 was far less likely – when I tipped the woman $1 USD, Asha said it was way too much.
“You should only tip a couple of pounds,” she said. “But you probably made her day.”
Clearly Egypt runs by a set of social and cultural mores – and traffic rules* – for which I have no American references. That’s no surprise. But there’s a vast difference between considering those differences academically and experiencing them for real.
This is also where Professor Sullivan’s suggestion enters the picture, and appropriately, I think. This trip provides the rare opportunity to disconnect myself from the ways of life I’m used to, if only to contextualize them later and acquire some invaluable new perspective. At most, an open-minded approach may hold some other surprises, like inspiring me to reevaluate my Western priorities. Who knows.
With that said, I keep finding myself making comparisons to home. It seems like a stretch, but comfort – particularly after a day rife with physical discomfort and disorientation – is in the details. Public transportation trains run above ground here, for instance, like the T, and crossing the Nile into Zamalek, it struck me how analogous the view was to that of Boston – if only roughly – when crossing the Charles into Cambridge.
Plus, you know, there’s all those camels and pyramids back home.
*Tracy Jordan would probably appreciate Egyptians’ creative interpretation of traffic laws.