While in Egypt this past summer, I posted on my Medium blog about the many things I learned while I was there. Traveling tends to make you reflect deeply about yourself and your space in the world. But my visits to Egypt where my family is from truly teaches me something new every time. I decided to collect my favorite lessons from those summer posts and put them here. Hope you find something magical that stays with you, the way Cairo has stayed with me.
1. Egypt is a place for the most extreme emotions. Extreme love, extreme hate, extreme disgust, extreme generosity. Our friend in Egypt put it best: Egypt spoils you here. You’re looking for something disgusting? You’ll find it. You’re looking for the most beautiful thing in the world? You’ll find it.
Note: Often I find that poorer countries are often a place of extremes. It's a blessing and a curse, because you can't find the type of generosity or love you'll find in places like Egypt, even though it's a place with a lot of heartbreak, a lot of poverty.
2. At one point in life, you just gotta stop caring how people look at you. People will look at you because you're American, Egyptian, different, the same, tall, short, bold, shy. It doesn't matter. Own what you got, all of it.
3. Getting older means you have more control over your life, and it also means you have no control at all. It means knowing enough to recognize the symptoms of dementia in your grandmother. And recognize the ways in which your mother is getting older, like how her back begins to arch or how much more afraid she is that you won’t need her. Suddenly, getting older means you’re losing things just as fast as you’re gaining them. It’s funny how more knowledge makes you powerful and powerless at the same time.
4. Death is not by age: spoken by our driver on the death of my great aunt, one of the youngest of my grandmother’s sisters. The thought made me realize that death really doesn’t discriminate against age. I am not immune from it. I must live the life I’ve got right now.
5. If we need a purpose in life until we find our passion, here’s one: help those in need. And then, after we find our passion, we must find a way to use it to also help people in need.
6. The girl who serves my great aunts, who cooks for them, cleans the house and runs errands for them, is 20 years old. She has a baby. She is married. She will probably be pregnant again soon. She carries her baby as she washes the dishes and brings my grandmother her medicine. I am 21. I thought I knew what hard work looks like. I had no freaking idea.
7. The pharaohs believed in the afterlife. And they also believed in this: “amal” which means hope, and “iman” which means faith. The two concepts are timeless; the two concepts are universal.
8. There’s this saying: “Ibtisim lil hayaa.” It means, “Smile at life.” We must smile, especially during life’s worst moments, because maybe if we smile, life will smile back at us. Things will get better. It’s what a server named Ahmed said to me and my brother, while we were sitting at the beach. I bet Ahmed barely makes enough to put food on the table even working 12-hr shifts. Sometimes the most unlikely people say the most truthful things.
9. I want to be my great aunt Zuhoor. The type of woman who walked and talked firmly but practiced generosity and kindness. The type of woman who, when she died, people still speak her name every couple minutes as if she is still alive because she lives in every moment, every place and every thought. The type of woman that no one can forget.
10. Find people who have faith. Find them and keep them. They will make you stronger.