Thursday, March 08, 2007


Isn't it ironic that the word for the Palestinian militant movement Hamas is basically the same word as enthusiasm in Arabic? Perhaps a cruel twist of logic regarding the Arab thought or just a projection of the West's own fear on the 'depravity' of the Arab mind-how could terrorism inspire enthusiasm, how can the images flashing across CNN of terrorists/militants/mujahideen/freedom fighters be anything but inimical in nature, how can men brandishing machine guns and burning American flags be an accepted sector of the world population? It's funny, the varied points of view present in a society, how opinions can differ so severely regarding one situation, why attitudes are the way they are. When Al-Jezira presents the Palestinians as freedom fighters and martyrs for their cause against the Zionist enemy, and CNN portrays the same incident as an act of terror against the sovereign nation of Israel, your perception is limited to the language in which you television. In other words, language plays an imperative role in the molding of our principles, beliefs, and doctrines and carves a chasm far more fathomless then simple geographic differences. To ever completely understand a nation's mindset, you have to think in its language, discern the syntax of sentences and nuances that distinguish it from your own and how these play a role in the prejudices and thoughts of the nation. How can Egyptians help but be late to everything and never blame themselves, when Arabic employs the expression that, instead of 'they always missed the bus', 'the bus always missed them'. When it is linguistically impossible to do something, when the mind is immured in a quagmire whose sheer walls are impossible to scale, it also becomes physically impossible to do that as well.
For me, over the last week, that seemingly impregnable wall was savagely destroyed and the bottomless canyon of my disbelief filled in swiftly and brutally to bridge the gap between the possible and the impossible. What was linguistically impossible, to me, was suddenly rendered possible. How can mom have cancer? Cancer is only supposed to afflict others, never your own family, and there is supposed to be a warning, a signal of some sort, not just a call or e-mail detailing the news. It's all happening with a urgency that is nearly impossible to follow-first the numerous tests, then the treatment, and then, insha'allah, the recovery.
For the first time since I've been in Egypt, I've felt the distance between myself and home, half a world away. Since I arrived here, seven months ago, I've transformed from a fairly sheltered student to something bordering on experienced-even though I lived in the dorms at the U, home was half an hour away and a frequent stop on the weekends. But during my stay here, I've tasted my first drops of the ambrosia of freedom-study when you feel like it, spend hours with new friends that I now cannot imagine living without, travel to the remote corners of Egypt and beyond, deal with the constant and fulsome challenges between Muslim/Egyptian culture and my own, and place a bit of space between myself and my family, whether intentionally or not. Because of the 8 hour time difference, and the chaos of my daily schedule, I no longer spoke at great length with my family every day, no longer revealed every detail of my life to them. I'll candidly admit that my freedom here is intoxicating, that being a member of the upper-class and joking over the everyday trials of life in Cairo (crossing the street, riding taxis, etc.) both binds you to your fellow ALIers and makes you wonder how you will explain all of this to someone who's never lived through.
What I'm slowly realizing is that my adventures in Cairo are not a barrier wall behind which I should hide, but a period of growth in my life that is no more or less important than anyone else's. And, in the last week, I've realized that, as cliched as it may sound, nothing can replace family, and how far I truly am from Minnesota. I've never felt guilty about my time in Egypt away from my cozy Midwest existence until now; that somehow I should be there, and not here, laughing, flirting, studying, shopping, and enjoying life, that I need to stop taking for granted the continued and incontrovertible support of my parents, and that the world still revolves outside of Egypt. I had assumed that I would return to the States and everything would be found exactly as I left it, my relationships still intact, my house and family unaltered and dependable. Now, in the space of time it takes to send an e-mail, all of that has forever changed, and I'm not sure what to do.
However, as is always the case when cataclysmic events brush against your own selfish solitude, life goes on, and it is quite a relief to sink into the roteness of my daily routine, the studying, hanging out, exercising, partying, gossiping late into the night, etc. I have been so blessed with the friends I've made in Egypt; without them, life here would be too tedious and lonely to bear. Deya invited a bunch of her friends to a dinner party to meet her father, and we all dressed up like the proper young adults we are, and then went out afterwards for some much-needed steam blowing. Wandering around Zamalek early Friday afternoon, I relished in the relative quietude of the streets and the paucity of traffic, as everyone was in prayer. The stop at the bakery Madarin Qater for ice cream didn't hurt either ;-) I attended an authentic Egyptian party that evening celebrating Mardi Gras a few weeks late, and I realized how truly small the group of upper-crust Egyptians is, as I randomly encountered some I knew, and I don't know many. On Monday I visited Khan El-Khalili with a friend to buy scarves in every ponderable color for mom, which quite made the shopkeeper's day when I selected 10 different ones. After long minutes of hard bargaining, I finally accepted a reasonable price and left satisfied, giving them to my roommate to ship home using her Embassy rates. Other than that, I've been struggling through my homework and writing essays comparing the hyena to the self (it's as absurd as it sounds, I promise), and last night Mostafa had a party, which was, as always, highly entertaining, except that I seem to have picked up a case of food poisoning or gluten consumption and spend part of it, well, ill, and I'm stil convalescing at 1:30 in the afternoon, having not yet moved from my bedroom.