I sit at the computer in Atlanta at a Hampton Inn. I have just showered after a series of international flights. My hair is brittle from the shampoo and hard water from a hotel in Amman, Jordan. It is not the fault of the hotel. It is not the fault of the shampoo. It is not the fault of the water. It is not fault. It is fact.
I put on deodorant from Amman. Later I will brush my teeth with toothpaste from Amman. I bought the toothpaste and deodorant from the Golden Tulip Hotel where I stayed as the guest of Royal Jordanian Airlines. I bought the deodorant and toothpaste because my bag was lost the day before on Royal Jordanian Airline, Flight 308 from Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt. The lost bag is not the fault of the airline, it is not my fault for being in Sharm El Sheikh. It is not the fault of anyone or anything. It is simply a fact.
This is the second time I lost a bag on this trip. The first time, was when I fly in to Cairo to begin a month long stay at an apartment I had rented. The bag was lost by Delta or KLM or some other multinational airline company. The bag was found three days later; the day I first met Alaa Ibrahim, the owner of the apartment. Alaa took me and my lost bag to the apartment. When I entered I thought I was standing in a palace. The apartment was bigger than the small house I rent at home in Iowa City. Marble floors, sumptuous living room furniture, an ultra modern kitchen, and bedrooms with intricately carved furniture made me feel as if I were in the home of a dignitary or prince.
From the balcony, I could see the necropolis of Giza. The great pyramid of Khufu (Cheops) rose from the smog, quiet witness to the ageless wonder that is Egypt. Over the next weeks I visited all the right spots and took hundreds of photos that I dutifully edited and posted to Facebook for my friends to see. I was a sightseeing machine. I was so busy seeing the required things that I almost overlooked the greatest sight of all – Alaa and his family.
Alaa, his sister and her husband two daughters and son; his brother Mahmdoah (sp?) his wife and the lovely little Sarah, his father, his mother – all, all of them embraced me and welcomed into their homes as if I were family. Mamdoah invited me to dinner – a huge feast with every delicacy imaginable. Mahmdoah navigated us through Cairo’s insane traffic whenever and wherever I wanted to go. Now that I am “out of Egypt” I miss them.
Some days, when I was tired, I became paranoid and wanted to leave early. But the apartment was a good refuge and Alaa and Mahmdoahs smiling faces soon lifted my spirits. The Egyptian people, at least the ones I met, seemed to love Americans. True, as in any tourist destination, there were numerous efforts to sell me things I did not want for prices that bordered on the ridiculous. In the tourist sections Egypt resembles Disneyland in it endless displays of “authentic” and “genuine” souvenirs. The salesmen take the act of barter as a challenge, prices dropping to half, to a quarter to one tenth of the original quote as they walk away.
One morning after a typically long day of sightseeing and being nagged to buy unwanted trinkets I reached a new level of despair. Who were these Egyptians? Was I nothing but an ATM to them? Was I just the fat cat American, a target, to be taken advantage of in revenge for Western exploitation of the Middle East? I walked to the balcony. There was very little of the typical smog and Khufu’s monument rose above the choc-a-block sprawl of Cairo. The sun turned one side to gold while the other was tinged blue from the lingering night. The vision lifted my spirits with pharaonic power; or perhaps it was paranoia in a new form? I sat at a table and wrote.
May the sun rise up to greet me. May I meet anger and fear with love and kindness. May I see wonder where once I saw filth. May I feel the breath of freedom in places where I have been imprisoned by doubt. My love of this world is not found in ancient books. It does not rise up from the ghosts of wise men from times long past. It does not wait for me “beyond this vale of tears”. I find it in the face of a friend and sense it in the hearts of friends I have not yet met. I carve this love stone by stone from acts of kindness that none can see, with the vastness of the power that maintains the universe, a power without a name. Right here. Right now. This power is with me. It lives within me and surrounds me. It is not magic. It is not religion. It simply is. Studying ancient texts, worshipping, praying, pleading only confuses me, distracting me from the love of life that I was born knowing. For evidence of the power of this love I need only awaken and act with kindness. This is a fact; a fact that frees me from having to find fault with anyone for anything.
Later…more Eygpt lives within and will soon come out.