Friday, November 7, 2008

Fighting Back, Feeling Better

So in hindsight, I might have been a bit rosier in my last entry had I mentioned, for example, that my panang tofu (tofu and veggies in a red curry sauce) and som tam were both pretty delicious, that Ross somehow found Craisins on the new campus and brought me back a package, and a couple of other small positive things, but, when drowning in a sea of aggravating problems, it's hard to pick out the good and highlight it sometimes.
That Egypt and its people aren't all bad, I already knew in theory, but running into Mr Negativity himself today helped me to recall it more clearly, paradoxically. As I was walked through Falaki Square on my way to the metro, a British man approached me, saying, "Do you live here too?" I confirmed and was then subject to a five-minute tirade en marchant about what awful people not only the Egyptians were, but also the Mexicans apparently. This man advised me that the happiest path to take were one obliged to live in Egypt, is one intentionally devoid of friendship with Egyptians. No matter what, I was informed, Egyptians will make ill use of you in the end. I am sprucing up the language which is not appropriate to reproduce here. He complained about the "stupidity" and lack of logic and made himself sound like a perfectly awful racist. I didn't bother to asked what he was doing in the country, in the end, managing to slip away into the metro.
Now, I won't gloss over the fact that certain norms, ways of acting and interacting that are acceptable to the majority of Egyptians, etc. are to me endelessly vexing and intolerable, but I will say that absolutely none of that is inherent. I find racism, that is to say in the sense of discriminating against someone or believing someone to be lesser because of a perceived and widespread biological inferiority in a people group, absolutely ludicrous. To suggest that Arabs are somehow bereft of logic in their very genes is ignorant. This is especially so because it was their civilization centuries ago was the crowning achievement of humanity and to whom modern Western civilization is heavily indebted especially in various hard sciences, philosophy, medicine, and so on. The cultural values and habits of modern Egyptians that frustrate me are the result not of something inborn, but from a complex web of circumstances stemming from colonialism, Islamism (in its current form itself largely a response to colonialism and Western actions), poverty, religion, and more. Rather than writing off all Egyptians from across the ages as one thing or the other, I remain thankful that I was born where and when I was to have acquired the cultural values and idea that I have and wonder if perhaps some of them might not think the same way, to some extent. I don't have to adopt the Egyptian way of life but rather a way of living in Egypt. I'm proud to be an American, and, unlike when I lived in France, spoke French, attempted to pick up Franch manners from my fastidious host mother, et cetera, I'm not in Egypt for cultural immersion. I'm here to represent my country and the values of Rotary to others while being respectful and taking the best from what I encounter. On the same token, I cannot Egyptians to cater to me and my expectations in their own country. With that in mind, I'm trying to go forward down the path of least resistance, having minimal expectations and being pleasantly surprised when anything exceeds them. This is my way of fighting back, not against Egypt, but against some of the unhelpful ways of thinking that I inevitably slip into after days or weeks of setbacks and frustrations. Like one of the true forms of jihad in Islam (or gehad as it's pronounced here in Egypt), the struggle is inward, not outward.
Well, enough of my rambling explanations of how I'm coping with Egypt. The purpose of my trip to the metro (which was interrupted by the one-sided conversation with the racist Brit) was to go to Ma'adi. I met Phil for what was essentially a late-afternoon brunch at Lucille's. Enjoying Phil's company and stories and the food at Lucille's, I had a great time. Afterward, Phil joined me in a quest to find some bug spray. We found some Egyptian-made Off! at a pharmacy, and just purchasing the bottle of 15% DEET insect-repllent gave me a feeling of relief. I can't tell you how powerful I felt when I popped the top off and began spraying my mosquito-bitten feet, and the couch, and pretty much all of Cairo upon my return home. It was more of a psychological victory than anything. And so it is that I'm feeling much better than when I authored my last entry, once again illustrating the ups and downs of life in Egypt.

European politicians bound for blockaded Gaza in defiance of Israel
Obama sends senior Middle East advisor to Egypt & Syria to outline policy on region
More on the violence at opposition party headquarters in downtown Cairo

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