From traffic jams to cacti pricks; reflections on Cairo from the Old Pueblo

Arizona and Egypt are worlds apart. Tucson, with its mountains and small town feel, is the exact opposite of Cairo, the concrete jungle one could easily get lost in. Because I grew up traveling between Libya and the United States, I’ve always felt connected to the “third world.” I’ve often wondered what it would be like to have known only one culture, or grown up in an Arab country versus America. A few weeks ago, as I sat with Libyans and Egyptians at a cafe in Cairo, I found myself thinking about philosophy and life’s most pressing questions: Why are we here? What’s our purpose? What is morality and what happens when we perish? In Egypt the divide between the rich and poor is so obvious it’s hard not to question your own existence. Still, I can’t help but feel a pang deep in my soul, an “if only”, a familiar sigh, and then a disappointed acceptance of the fact that Tripoli or Benghazi are not like Alexandria or Cairo; the proximity of the two countries makes me as a Libyan envy the relative freedom and stability Egyptians experience on a daily basis, and as an American feel comfortable indulging in it.

It’s nearly impossible to live in Egypt without thinking about destiny and the rights of man. Stuck in traffic, I’d often find myself thinking about freedom, and Rousseau’s philosophy, whether we born in chains or made captive by society. On January 25, the fourth year after Egypt’s uprising, many Egyptians were cautious and avoided going out. During the day Cairo was a ghost town in comparison to its normal vibrancy. The next day it was back to the normal hustle n bustle. I’m convinced that this sort of flexibility keeps Egyptians going.

Yesterday while going for a walk in our neighborhood, I pricked my finger on a cactus. I took it as a reminder to always be connected to nature. As I prepare to go back to Egypt in the spring for my work with Alwasat News, a newspaper, radio, and soon to launch TV channel, (where Egyptians and Libyans interact freely), I will undoubtedly take a part of the Arizona desert with me, and that’s what keeps me going.


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