It's ironic in view of the recent situations in Tunisia, Moscow, Algeria, Lebanon and now Egypt (not to mention a whole lot of other places in the world) that I wrote a couple of days ago about travel fears.
That said, watching the photos from Egypt today (I'm an utter news junkie, switching from BBC to CNN-I to anywhere I can get news online or on TV), I felt an enormous empathy with the people there because I had been there. To me as a professor, I've never been able to write about or teach well about a place I've never been (and of course I'm lucky that my college supports me in my travel, as do Marriott and Delta). Had I not traveled to Egypt in December, I doubt my reactions would have been the same as when I watched today. I am not taking sides, but I met people in Egypt, Copts and Muslims and Jews alike, yet the one thing most had in common was a poverty I'd never seen anywhere else where I have traveled. Downtown Cairo is amazing, like almost any Western city, but all you need to do is go off the side streets en route to a tour to see people at the most basic level of subsistence. Mule and horse carts are common, competing with cars for road space. I already mentioned how little Egyptians earn in a year -- today I heard a different number. I had read $1900 a year. Most news reports today said the per capita income is $2 a day.
I recognize how extraordinarily lucky I am, to have seen both the magical sights of Egypt that awed me beyond anywhere I'd ever been, and also to have been a witness to the other side of Egyptian society that we don't usually see. Maybe now it will be seen.
But taking this back to travel in general, I think it is the one thing that can bond us all as humans. Seeing people on the news is nothing like seeing real life people both prospering and suffering and living for however a brief a time in their culture.
Given the opportunity, I will go back in a minute to Egypt. But for now I am leaving in 10 days for Israel. I am never one to insert myself into a political or military situation, and I'm pretty much a scaredy-cat (no reflection on my own cat, who decidedly does not fit that category), but at the same time it's something when you witness a little of bit of history happening.
This is not a political or foreign policy forum, so I won't offer those kinds of views, but it reminds me every day how lucky I am. Whether we are business travelers or tourists, we can all take away from a place we have been a new sense of our mutual humanity in a troubled world.
I'll end with a story of a shopkeeper in the Marriott Omar Khayyam whom I visited twice. He sells incredibly beautiful glasses and other glass objects. I bought two sets of hand painted and Cleopatra style champagne goblets. We immediately engaged in a conversation about history (I tend to do that to people, whether they like it or not - most who do not just give me a 'nice to meet you' smile and leave). He lamented -- and this gave me as much sense of Egypt today as the camel drivers, the impoverished men and women on the side streets, and the emaciated mules and horses -- that Egypt's history -- even its glorious ancient past -- is no longer taught in the schools today. I immediately thought of our often vociferous debates in this country about what is to be taught. He knew I was Christian and respected that, told me he was Muslim (and he knew I respected that), and then explained that his children now had textbooks that focused on places like Oklahoma. He had nothing against Oklahoma, but he couldn't fathom why his country's leaders were leaving out their past. So he too was, I think, a part of how I understand today's news.
Hope this doesn't sound like an editorial -- it's not. I mean only to capture a sense of the bonds we form when we travel and the understanding we gain of other cultures.
Peace, salaam, shalom, best wishes,
Professor, beautifully said.
If we stop traveling then we stop growing and learning. Many of us, old and young, have found inspiration in the places we've visited and the people we've met.
I recall a disabled man who aided me in Madrid and though he spoke no English and I little Spanish, was willing to go blocks out of his way to help a stranger, a foreigner, like me. In Belgium it was the kindness of strangers who saved me when my car broke down. On and on, the stories are the same--people help people wherever you go.
Men and women with whom we interact on these journeys become part of our personal narrative, our story of a life lived. We face danger at home and overseas, we've heard about unrest, but in my view we need to continue these journeys of discovery.
Thanks for putting it so eloquently.
So well said, SteppingStones! I will never write a memoir because I'm a privacy freak, but I treasure every single memory, person and place I meet when I travel.
Maybe because of my odd personality I more easily make friends (who continue to email, write or phone) from abroad than at home. And whenever I see a place I've been on the news I live it again. If it is good, I rejoice for the people I came to know. If not, I can only hope that things will turn out well for them. But meeting all of them has changed me enormously.
Egypt is not (yet) on the State Department's Travel Warning list...but, then again, they only added Haiti last week! I would think this is probably not the best time to visit there.
I want to tell all the wonderful people at the Marriott Omar Khayyam, the shopkeepers, the tour guides throughout Egypt, the drivers, and the 'everyday' people I met in December, I hope you are all right and I wish you all the best. Freedom is the greatest gift of all and something we too often take for granted in the West.
All of you showed me incredible hospitality and generosity and I want you to know you are in my thoughts and prayers. Be safe, be well, and hopefully a new dawn will break over the Nile.
FWIW, Marriott posted a Press Release recently, Marriott International Responds to Unrest in Egypt
It's reassuring to know that the Marriott hotels are remote from the areas erutpting with unrest and violence; and more importantly that guest and employee safety and security is a priority.