Prior to going to Egypt, I spoke to a few friends who had recently lived in Cairo to ask their opinion on safety. Their response was a resounding, “Its fine, especially in all the touristy sites” or “The biggest annoyance will be the traffic.” So with this information in hand I proceeded to buy tickets and book tours/transportation for our different stops.
As it got closer to the time to leave, my excitement rose and I got really excited to explore a new part of the world with a cultural background that I had not experienced. But there was also a growing anxiety. Every time someone asked about our plans for winter break, their follow up question was, “Is it safe?” My response was always “Sure” or “Yeah, I checked with some friends and they said it was fine.” So the days went by with my anxiety increasing and me playing a mental game to calm myself and blaming it on the fact that as I’ve gotten older my anxiety has increased. I’ve come to realize I can no longer feel like I am blazing a trail without some trepidation.
Then right before we were scheduled to leave, there was an attack on a Coptic Church in Cairo and my anxiety notched up even further. I began to get frustrated with my own fears. I’ve always been critical when people will write off a country because of an individual act of crime. It comes from years of explaining to people that Mexico shouldn’t be written off because of individual crimes or events frequently driven by Narcos. My tag line has always been “As long as you aren’t looking for problems, things will be perfectly fine”. This has been something that I’ve followed as we traveled through Latin America and then into Asia, but for the first time I was starting to think I might write off a country because of ISIS. Part of this is the unpredictable nature of ISIS where my go to rule all of a sudden didn’t hold up.
This internal war between rational logic and illogical emotion grew as we began our trip through Egypt and then heard news that the State Department had issued a warning for Egypt & Jordan. For years I’ve disregarded the State Department as reactionary and overly paranoid as most countries in the world have warnings for American travelers. But now I was picturing Homeland episodes and wondering if the State Department knew something I didn’t know. Of course this paranoia had nothing to do with the reality of my time in Egypt and everything to do with Hollywood and the media. Everyday we would go out and take in the sites and meet one friendly person after another. The dichotomy was only stressed by the number of people who told us “Tourism is really down” and “Tell your friends it is safe here and not to believe the sensationalist media”.
As we continued traveling south, experiencing an amazingly beautiful country with warm and welcoming people all along the way, I reflected on my trepidation and paranoia and realized that I refuse to let ISIS or the media’s radicalization of whole countries deter my interests or desires to explore the world. I like to think I am an educated and fairly open-minded individual and it shook me to the core to think how easy it was to allow fear and generalizations to creep into my mind. While we traveled up the Nile, one of the guests on our boat shared a series of quotes from Rumi to his disciples, one of which rang true for my reflections.
“What is fear…? Non acceptance of uncertainty. If we accept that uncertainty, it becomes adventure.”
My personal issues were pushing me to avoid traveling in Egypt and if I’ve learned anything from History, one of the first steps toward intolerance and hate is separating people and preventing interaction. This is frequently based on one’s unwillingness to expose oneself for fear of developing a deeper understanding of one’s true self.
My trip to Egypt was the first trip in a long time that consisted of two completely different journeys. One of sites and new experiences, and another of me struggling with inner demons that I had never realized that I had. My vacationing did not solve any larger social issues, but it did make me realize how dangerous and problematic the past few weeks have been, and what it says about the American public’s psyche. We as a global society continue to place barriers to separate each other and as individuals we crave a stability that has never existed, yet we are certain it once did. Unfortunately, nostalgia has polished our memory to reflect only the bright moments and blur the facts into something that never existed. Rather than retreat to a fictitious past we must brace ourselves to accept the uncertainty of the present and not close our doors just because it ‘feels’ safer, and in turn enjoy the adventure of the unknown. On a personal level I am more aware that I need to actively prevent my anxiety/fear from altering the person I want to be.
-The meandering thoughts of a wanderer who has seen more of the world than he understands.
A bunch of pictures: