Friday, July 23, 2010

It's All About Perspective

So, I've been here in Egypt a while now and I figure it's about time to do something productive with my thoughts. Most of this will have to be a stream of consciousness because that's how my brain works best, especially here where I can't seem to keep my mind on one thing for more than 3 seconds (think goldfish).

One thing I couldn't stop wondering in the last few weeks before I came here was whether it would be the way it was last time, the way I remembered. We often build things up in our heads and romanticize them, conveniently forgetting the realities. This can apply to anything in life, but I think it's quite common with places. People do this with childhood memories all the time, and it's to be expected. But I wondered if I was doing the same as an adult (if I can call myself that). To address this, I tried to come up with all the things that used to bother me in Egypt. I made a list in my head and frequently came back to it to make sure I knew what I was getting myself into: Noise, pollution, nosy people, language issues, arrogant "Westernized" society, chaos, and corruption tended to top out the list.

Even up until the very last moment, I was constantly questioning myself and wondering if I could really re-adapt and look past those irritations. But what I've realized is that, as obvious as this may seem, like people, all places have their virtues as well as their shortcomings. I think that, in part, coming here was a way to prove that to myself, that the world is not black and white, "developed" or "undeveloped," advanced or tragically left behind.

The conclusion that I've come to is that it all comes down to attitude. In fact, I sincerely believe you can change the course of your entire life simply by adjusting your attitude. Now, I don't pretend to be any Mary Poppins (by the way, she actually wasn't that cheery all the time), but I've learned that my perspective can almost change reality. It's a rewarding sort of challenge...

Which brings me back to that list of annoyances in Egypt. Noise, pollution, chaos: It's all part of living in a big city, an experience so many excitement-starved suburbanites dream of, being right in the middle of the action. So, what are we complaining about? The city's got it all. I mean, where else can you get Cinnabon delivered to your door at midnight? As for the chaos, here in Egypt we like to use the phrase "organized chaos," meaning it works, so just play along.

Next on the list, those nosy Egyptians. If you're American, you probably can't stand people getting in your business. I'm not in love with it myself. But guess what? Those meddlesome creatures are the same ones who will rush to your aid at the first sign of crisis. So, is curiosity a fault or a virtue? Maybe it's both.

And what about my less than stellar Arabic? That's not Egypt's fault; it's my own (or perhaps my parents'). But this is one that I can't blame on Egypt. In any case, I've wished for so long to improve my Arabic skills because of its importance in both society and religion, not to mention the fact that I just find languages fascinating in general. Well, I happen to be in one of the most sought-after destinations in the world for learning Arabic, which is why I've decided to take advantage of that this time (this topic will need its own post).

When it comes to Westernized Egyptians, I have a hard time keeping myself from ranting, so I'll do my best. Put simply, many Egyptians here are leaving their own culture behind in exchange for the American promise, the promise that if you speak like this, dress like that, and frequent these exclusive hangouts, you will have somehow liberated yourself from Arab backwardness. Again, this will definitely need its own post. However, I do see a positive in this absurd phenomenon. As a true American Egyptian, I feel that I, and many others like me, serve as an example of how we can embrace multiculturalism without betraying ourselves, our origins, and most importantly, our morals and religion.

As for the last item on my list, all I can say is that where there is power, there is corruption. Simply because it is more transparent in certain countries, such as here in Egypt, does not make those countries, or their people, "bad" or undeserving. Conversely, societies that appear to be incorruptible may simply be better at hiding their dirty laundry. In short, things aren't always what they seem.