Home Sweet Home?
Wow. Sitting there, at the airport in Cairo, the surreal moment suddenly became very real: I was finally going home. I realized that the next day I would not wake up in my apartment in Alexandria. I would not have to haggle with the taxi driver to take me to school. I could no longer not walk down to Tibawy and order foul and falafel or shwarma sourie freckh. I would no longer work out with my friends at the Tamarin Center. I would no longer be able to speak Arabic in the streets, see it on t.v., listen to it on the radio. So many things I would never be able to experience again. So many things that were about to change.
These last four months have been a whirlwind of excitement, adventure, independence and new experiences. I have made life-long friends and created memories I will always treasure. But there have been hard times too. I have doubted my strength on numerous occasions. I have wanted to quit, to go home. I have failed, made mistakes, and gone the wrong way. To describe my time in Egypt in one simple paragraph would be impossible, yet I suppose the main idea would be that I have never felt more alive than when I was in Egypt. For good or for bad. I have grown-up emotionally, spiritually, and mentally. I have learned so much about Egypt, the Middle East, and the world. More than that I have learned about America. I have heard the way others view my homeland, despite how much it stung to listen. Being in Egypt was so eye-opening, such a test of my character while at times it was also like a giant vacation – 4 days of classes/ week, no NROTC to wake up for a 5:30am, no meetings to attend, no philanthropy events to host. I have never been more thrilled, more happy, more embarrassed, or scared than when I was in Egypt. I truly lived my time there to the fullest. I saw everything, ate (almost) everything. Everyday was a new experience, a new chance to explore and to learn. I was always on my toes or on the edge of my seat just waiting for the next big adventure.
So now, sitting on my porch at home in a sunny New Hampshire, contemplating what this trip has meant to me, my mind is filled with wonderful memories. I remember the trips I took, the friends I made, the passion I felt towards pursuing a greater goal. But it all feels sort of like a dream. All I have now, besides my journal, a few souvenirs, and some photos, is memories. What’s worse is that no one around me experienced it. When I regal the stories of climbing Mt. Sinai or sleeping in the desert I start to question if they actually happened the way I describe it. Soon the memories will fade and then what will Egypt mean to me? My only fear is losing the passion and the fire that events in Egypt have instilled in me. I want to change the world. I want to make a difference. When I was in Egypt I realized how one person could truly make all the difference. Being back in America, in my “old routine” I know it will be very easy to lose that desire but I don’t want to. My life in America may not be quite the adventure it was in Egypt but it is still an adventure and there will always be things to explore, new places to see and people to meet.
As far as return-culture shock, it has definitely affected me more than I thought it would. I still have some rather comical habits that I can’t quite break; such as throwing my used toilet paper in a trash can instead of the toilet and wincing every time I see a police cruiser. I have noticed the women wearing hijabs and felt an ache to speak with them in Arabic (but then not approaching them for fear they don’t actually speak fluent Arabic). I have also never noticed how much sports clothing Americans wear. Its everywhere! Or how clean EVERYTHING is haha. More than that, however, I have seen America in a new light. All the stereotypes and critiques I heard about Americans while I was in Egypt have instilled in me a new perspective on Americans. Now I see big ol’, waving red flags everywhere I look. The middle-school age girls at my local grocery store dressed like they were college-age women headed to some downtown club. The fat people in scooters or wheelchairs because they are far too lazy to walk. How rude people can be even while waiting in line for a bus. I remember what it meant for Egyptians to have clothes on their backs, to have proper food to eat, their appreciation for the basic and simple. I remember their hospitality and how a guest, even a stranger, can never turn down an offer for a drink. I miss these things and I miss my friends. I miss taking part in a new adventure every weekend. I miss everyday being a learning experience and a test. Reverse culture shock is also funny in the way that I didn’t realize. I have truthfully forgotten a couple cultural norms for Americans. For example, when ordering food or denying an offered beverage. But luckily I have friends and family here that can shoulder the cultural norms for me haha.
Being back in America does have its perks though, don’t get me wrong. I have already gone for a run twice in the streets. I have worn shorts and skirts and t-shirts in public. I have cranked up my favorite music on the radio and rolled the car windows down in order to better shout it out. I have driven a car. But most importantly, I have eaten every American dish that I could get my hands on. I don’t miss the traffic, the dirty streets, the corrupted police of Egypt but I do miss the people and the simple appreciations they have.
I don’t know how long these conflicting feelings will last about my home. I hope I can maintain some sense of objective criticism of America since I do intend to become involved in world politics one day but I also look forward to truly enjoying being home. I don’t want to forget my time in Egypt and I don’t want to forget the desire I have to change that region’s political structure for the better. Right now my experience in Egypt seems like a dream but hopefully as I tell my stories, more people will be able to relate to what I went through over there. Now, no one seems to really understand but in time I hope and believe they will. Maybe then my reunion with America will truly mean home sweet home.