Landing in a new place is exciting. You don’t know the language, the customs or the systems, but finding out is always the fun part for me. I like the heightened awareness you must maintain to navigate unknown waters and I really like people. Those human interaction in a new place are one the very best things about travel for me. Also, I trust them to help me wend my way through the unknown maze….and they always come through. Although, I am reminded of that one French guy who answered the 24 hour AVIS line when I was lost in Florence, in the dark, in the pouring rain, who said he could not help me just because I was lost. I did reach past my sniveling tearful self to my inner Viking and clarified his role for me at that moment and then it all became clear to him. So, I guess he came through – eventually.
This new place is no different, except for a few added precautions. You can’t drink the water (not that uncommon), and you need Typhoid and Hepatitis B vaccines. None of those are ominus, some just new to me. What was a bit disconcerting was the fact that this was a Muslim country and there was a chance they were not too friendly toward U.S. tourists. The U.S. State Dept basically said, “Try not to look like an American”, but in government speak. Since we have family in Cairo who are Coptic Christians, I was well aware of the routine persecutions and executions of Christians throughout Egypt…and I had time to think about it. Unlike the time I unexpectedly spent the night in Nicaragua on my way to a Belizean diving trip, I was not young, dumb, or unprepared for this time in a possibly hostile territory. I wasn’t going to change my plans, but I also wasn’t thinking about the pyramids as much as I would have liked. I saw a nun at the airport in Rome headed to the Cairo airport on the same flight as me. I shard of fear ran through me as I contemplated how downright dangerous it was for her to advertise her Christianity in a place you are not welcome.
Eventually, these apprehensions were replaced with realities – people are people, all over the world. Governments do not always represent the attitudes of the actual humans that live there. There are creeps, weirdos, and those with evil intentions everywhere, including home. My faith in people did not fail me. Also, I learned how to live in this world as a kid in New York City, where the advice about crime was, “If you don’t want to be a victim, don’t act like one.” That theory flies in the face of ‘they were asking for it’, but as a practical guide to getting around it does require one to contemplate the sensibility of wearing your Rolex on the subway at 2 AM while heading into the current high crime district of NYC. It is not bad advice.
Before the wheels hit the ground in Cairo my mind was cleared of all fear and doubt. My seatmates, a family of four in 2 seats, clearly Middle Eastern, if not Egyptian, spoke as much English as I did Arabic, but once the invisible barrier of mutual uncertainty between us was broken, (by the one year old in Dad’s arms who decided she wanted to touch my arm) all was fine. While trying to fill out customs forms and sharing a pen I was able to learn the word for Thank you. A very handy tool in a foreign place. Shukraan. I used it every chance I got.
Here is how I learned my second word.