Most of my information about the world comes from TV news and I am not politically savvy about the Middle East or really sure how all the countries are geographically situated. But, I think they must hate us over there in the Middle East, why wouldn’t they? We are uninformed culturally, religiously and politically, we sanction their neighbors and espouse a “we know best” attitude throughout the world. And worst of all we invaded Iraq based on faulty information and now it is as if we are herding cats. Our intentions (I think) are to help organize a new government but has anyone asked the question, is that what they want? Are we listening or just acting? Our allies have had enough and want out. Some of our enemies are just waiting for us to self destruct. Where is the love?
To the east of Iraq, Israel and Palestine are fighting over land and ideology and our help has alienated one group and made it look like we favor the other. There seems to be no compromise or end in sight for this one. I can think of only one shining spot in our regional record and that is the help Jimmy Carter gave years ago over the Sinai Peninsula border issue that seemed to work out for Egypt and Israel, will anyone remember that?
So it is with these thoughts swirling around in my brain that we set off for the Middle East, 12 American moms, 12 days in Egypt. Now I feel smug because I have traveled a fair amount and think I know what is going to happen. We will see the sights, eat some good food and maybe do a little shopping. Our collective conscience is about trying to maintain a low profile and not attract attention to ourselves; we will be as culturally respectful as we can.
Maha, one of the moms in our group grew up in Cairo so one of our first stops was her mom’s house for dinner. We overwhelm the apartment with our sheer numbers and I worried for Maha’s mom Isis, that the evening would be too much for her. Before I could worry long, the numbers doubled as family and friends stopped by the apartment to visit and chat with us. Now this is hospitality! They all seemed to be very happy we were there and even Maha’s cousins Basma 16 years old (we are moms and know how THEY can be) was truly engaging, delightful and really seemed to enjoy the interaction. That was fun, the family and friends were so nice, they actually seemed to enjoy us as much as we enjoyed meeting them. On the other hand, they were Maha’s family and friends and probably were showing the love just to be polite. I remain skeptical that that we are welcome in this country.
Our tour guide Yasser showed up on the 2nd day and gave us a historical overview of Egypt and talked of feeling the love of the Egyptians and their history and that we would experience this love together as we tour for the next 11 days. Yah right.
Well, we did begin to feel the love even on the third day as we all got shook down for money at the Khan al-Khalili Bazaar. It was with such good humor, fun and smiles that we really did not mind. So it went, the love persisted, through Cairo in to Upper Egypt, down the Nile and to Alexandria where I became undone. The friendliness and love of the Egyptians was getting to me. Even in places where tourists throng, the workers who have every right to be jaded gave away smiles like it was natural, and I was beginning to think it was natural. The love was infectious.
And the women in the group where getting to me too. I think I love them all. We have known each other for 11 years, our kids grew up together, we live in the same neighborhood and we socialize all the time. How could I not have known how special each woman in our group is?
Then it happened, I met a poet and a gentleman. A very old man who could barely walk tottered up to me in the breakfast line at the hotel and said, “You are like a California breeze and remind me of my days at Berkley”. He went on to tell me of his 20 wonderful years in California with obvious affection and love for that time in his life and his American experience. So much for maintaining a low profile, he knew I was American and still wanted to talk with me. It touched me so much that this stranger would make such an effort to tell me his story that it was at this is the point, I became undone. From the first day to the 10th day of our journey, it seems the Egyptians didn’t hate us.
I was completely unprepared for this amount of love in my life. I had to go up to my room to compose myself. What if, even though our government is making such a mess out of the situation in the Middle East, the average person, at least in Egypt is not holding it against us? They seem to be taking us on our individual merits and I feel empowered to be an ambassador for our country. I began to wonder could 12 moms with 29 kids between us take this love one step further and become “Moms without Borders” encouraging our children to learn languages and get out in the world to become our ambassadors of love and goodwill? I will ask my people if they are with me but, I think I already know the answer. Faith, hope and love and I believe the greatest is love.
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