Although I had ridden the Heliopolis tram many times before, I had never needed to interact with the busy conductor other than to hand him my fare as he hurried past. Because there were no printed schedules for the somewhat unpredictable trams, an invitation to an evening party on the last weekend of my three month internship in Cairo, Egypt meant that I would have to ask what time the last train left Ramses Station. Using my Arabic phrase book, I put together my question. When I asked it, though, understanding the conductor’s rapid fire answer was beyond my very, very limited Arabic. Before I could decide how to help myself, a high school girl, who was dressed in skirt, sweater, and Muslim headscarf, spoke rapidly to the conductor. Then turning to me with a gentle smile on her face she said slowly and carefully, “Eleven and a half.”
In this world where there is so much division, where talk about being for us or against us is the common fare, and where the “other,” however we define “other,” is looked upon with suspicion and fear, I believe that people around the world are more alike than not. Most of the ordinary folks I met in Cairo, many of them Muslims, were horrified at violence that had been perpetrated against tourists in their country at Luxor two years before. They spoke with discouragement about the “elections” where their vote was no vote at all because there is never a real contest. Fear of severe government reprisals left them feeling powerless to change the system. Most of them simply wanted the things in life we all want: a safe place to live and sufficient food; a good job; a decent education for their children as well as a safe place to play; a chance to get away for a while to relax and be with loved ones; appropriate care when they are sick; and the opportunity to express and live their beliefs.
I believe that focusing on similarities instead of differences will go a long way towards creating a peaceful world for our children.