One of the things I'm always surprised at when I travel, at least when I travel anywhere other than the US and Western Europe, is just how sweet and kind and generous the average person on the street is. I've seen it Egypt, in Syria, in Thailand, and in Mexico. In so many places in the world when people see a stranger--a stranger who probably has had a much easier life and yet, because of luck, also has much more money--and the poorer local person offers to help, or give away what they're selling away for free, or at the very least offers a smile and heartfelt welcome.
Honestly, one of the things that makes Cairo so tiring is that everybody won't stop welcoming you to Cairo. It's like this millennia-old metropolis has never seen a tourist! (The dirt and lack of sanitation are also problems.) But I'll never forget this old man in a ratty traffic-cop uniform who took me under his wing to make sure I could eat a falafel sandwich at the falafel sandwich place (just FYI, I can manage eating a falafel sandwich in any country pretty well on my own).
"You see," he told me with a big smile while demonstrating with his own sandwich (I'm just making up what he said because I have no idea what he was saying), "You take a pinch of salt and put it on your falafel, maybe a pepper or two, if you like it spicy, and then put it in your mouth... Atta boy! Now chew. And here, have a sip of water from this communal cup. Welcome in Cairo! Do you like Egypt? Where are you from?!"
Here you can read what my wife says about the goings on in Egypt. There's also a link to some pictures from our trip to Cairo, a very tiring city, pre-revolution, in 2007.
It came to mind today because I've spend weeks at a time in Mexico and Thailand without hearing anybody yell. Think about that. Tonight I went to Manhattan for dinner with friends and, as is all-too typical, saw the following:
One person on the subway say, "I told him, 'that's not a threat, that's a promise' because a threat is something you may not do! And I promise you, I'll take him out."We live in a rich country. A good country. We have basic freedom and democracy. Most of us do not want for life's necessities. So why are we so quick to take offense? So rash to assume that everybody is out to do us wrong? Why are we so angry?
Another person walking down the street, talking in his hands-free phone saying with passion, "I'm just going to flatten him. Put him out!"
An argument between a young woman and a taxi driver that wouldn't take her. It culminated in her spitting on him and, as you can imagine, much more yelling after that (for what it's worth, I believe the cabbie wasn't willing to take her party to their location, which does, technically, puts her in the right--minus the expectorating).
And just because I stumbled across this picture from that trip, here's one of my favorite displays of statistics, this from a colonial-era Egyptian book. Look! Imports and exports are both booming... in 1924. It's such a beautiful chart!
And finally, check out this BBC graphic of Tahrir Square. Dude, it's just like Burning Man!