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Egypt: A Whole New Light

My "journey," if you will, began in Nevada. California, my "home" of 9 years, was gone. Turns out, Nevada was not in the "crystal blood." To put it mildly, Nevada and I just did not "mesh." I wanted to retreat back to California, back to my protective bubble of complacency and familiarity.

One year later exactly, my true journey commenced as I would be leaving Egypt, and I was ecstatic. My world as I knew it would be altered, turned inside out, and completely flipped around. I would like to say that I immediately took to Egypt, but the truth is, I didn't. It has taken me 5 years to embrace Egypt and all it has to offer in its entirety.

Upon my arrival, I was so exhausted that I fell asleep on the way to our new living quarters. My eyes were closed those 45 minutes, but when they opened, I saw something that was so inconceivable that it is difficult to put into words. Still, I will try my hardest and try to put into words only some of what has changed me.

When I awoke, I did not see a vast desert comprised of sand dunes and men with towels on their heads wearing long dress-like garments. Camels were not a commonality where I lived, yet donkey carts were not out of the ordinary. Poverty and filth also played large factors that dictated this country--this new world. It seemed like a dream, and I was curious as to when I would awake. Now one sees those poverty-stricken children on television all the time; yet, these little souls are forgotten with the click of a button on the remote. Here, it seemed to be everywhere. The trash-polluted streets mingled with the dust. I recall going to McDonalds--yes, they actually do have fast food here--and seeing all those children for the first time, in person. They were draped in dirty hand-me-down clothing, begging for food. Truthfully, I was a little embarrassed--embarrassed to be there at that time and place; I wanted to leave. It felt as if I was seeing something that I shouldn't see. The world's misgivings and misfortunes were looking back into my eyes, begging for the remainder of my soda or a french fry. I wanted to get away and escape this place, where it seemed like nearly 99% of the population was condemned to poverty. My innocent eyes lost a small part of innocence that day.

You could say I got an early start as a "world traveler," being born in Spain, but this really was not the case. I spent the first 8 months of my life in Spain, but because I was still an infant, I can't remember anything back that far. When I was 5 I could never imagine being in Egypt and traveling in this part of the world. I fanticized about making it back to Spain, visiting Italy, Greece, and France. Now because I have been given the chance, I have been to Spain twice, Italy once, and Greece three times. Funny how I have not traveled to France yet, but then again it is a sort of funny I ended up in these countries I childishly (and I stress the "child" part of childishly) vowed to visit. Really, it is very ironic.

Another irony I have faced is the people. I am pleasantly surprised to find how genial or cordial Egyptians are. This very year, I took a tour to some local sites. (Ha- ha, no, not the pyramids). And although I have lived here for 5 years, I still have a lot to learn, and now photograph. Recently I became involved in photography and thought this would be a great opportunity, one that could not be missed. Mokhattem, "The Garbage City," is what has captured my imagination and heart most. When approaching, one knows he's close when the pungency of the air becomes increasingly saturated. Once enveloped, the odor is foul and nearly unbearable. I felt like I was in Fitzgerald's "Valley of Ashes," yet unlike Fitzgerald's imaginative locale, people flourished here, striving and struggling to make a living. Instead of pity, I found a smile on my face as the people waved and the children chased the tour bus. Some may find a mere wave to be a simple gesture of salutation, but these were probably the most genuine "arm movements" I have ever received in my life.

One boy, whom I had actually photographed, was one of the few not smiling, and I saw the underlying shadow of Mokhattem. He looked like he had led a hard life despite his age. I had the feeling that the camera lens was something new to him and he scorned this device because of his ignorance. It was because of his fear of my camera that I was only able to get one frame of him before he retreated back into the darkness of the worn-down building. His face is engraved in the picture I developed, and in my memory. He reminds me of the situation that these people live in, and how it is not always easy. There are times when even they, the most compassionate and amiable people I have ever met, just cannot smile. I left that tour changed.

Seeing the faults of Egypt has helped me in seeing the faults that are concealed in the nation I claim citizenship--the United States. Poverty, though a problem in the States, does not lurk in every corner. The streets are clean. The shelves are stocked...well. But this place, where I have lived 5 years of my life, is not full of the grandeur I had once thought. In wealth, the United States is rich--far richer than Egypt--but I have to say that Egypt takes precedent in the wealth of culture. I have a friend who spoke of the riches in Indian culture, how amazing this poverty-stricken nation was (and yet far worse off than Egypt) but still so full in the wonders. I did not understand her love for India, but then I saw the that way I felt about Egypt paralleled what she loved about India. I felt enlightened. California is where I come from, but Egypt has become my home.

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