Sometimes you end up in places and you’re not sure how or why. Coming to Egypt was like that for me.
Egypt has always intrigued me, but for some reason I never thought about moving here. That is, until, almost by accident, I travelled here for a little over a week in May. I had been living in Tunis and working as a journalist for over a year, and was supposed to be traveling to Egypt with my Tunisian friend. Plans fell through, as they often do, and suddenly I was going there alone, completely dependent on the hospitality and kindness of new Egyptian friends.
It turned out that Egypt was the perfect place to be when I needed to rely on others. With the help of my friends, I fell completely in love with the people, culture, history, and tempo of Egypt. While Tunisia is one of North Africa and the Middle East’s hidden oases, Egypt is the pulsing core. They are connected to everything: in history, trade and foreign relations. And Egyptians know it. I’ve never met a people so proud of their heritage and ready to share it.
I went back to Tunisia to do a freelance project and continue searching for a full time job. When the “Rebel” movement happened in June, overthrowing Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood from office, I was itching to be in Cairo, waiting by my phone to hear if everyone was safe. I couldn’t wait to get back, and in July I travelled there again, this time for a month.
The month was a whirlwind. In Cairo there were curfew parties, late-night checkpoints, and long nights spent watching movies and playing games with friends, who kept me far away from danger. In Alexandria, I saw a different side of Egyptian life. At a local NGO, Christians and Muslims worked together at a mother and child daycare and training centre, offering up love into the lives of less fortunate. Then my friends and I escaped to another world in Sahel, the North Coast, which reminded me more of a Florida resort and beach party than Egypt.
When I got back to Tunis, most of the people I loved there were gone- on holiday, or working somewhere else. The city felt empty and lifeless. I had been without full-time work for months, and I was getting desperate...and bored. It was time for me to move on. Within ten days, I had two job interviews scheduled, packed up my life, and got back on a plane headed to Cairo for the third time in four months, this time for good. Even now, almost four months later, my head is still spinning from how fast my life turned completely upside-down.
I’m a journalist. At least, I thought I was until I found myself applying, interviewing for, and then accepting a job as an English teacher at an American Egyptian school. You see, it turns out that where I live became more important than how I make a living. Loving people and making a difference in the world became more important than my chosen method of doing so.
I’ll be honest- I am often frustrated that I am not moving in the direction I wanted to in my career. By now I hoped to be heading up a field branch of an NGO communications team. I’ve worked long and hard to achieve this dream, and I am not sure why it always seems to be just beyond my reach.
There is also the fact that living in North Africa has taken its toll. Life here happens on a different level than it does in Canada. In Canada I was never afraid that my friends would be killed or injured when they went to a protest. In Canada I didn’t work in a place where the cleaners could die if they got sick because they don’t make enough money for the doctor. In Canada life, joy, and sorrow happen much more quietly than here- and so relationships happen on a higher frequency in Egypt too. The arguments are tenser, the love is stronger, the feelings are deeper...and it can be exhausting. I’ve learned more about myself, about God, and about real love and sacrifice in the past four months than I have in four years.
|Enjoying the view over the Nile|
Photo by Ahmed Badawi
I still don’t know why God led me to be a teacher in Egypt...or not led so much and pushed me over the ledge headfirst. But when a mother tells me that her little boy framed the birthday card I gave him, and told her, “Look Mom, a teacher finally likes me!”, the why becomes a lot less important. And when a father who has been frustrated with his son’s love of football...and not of school, watches his child perform in the winter play, then looks me in the eye and says, “Today, I was proud of him,” I forget to question whether I should be here or not. On days or nights I am the only who is there to listen to a friend, to show them love, and to tell them I am praying for them, I don’t care about my career goals. Because I know there is purpose in what I am doing.
Maybe I am not saving the world like I dreamed of. Not yet anyway. But I am saving a few kids who the world has already bashed around a bit- the ones whose fathers are leaving, who are new to school and can’t make friends, who have lost parents or friends or siblings. I am trying hard to make a difference in a country whose people will not be defeated. They are teaching me a little something about persistence, about loving even when you think you are too broken and have nothing left to give. And you don’t need God to tell you the whys, the hows, and the whens to know that that is a good thing.