When I was a child, I remember telling my mom that I was an endangered species, because there was nobody else on earth like me. I was the only one of my kind. I had no idea what I was talking about back then, but I can’t help but see the truth in that statement as it applies to all of us today.
Lisa and I visited Egypt this last summer, and we were able to spend time at the Pyramids of Giza, the last of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. While we were attending the light and sound show held at the pyramids each evening, the narrator was reviewing many of the events the pyramids had been witness to, and I was in awe. Great historical figures like Moses, Julius Caesar, and Napoleon have all stood at Giza and taken in the site of the pyramids. It was amazing to me how these structures stood as a connection between so many events and people, and I am now one of those people.
Since returning home, I have gone through the events and memories of my week in Egypt, and I have been stunned by what sticks out to me now. I have thought about the pyramids, and how for thousands of years these structures have held their ground. The thing is, nothing else in and around Cairo is the same, not even the Nile, which has changed course several times, been affected by the Aswan Dam, and now has all sorts of pollutants floating in its waters. The changes in Egypt continue each and every day, too. The Egypt I saw was simply a snap shot in the history of the country that can never be revisited, and it was completely different than Napoleon’s impression, and Caesar’s experiences.
What is it that has made our experiences so different? The people. I noticed when I filed through my memories that it was always the people that made the event memorable, wonderful, or unforgettable. The images I conjure up are those of kids driving donkey carts on freeways. I watched them navigate traffic through the window of my homicidal taxi ride. I also remember the restaurant cooks getting just as big a kick out of us Americans as we were getting out of them while they prepared our meals. I envision the bazaar merchants who are so proud of their talents in artisan crafts just trying to make a modest living doing what they love. There was also the grocery bagger who delicately and happily carried our many bags of groceries to our car for a twenty cent tip. I can’t help but think of the young couple we saw in the park who were developing in their little romance. Since PDA is not socially acceptable in most Muslim countries, it was not long before an elder came along and boisterously broke up the two lovers. Even though I don’t speak Arabic, I understood every word that passed between these three.
My greatest memories revolve around the two things most prevalent to me. The first was our amazing tour guide who took us to many of the sites. On our way to the sites, she talked openly about Islam, without being dogmatic. She taught me more about her Muslim faith in two days than all of my books and college courses combined have shown me. She answered all of our questions with patience and grace, as well. Last were the strangers who constantly approached us on the streets or in the parks and would ask us in their best broken English where we were from. Upon telling them, they would profusely shake our hands and exclaim, “Welcome to my country! I am so glad you are here!”
It seems when we travel in todays world, we often look for the sites we want to visit along the way. I love visiting historical sites as much as anybody, and I learn so much from them. Still, I find more and more in my travels that the best, and most endangered things to see in each place involve the people, the culture, and diversity. These add color, depth, substance, and the best memories to every destination.