Love Our Kind

Let me introduce Egypt:

 

The sun has set behind the swampland of the riverbed as we float on a felucca, awaiting a glorious Nubian meal prepared for us by our crew of two men. We have spent the afternoon reading, sipping on hibiscus tea, listening to the Nile lap its way into our inner rhythms. Our first mate quietly takes a break from preparing our supper to spread his small rug out on the hull and proceed with his evening prayer – standing, then kneeling, then meeting his forehead to the rug, rinse and repeat. We will spend the night on this felucca, lulled to sleep by whispers of the Nile and campfire kisses. The warm air turns cold in the early morning hours, but it’s worth it just to watch the sun rise over the palm trees.

 

I will break out the watercolors (a new resolution to paint once or twice a week) and let my mind wander as I try to capture the scenery on a small white page that barely does justice to a water droplet. I will envision myself in a new place, a new land, experiencing a different culture complete with its own ways of life and ways of thought. Some I will agree with, some I will not. But at least I can try to understand why, quickly becoming my favorite word. I wonder who I will befriend. Or who will befriend me. I wonder what I will miss from home: family, friends, ice, Swedish Fish, climbing, my car, my freedom.

 

My packing list for a semester in Egypt consisted of very conservative clothing:

 

Long sleeve shirts……….Check

T-Shirts………….Check

Capris and long pants…………Check

Long dresses with cover-up sweaters……..Check

Very few shorts, almost nothing without sleeves. I placed a lot of weight on respecting a culture that does not understand or approve of scantily clad Californians in our short skirts and low-cut tops. It’s not my country, not my culture, so I made my vow to respect that, leaving behind most of my favorite clothes.

 

And I love clothes.

 

An addendum to this: It’s more than 100 degrees here.

 

Jeans are miserable. Pants are miserable. Any excess fabric is miserable. Yet I watch hundreds of women walk by me on the street covered in layers and layers cloth à black cloth. Eyes sometimes the only creatures that meet the sun. It’s moments like these when I have to say

 

God

Bless

The

USA

 

I always carry a tiny little book in my wallet that I bought at a flea market for $3: “Speeches and Addresses of Abraham Lincoln.” It’s about the size of my palm and older than dirt (covered in dirt as well), but I take it out every now and then when I need some inspiration, or when I need to breathe in that charming old book smell.

 

I took it out today.

 

I need not quote this, because you know it by heart, but it doesn’t hurt to say it out loud ever now and again.

 

Fourscore and seven years ago, our forefathers brought forth upon this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that ALL MEN ARE CREATED EQUAL.

 

Of course Lincoln left us chicas out of this, but we know deep down what he means. I don’t take it personally.

 

Lincoln is right.

 

I just finished a book called King Leopold’s Ghost which is the non-fiction account of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. It tells the story of King Leopold of Belgium’s horrifying exploitation of the Congo in the 1890s and early 1900s, and the more than 10 million Africans he killed in his quest for ivory, rubber, and riches. However, it also gives accounts of the brave individuals (in this case American, British, and Irish) who fought for the freedoms and rights of the people of the Congo. Roger Casement is one such individual who echoes eloquently and in a few more words what Lincoln had the stunning foresight to say only a few decades earlier:

 

“Self-government is our right, a thing born in us at birth; a thing no more to be doled out to us or withheld from us by another people than the right to life itself—than the right to

feel the sun or

smell the flowers or to

love our kind. Where all your rights become only an accumulated wrong; where men must beg with bated breath for leave to subsist in their own land, to think their own thoughts, to sing their own songs, to garner the fruits of their own labours—and even while they beg, to see things inexorably withdrawn from them—then surely it is a braver, a saner and a truer thing, to be a rebel in act and deed against such circumstances as these than tamely to accept it as the natural lot of men.”

 

Now that’s good stuff.

 

Roger Casement was right. Lincoln was right. King Leopold was wrong.

 

And I’m sorry to say but the way women are treated in this part of the world is wrong. The men who treat them this way are wrong.

 

I have been having a recurring argument with my dad about perspective in relation to history, but I think it is relevant when we speak about tolerance and understanding for other cultures and traditions:

Is history             fact                        or                         fiction?

Or perhaps a little bit of both?

 

History, to me, is simply a version of facts presented in a multitude of different ways.

 

For example:

 

I am sitting in McDonald’s right now in Cairo (free WiFi and a wicked good McArabia gyro-like sandwich) with one of my roommates. We are both sitting in the same room, watching the same events transpire; yet, I guarantee if I were to write an account of the last two hours, it would be completely different than my roommate’s. She would present different facts about the evening than I would, but neither of us would be wrong.

 

The point I’m trying to make has to do with our perspectives and our tendencies to pass judgment based on the facts we are presented with. I learned history, American and World history, in a certain way. I think the history I know is a version of fact. But it’s not the only historical account. Do children in Vietnam learn the Vietnam War the same way children in America do? What about Civil War curriculum in the North versus in the South?

 

Perspective is everything, and understanding how people absorb information and how people see certain events, is key to achieving any kind of globalized, peaceful civilization. So when I read about King Leopold and the author gives me a good account of his childhood traumas, the reasons that potentially explain his evil behavior throughout his adulthood, I can understand why he did the things he did. But it doesn’t excuse them. Reading an Nazi account of the events of World War II would be helpful in understanding all facets of the war, but it would not make the Nazis any less evil.

 

While I may have argued to my dad once or twice that no version of history is right, I take this opportunity to change that statement. What I mean is that I don’t think history is complete fact

 

***modern history will be more factual because of our technologically advanced news media

 

But I do believe that even understanding someone else’s perspective does not prevent one from being morally right. And in this I justify that right and wrong exists

 

The point being that I want to understand why and how one is right and one is wrong.

 

So, I have done my best thusfar to understand the facets of Islam, and have tolerance for a culture so vastly different than my own. And I am tolerant. But just as King Leopold is wrong, there are a lot of men in this country who are just plain wrong.

 

All men and women, Muslim, Christian, Jewish, black, white, orange, green, big, small, gargantuan…they are all created equal. There is such a thing as basic human rights.

 

We were sitting in the bar in our hotel yesterday, my dad, our friend Dave, me, and our wonderful Egyptian guide, George. After a long day in Luxor exploring the tombs of the ancient Egyptian pharaohs, we were looking forward to an ice cold Egyptian Stella beer. We placed out orders, and a few moments later the waiter returned to tell George that it is forbidden to serve Egyptians alcohol during Ramadan (the Muslim month of fasting). George is not a Muslim. He does not follow Ramadan. Yet he had to sit and watch as we drank our beer.

George is awesome and he didn’t care. But I wanted to tell the waiter exactly where he could put my beer.

Egypt is not a theocracy. Technically it is a democracy. But a democracy doesn’t exist here like it should. It’s not fair.

Not fair for George.

Not fair for women.

 

God bless the U.S.A.

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10 Responses to “Love Our Kind”

  1. rachel you are my idol. such an inspiring post. love youuu

  2. CynDee Cassano Says:

    Excellent.
    I do not think and know that humans
    are not born or live equal, anywhere
    on the planet.
    We are however more similar than
    different. We bleed the same.
    Perspective is individual knowledge
    based on a mulitude of factors.
    Cults and Terrorist-individual perspective
    of “one” thru power of one?
    Rachel you are a change maker, keep
    the energy, questions, conversation,
    observations following.
    Much love

  3. Also, God bless the women you see who need some true love and hope in their lives. Rather, God show Himself to them in all His goodness– “God IS love.” God bless them!

    Again, beautiful writing, intriguing questions, great storytelling. Let’s make it a book.

  4. Tracymama Says:

    There is nothing like being away from home or country to make you appreciate both. I’m excited for both your journey and education of how people live in other cultures. Even with our challenges, there is no better country on earth to be a woman than the United States. Please finish reading The Nine Parts of Desire, an excellent and insightful book on the plight of women in Islamic countries. LOVE YOU!

  5. I am so, so jealous of your travels!

    Actually, the long clothes keep you cooler in the heat. Its a trick we learn living in hot climates and always baffles us watching Westerners prance around in the sun wearing as little as possible. When its really hot, why would you want to expose your skin to the sun? :-) Cover up with very thin clothing – keeps you cool and protects your skin. Try it in Egypt, and see.

  6. Ryan Richards Says:

    Poetic prose. Rich insights. Thank you.

  7. Vicki King Says:

    Wow, Rachel, you made my day. What a great writer you are!! Who would have thunk that all of those wee hour cram sessions would turn you into such a gifted writer. Truly. Can’t wait to read more.

    I read King Leopold’s Ghost in prep for our trip to Rwanda. Rwanda and much of sub-Saharan Africa still reap pain from the colonization. Whether it is across a country or interpersonally, I appreciate that you are trying to understand the “why”s. We all act in part like Leopold. Keep looking for the redemption and for Truth. Exude your lovely Rachelness all over Egypt. They may all be wearing tie-dyed wraps before you leave. :) We love you!

  8. I would term our interaction on history as “discussion” as opposed to argument. You’ve structured your thoughts well and I respect and understand your position. One thing I don’t know how to square – basic human rights seem to me to be related to perspective. While I agree that they exist (and I agree with your definition and the basic need to treat all men and women equally, except terrorists), doesn’t the perspective of the backward (to us) Egyptian man towards women make him right in his eyes? The idea of point of view shaping history is a double edged sword. I suspect that if “History from Different Points of View” were codified, it would rival the lenght of the US Tax Code due to all of the necessary exceptions – like basic human rights.

    This discussion is hurting my brain as it has not been prepared for such deep thinking like yours has. I need to go sit on a mountain for a while to straighten things out!

  9. Seriously inspirational.

  10. misscourtneyt Says:

    Miss Rachel,

    We are loving your blog at the NHM! If you get Cali homesick go to my blog http://courtneyleightucker.wordpress.com/.

    Miss you, study hard and stay safe!

    Courtney

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