If we are going to interfere in the lives of others, a little due diligence is a minimum requirement.
The most well-thought out and comprehensive analysis I have read of this predicament of the white person who wants to change the world, and doesn’t see that starting at home is the only way to do that that is not patronizing to that world… a subject that consumes my mind day and night. Thank you Teju Cole.
I find in Egypt a challenge to self unlike I have found in any of the other cross-cultural experiences I have lived. My nature involves the bestowal of unconditional love upon all people simply for their humanity, unless given a reason to doubt their individual goodness. I believe people in general have the same ultimate desires in life: security, family, happiness; and that it is only the form of these basic desires that changes from person to person and society to society. I feel people across the world to be united through these common desires, through our common humanity. It is structures placed on top of this shared base that divide us and cause us to work at cross-purposes. For indeed viewed through the lense of our common humanity, and with these basic human desires in mind, there are no irresolvable disputes or differences.
I have a very chameleon-like nature. I adapt and blend in and become a part of what surrounds me. So why place myself in this setting where such a things is utterly impossible for me. Where stares, “compliments”, and commentary attach themselves to me like a bad smell. Where even if cover my hair my complexion and the color of my eyebrows and lashes bely what is underneath. The truth is I loathe the the demeanor of most Egyptian men with women on the street. It makes me angry like very little else in my life has been able to. I resist the urge on a daily basis to flip them off, to turn and scream at them, to scold and shout and make them recognize their lowliness and my dignity. This is an unparalleled test of my soul, my belief in nonviolence and my true acceptence of the flaws of my fellow human beings. But I hold back contenting myself, only partially, with a glare, a scowl, a look of disgust.
So again I ask, why do I subject myself to this? On a personal level it is a challenge which I feel in my soul I must conquer. My heart knew this to be the case before my mind, it is the only explaination for why I stayed here during my first visit and let myself establish roots here like a plants in the desert: deep thick cords that are capable of drawing sustence from the far reaches of the earth. The test to my person is to be in the center of attention, obvious, conspicuous, unyeilding. This forces me to exist in a part of myself which is reluctant to emerge. It requires me to be unapologetically content with myself, confident of my actions, and happy with who I am.
On a professional and academic level this experience has revealed to me that I am deeply committed to contributing to the understanding between this world I am living in: the Arab; and the one where I come from: that of the United States and Europe. A mission to reconcile these two realities, to merge them into a conceptual sphere where it is possible to comprehend the other from within our own perception, is undeniably a large goal and indeed the aspiration of our time. Perhaps it will require the creation of entire new paradigms to allow us to meet, with out fear and with respect for our common humanity.
I have witnessed such beauty and worth in the Arab people, the family, the culture and society, Islam. I yearn to bridge the gap that exists between our societies and share this beauty with those know only the world where they and I come from. To allow us to appreciate each other’s societies as different but rightful manifestations of humanity. To be able to see the value of the good in the other and to help remedy the faults. No doubt there exist strengths and weaknesses in each, human grace and human suffering, differently experienced but equally present. Can we not use our knowledge of and relationship with each other to better ourselves and heal our own wounds instead of opening more deeply the wounds of the other?
It is for these reasons that I am dedicated to working in the Arab world or with Arab communities in Europe and the United States. I see immigration as a opportunity for positive exchange and a possible force of mutual understanding, which is too often lost in fear and mistreatment. As it is our humanity which we ultimately have in common, human rights should be the foundation from which we can begin to reach toward each other. Instead their abuse is the source of cultural misunderstanding and dissolutionment, especially within the context of migration. Development is an inextricable part of this picture because of the demographic reality that immigrants usually comprise a large percentage of the disenfranchised and poor. It is in the treatment of these, the weakest among us, that individuals and society reveal their true colors.