I knew the first time I heard about it, this trip was going to be different. No tour group, no crowds of tourists surrounding me as we line up at all the best tourist traps. The thought appealed to me, I might get a chance to meet the local people and experience their culture.
We had six months to prepare; our monthly meetings included seven women, including me. We prepared ourselves for the culture and the language and even tried to gain an awareness of how much we tend to view our Creator’s world through our own lenses.
We had to take a step of faith, knowing that we would be submerged first hand into the unknown so we had no expectations.
It was like stepping into a different world as we glimpsed around at the people in the Cairo airport. Our group of women must have looked strange in contrast to the majority of men, most dressed in Middle Eastern clothing. As we made our way through customs we were keenly aware that the only protection we were under was God’s.
Our driver was waiting for us on the other side and with great relief we followed him to the safety of his van. After loading our seven carry-on bags he stopped outside and kneeled to pray, I noticed the Koran on his dashboard. He had greeted us by saying “asalamu alekum”, (may the peace of God be upon you) and we returned our rehearsed, “wa alekum salam”, (and to you be the peace of God). Stunned by his devotion we sat in silence, we were definitely not used to hearing or seeing such a public display of faith.
Nothing could have prepared us for the traffic from the airport to our hostel downtown. Someone later coined the phrase, “Disney Cairo” a fitting description because each time we got in a micro-bus it was scary, unexpected and always thrilling when we arrived safely.
Our first night at the Hostel was the only time I can remember feeling a little uneasy. The city was full of people, a few of them were trying to sell something to us that I later discovered was Kleenex. Our suitcases sitting right on top of the van must have made us look like wealthy tourists. Anyone who travels is considered unfathomably wealthy compared to the amount of money most people are able to live on in Egypt.
I was startled by a the hand of a lady selling Kleenex as she stuck it through my window while we were stopped in traffic. I was instructed to turn my back in an attempt to ignore her so the others wouldn’t approach us.
I wondered if I was the only one who was afraid we would be mobbed by the Kleenex sellers as our van stopped in front of our destination. I grabbed my bag without looking around, and hustled into the dark corridor of our Hostel. My heart was pounding as I stood facing an elevator with a floor board that was half worn away in the middle. The building was hundreds of years old, but somehow this elevator still worked, even without a door.
I threw my apprehension aside and got on, with my 50 lb. suitcase, doing my best to remind myself to breath.
What a contrast I see now, from that first night in the hostel, and our last night there. As we adjusted to the differences we could see our fears were completely unfounded.
When I was asked to go along with someone to the little store across the street and buy some bottled water I had to force myself to say, “okay.” I was that afraid of being mobbed by the Kleenex selling people.
Another fear I had was crossing the traffic. It wasn’t like anything I’d ever seen and I didn’t understand what the constant honking meant. People crossed the street without crosswalks or traffic lights and the cars somehow drove on the lane lines, not in the lanes.
Again we coined a phrase, “frogger” to describe what it was like getting across the street in downtown Cairo. I have to say; by the end of our trip we could cross the street fearlessly.
The Kleenex selling people became so dear to me. I noticed they were only asking as they tried to get our attention and when we said, le shukran, (no thank you), they humbly looked away.
One day I built up the courage to acknowledge a few of the women I saw selling Kleenex along the streets with “asalamu alekum”. I was pleasantly surprised as they looked up at me with the sweetest smiles. The kindness shining from their eyes assured me that they were no threat. There was no alcohol or drug addiction fueling some frenzied, detached expression. They were hungry and tired just trying to sell Kleenex so they could survive.
After that first night, I think we all felt amazingly safe everywhere we went. Whether ordering fast food like, Chicken shwarma, foul, or koushari at GAD, or walking through the Suk, (market). From Garbage city where we saw poverty that is still too difficult to process, to Alexandria with the beauty of the Mediterranean Sea. I could write a book about the wonderful experiences we had and the lovely people we met.
God willing, I do hope to write more about Egypt and how we were almost always greeted with huge smiles, hugs, kisses and welcomes. The people we met were so easy to love!
But for now, I have something to write about what I’ve continued to learn since I’ve been back in the U.S.
One very thought provoking incidence happened right off the plane in L.A. We were having difficulty with our connecting flight home, an employee ordered us sternly to go back to the kiosk and check in as we begin to head toward her line for help.
Understandably, we were all tired from our long trip. It was one of those times when it’s really difficult to even muster a smile let alone return an inslut with the gentleness of Wisdom. Our first reaction was to reflect her attitude right back to her and let her know that we had the ability to be just as rude.
But we had just returned from N.E. Africa where we learned that God’s Love is Universal. Time and time again, during so many Divine appointments, as we waited, as plans changed, facing the unknown on a daily bases…
What a contrast I noticed in my attitude, my world view was different, maybe my pride was a little easier to spot and my humility began to gain some ground.
I’ve been pondering this strange epiphany for over a week now and I think it may have been one of the most significant things I learned from this trip.
What does it really look like to walk in obedient Love?
God’s Love requires a lot of humility. Yielding our rights, our honor, our pride, our ego, at times, seems we might even die, because the ego does not lay itself down willingly.
But if we do not learn to discipline our egos we become enslaved to them.
Jesus taught us to treat others the way we would like them to treat us. He didn’t mean the ones who treat us well, He was referring to the ones who don’t. Aren’t all of us are able to repay good treatment with good treatment?
Recognizing the next time someone is hateful, insulting, criticizing accusing, rude or unjust is your moment of opportunity. It’s a test that reveals just how much ego is standing in the way of our obedience to God.
His Strength is most evident in our weakness. 2 Corinthians 12:8-10
Humbling our ego does seem impossible and very unfair to our finite logic. We need to trust that the One Who Created us knows what He’s doing. When we learn to get our ego out of the way, His Spirit will do the impossible through us.
Love your Neighbor, Enemy, and even the People you’re afraid of.