I was drenched in sweat, exhausted. After a day of airports, an early morning wake-up call and a long, bumpy trek through the Bedouin mountains on camelback I was beginning to wonder why I always had to seek out travel of the ‘off the beaten path’ variety. Wouldn’t a week in Paris have been better? Did I really need to CLIMB a mountain?
I’m not entirely sure why I had been so drawn to Egypt in the first place but for as long as I can remember, it has captured my imagination. I’m half-Jewish so watching The 10 Commandments every Passover with my father for 20 years might have had something to do with the initial appeal–maybe that’s when this country was first sewn into my day dreams. But regardless, some unexplained longing had finally led me to Egypt, to Sinai and to that moment of sweat and exhaustion and ultimately, to the very top of a very tall mountain.
It was just about sunset when we summited and climbed down from our camels and it was exactly then I understood why God might have chosen this place to talk to somebody. The burnt red of the rolling mountains perfectly contrasted the bright blue sea beneath them and from the height of the summit I could see other countries stretching out across the water: Saudi Arabia and Jordan growing darker as the sun leisurely sank beneath the sea, its dwindling colors dominating the skyline. From that vantage point, it was easy to understand why so many believe in a higher power–of course from many other things that I’ve seen abroad, it is often just as easy to understand why so many don’t.
By the time I had unlocked my eyes from what was in front of me, our guide had already finished lighting a fire and was busying himself with making us tea. I sat down next to him.
“It must be wonderful,” I mused. “You have a pretty great view at work.”
He laughed and nodded. “It’s beautiful,” he replied. “But I see much less of it now.” He went on to explain how the dwindling tourist economy had crippled his business, how he went from doing 3 tour-hikes a week to 3 tour-hikes a month. “It hasn’t been easy.”
“Well I guess people are scared,” I offered. “They’re scared of terrorism and the tanking economy. They watch the news and—“
“But that’s why people SHOULD travel,” he interrupted. “Because traveling will make them less scared.”
I looked directly at him and he was smiling. “How do you mean?” I asked, smiling back.
“See when I think of American, now I’ll think of you, Carina” he pointed at me, “and when you think of Muslim, you’ll think of me.”
“So much easier to hate each other when we don’t know each other and so much harder when we do… you understand?”
Like I said, I didn’t know what had drawn me to Egypt. I didn’t know what I would find. I just went because I’m a wanderer so I can’t say for sure if it was fate or luck or divine intervention that led me wandering straight into such an important truth.
He was right. When I got home and I heard somebody railing against muslims on TV or in conversation, I didn’t think of terrorists. I thought at once of my friend from Egypt who showed me the way up a mountain and offered me tea and conversation…
I recognize that I am incredibly privileged to have had this experience. I recognize that we can’t all climb mountains in far off places and discover wisdom there.
But we can all wander outside of our comfort zones and attempt to replace stereotypes with faces and conversations and experiences.
From gays to people of color to people of different faiths to legal immigrants to illegal immigrants to Republicans to Democrats to everybody in between, it’s so easy to hate each other when we don’t know each other and so much harder when we do
It’s harder to write off an entire community as ‘bible bangers’, when you’re friends with somebody who is devoutly religious. It’s harder to write off an entire sexual identity as ‘depraved’, when you’re friends with someone who was born that way.
We all talk about wanting to build a better world and at times it seems far-fetched and difficult and intangible. But perhaps it isn’t as complex as we like to believe. Maybe it boils down to wandering into the world and meeting new people. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if it was as simple as that?