Sunday, October 5, 2008

Egypt and Us 7/13/08

blog post photoHello, World. I have just returned to my new home in Jerusalem from an excursion to Egypt, and what an eye-opening journey it was. I had all of these visions in my mind before arriving there of the ancient tombs, memorials, and palaces that would surely dot the landscape and the feeling of grandeur that they would cast over the land. This was partially true. The Great Pyramids were literally breathtaking and loomed over the buildings in the distance. The temples of Karnak and Luxor with their expansive colonnades, towering statues, and massive obelisks that took hundreds of years to complete and have stood for thousands more were more amazing than any photograph could capture. They represent the power and the dominance of the Egyptian people in ancient times. Their architecture was superb, their zeal for their religion was consuming, and their world strength was indisputable. Going there today, however, one would see a very different society. This is a third world country. I did not actually realize that until I saw a donkey and a car going backwards on the freeway as we pulled in to Cairo. From superpower to scarcity.
The illiteracy rates, particularly among women, are tragic. Overpopulation is plaguing the cities and garbage fills the streets, alleys, and even the life-giving Nile. As we drove along we noticed that nearly every ramshackle apartment building looked unfinished. Rebar stuck out like needles in a pincushion atop the brick buildings. Upon asking locals, the explanation came that they did not finish these buildings because of lack of funding since, as they saw it, the roofs were something that would not serve to be overly functional, which clearly trumped aesthetics. Not to mention that having an unfinished building meant the evasion of some sort of property tax. So nearly every building had this incomplete and neglected look, and it was
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came into contact with have no roofs, their children follow tourists around begging with their dirty faces and clothes, many do not have electricity, families have moved into small buildings at cemeteries that were originally built only for mourners to come to in the heat while visiting graves but have been converted into miniscule homes among the dead due to overcrowding in the cities, yet there is their smiling, waving President in a suit and tie on every corner. It was a different world for me, not morally right or wrong, just amazingly different. I would gladly pay a few more Egyptian pounds at every historical site in order to raise revenue to further education, clean-ups, and modernization of this historically significant place in the world. This country houses 3 of the 7 wonders of the ancient world and I fear they will need help to preserve them and the other things there of incredible value to society at large.
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I was really feeling sorry for the impoverished of Egypt, but then I was reminded by a professor that I am not exactly an authority on judging who the ones are who really experience pure living. Does having carpeted floors, washing machines, and roofs make some people smarter and more correct than others? No, I do not think so. In fact, I think that the doing without the TV and other of our “luxuries” for many of us would prove to be an experience where we would learn more about ourselves and have more time to spend with those we love in more meaningful settings. That being said, are there things that can be done to improve the quality of life of many Egypt’s citizens? Definitely. The hard part about living in this world is that it is huge. Each of us is only one, and yet history is full of those extraordinary ones who have changed the lives of millions, for better or for worse. But whose job is it? And who can say if what I, for example, would want to do according to my biases and my background would really be what these people from a completely different culture would really need or want. America has been blamed as being the self-appointed big brother of the world. Do we protect others in the best way we know, with our obvious biases, or to let them go completely, saying we have no right to intrude? It is a difficult dichotomy that can go either way, in my mind with innumerable exceptions on either side. It is a difficult question with huge implications especially in our current world political climate. I don’t have a solution, but I think that on an individual level I will go forth in trying to share charity and service to those whom I can. Honorable nonprofit organizations rely on the funds and the time of people who realize that the world’s problems expand beyond their own city block. I hope to be able to contribute to this world in some way, and maybe even inspire others to do the same, if I am very lucky. I like to think in my silly idealist head that the regular people can do this for one another. That, as Goethe is credited with saying, if everyone swept his own doorstep, the whole world would be clean. Let us make it so.

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