Today I jumped off a bus in the middle of Cairo. Unfortunately, my feet missed the landing and I was momentarily sprawled on a busy street. I quickly gathered myself together and took inventory of the damage – a bloody knee, shaky hands and a badly bruised ego. Oh well, nothing to do but sit and wait for the friend I was meeting in that corner of the city.
Suddenly, a group of Egyptian teenage boys ascended to street level from the metro. They took one look at me sitting quietly on a bench and began to gesticulate and announce their elation at having bumped into a female foreigner of the same age right there in broad daylight. The scene provided some comic relief for me and I smiled at them as they passed. Egypt is a place of wonder and mystery, especially the cultural taboos placed upon men and women of all ages.
Nine months ago I turned my life upside down by becoming a foreign exchange student in Egypt. I said good-bye to my family and friends and boarded a plane to Cairo with six other American students. I now live on another continent among Arabic speakers, with a Muslim family, in a culture of intriguing sights, sounds and customs. The reason I’m here is to build bridges of understanding between American and Muslim people.
In a way, my jumping off the bus incident has become a metaphor for this trip. I’ve had to break away from life as an American teenager and navigate my way in a foreign country through cultural differences and new experiences and ways of thinking. Fortunately, I’ve always had an adventurous spirit and been fascinated by the beauty and mystery of Egypt. Perhaps it stemmed from reading about the Great Pyramids and learning about life along the Nile and the beginnings of civilization in my fifth grade Social Studies textbook.
Since arriving in Egypt, I’ve visited Giza several times and traveled to Aswan and Luxor. Sightseeing trips to the pyramids and surrounding cities have been some of the highlights of my stay here. I marvel at how Giza hovers on the Cairo horizon as a constant reminder of Egypt’s ancient civilizations and mankind’s ingenuity. I also enjoy speaking and listening to Arabic while hanging out with friends in cafÃ©s. I have learned the alphabet and mastered polite phrases and survival basics.
As my stay here winds down, I am grateful for all that has been offered to me this year. I was welcomed into a host family, kept safe and treated to many wonderful experiences. Although the travel has been exciting, I know that what I will carry with me in my heart for many years to come are the smiles, small kindnesses and good memories of my day-to-day interactions with my friends, host family and Egyptian citizens. There is so much that is good and beautiful in the world. I hope that other kids my age can travel and experience Egypt too someday.
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