The current conflict in Egypt is on the minds of many people lately, and for me, it seems to be on the forefront, completely overshadowing every other news story out there. I realize that there are other conflicts going on throughout the world, but to me, this is one that stands out more than any other.
Why? Because, exactly one year ago, on a very empty plane, I flew from South Africa to Egypt, not knowing what to expect. I knew the country wasn’t fully healed after the revolutions and elections, but it was a place I always dreamed of visiting; it seemed like the perfect opportunity. I also hoped that a trip there would inspire others to see that traveling there was safe, and that eventually the country would get back on track as far as tourism was concerned, thus helping economically.
I arrived unsure of what lay ahead, but excited to discover a new country. What I learned from the people I met was invaluable. We discussed life and politics, we learned the history of each other’s countries and shared meals. I spent time with young children, teaching them English, as they taught me Arabic. I grew to love Egypt and everyone I met there. Each had a story to tell, and they were ready to start over and to see tourism make its way back to the country that has so much to share with the world.
But now, only a year later, so much has changed. The photos out of the Egypt tell an entirely different story. Unfortunately, with travel warnings and cancellations, the country is no closer to sharing its glories with the world.
I understand that it’s a complicated situation, and from the media here, it’s hard to tell what is really going on. Still, images can paint a thousand words and emotions, as can the ever-growing death toll. Maybe my short stay there wasn’t enough to fully understand everything about the country, but it was enough to empathize with the people living there, especially those who are are the heart of the conflict and those who have loved ones who may be involved.
Throughout my journeys to other countries, my eyes have been opened up to the world around me in ways they never would have been had I just stayed at home. I have experienced places and the people and have learned that no matter where we live, our religion, skin color, or economic status, humans are humans and underneath it all, we are all the same. I become very connected to the places I have visited, leaving pieces of my heart in each one and a promise to one day return. Egypt was no different, and because of this, the current conflict in Egypt is especially hard on my emotions.
This is what I believe is truly special about traveling, and why it’s so important. A true traveler is there to understand a country, and this eventually breaks down barriers between people, sheds stereotypes, and overall, brings a greater understanding of the world to those who encounter each other on the road. This isn’t just exclusive to travelers alone, but anyone who meets someone who is from another country. Conversations between two people from different places can change a lot about each person’s beliefs and understandings about the world as a whole.
Travel has a way of opening up the eyes, heart, and minds of people. As travelers, we hear the stories directly from people that live in the countries we are visiting, we experience what life is like in those countries first-hand, and don’t allow anyone else, especially the media, to tell us otherwise.
The traveler meets people, asks endless questions, journeys off the beaten path, tries local cuisine, and overall, does all that he or she can to become educated about the place that is being visited. I believe that a traveler leaves a place with a better understanding of life in the country that was visited.
As someone who dreams of seeing the world and meeting as many of its inhabitants as I can, I hate seeing anyone in any country have to go through difficult times. But, it’s even worse when I have been to the country that’s suffering.
This is what I believe makes travel so important. To better understand the world and its inhabitants, but to also breed a more kind and caring group of people who can look at the world for what it is, and realize that all that really separates us is our location on the map. When it comes down to it, we aren’t all that different, and by realizing that and coming together, we could one day have a peaceful world.