JRM1 02 - 05 - 2010

Since our arrival in Egypt, I have found myself thinking about the differences between the sort of "romantic" mental images one often has about Egypt and the actual modern reality. During my first year at Ball State I took a culture class that studied modern Egypt and even video conferenced with Egyptian University students once every week. The focus of the class was to understand Egypt's modern culture through direct communication with our fellow students. Coming to this country I knew going in that this was not going to be the image of an early 1900s Egypt that so easily comes to mind, but I still found myself in awe seeing the reality in person. The first striking image I had of Egypt was on the bus ride to the Pyramids. Looking out the window I saw multi-family residences of the exact same construction as far as the eye could see. Hearing the tour guide say how many millions of people make up Cairo's population is one thing, but seeing the same building replicated innumerable times over into the distance made me immediately aware of the degree to which modern Cairo is inhabited. The second image was at the at the Pyramids. The Pyramids serve as an edge to the city with the city directly on one side of it and the desert directly on the other side. From one side, people can take "picturesque" photos of the Pyramids with the desert behind, and the other side shows the city as an immediate backdrop. Even though one can find a view without the city, it is impossible to separate oneself from the reality of tourism. The third image was from a camel ride in a small village just outside of Luxor. In many ways the village was "primitive" with respect to our idea of buildings and infrastructure. In most cases, the homes did not have roofs (only woven shading devices), the floors were dirt, and their were unwatched animals roaming the sides of the roads. As primitive as all of this may have seemed, there were satellite dishes atop most of the homes. Our tour guide even told us that many homes in Egypt will have satellite dishes before having running water. I knew that Egypt had a modern reality not thought of by many foreigners, but physically seeing the reality struck me more than I was expecting. Seeing the population density in Cairo was a vivid image of how many people live and work next to the Pyramids that we so often think of as romantically removed from modernity. The city backdrop to the Pyramids was a beautiful yet stark contrast showing that a structure from thousands of years B.C. can sit adjacently to a bustling and functioning city. The last image may have been the most striking of all, as it showed that our priorities of modern conveniences are not at all universal.

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