“… we have began our descent to Frankfurt International Airport, where the temperature is 20°C. We will be in the gate in about twenty minutes. We’d like the flight attendants to prepare the cabin for arrival. Thank you for flying with us today…” Despite his efforts, the pilot failed to hide his thick German accent. His rough voice, coming out of the inter-com, woke Esther up from her light sleep.
The flight was exciting, at first. It was her first time on an airplane. But, after 4 continuous hours, Esther was bored of the same continuous blue sky. The captain had lit the seat-belt sign. And, as if it was their cue, the flight attendants began circling around making sure everyone complied. Esther quickly fastened her seat-belt. The faint metallic click didn’t comfort her fear of crashing down.
The plane was starting to lose its altitude. Now, the view from Esther’s window seat was breathtaking. Green fields were everywhere. The cities, mere grey patches from above, looked like beauty spots on the charming face of nature. She was glad she chose to study in Germany. Her creative mind naturally conceived memories that have yet to happen…
She could already smell the fresh grass, while a gentle breeze embraced her face. Her hands were already caressing the dark soil. Her bicycle would lay on the ground. And she would rest against an old tree, bathing in its shadow with a book on her lap… Esther was on the edge of her seat, eagerly waiting to get off the plane and explore the country she had been dreaming about for a year.
The pilot was now circling over the airport, waiting for clearance to land. After 10 minutes, he finally received the permission from the control tower. As the big Boeing 777 began loosing altitude, Esther clutched her seat, closed her eyes and prayed silently…
As he stood next to the luggage carousel, Badr looked around observing the strangers’ faces. It was one of his favorite “hobbies” from when was in Cairo. He would go to the bus stop and pretend to wait for a bus he’ll never ride. Instead, he’d sit for hours and subtly watch, trying to read body language and decipher the reasons behind every shaky hand, watery eye, fast pace…
Observing is a great way to understand a culture. Simply sit silently and watch the busy bee hive that is a city. It takes a lot of patience and skill, since every detail matters and every minor movement has repercussions on a higher scale. But, when you do master this beautiful form of consciousness, you’ll get a glimpse of the truth.
Badr knew that Men will utter the most horrible of lies in order to hide the truth. So he decided to stop asking questions and watch as their tormented subconscious strips them bare of every incoherent fable. Only then will you start seeing patterns. The great high-ways that everyone followed except each had his own lane and traveled at his own pace. Many tried to make their own roads, but the rocky ways were tiresome for most.
So far, he had found that the great Egyptians followed two paths. There were those who would greet you as they walk past you even if you have never met. They are the same people that will pray for you, your parents and your future children when you lend them a hand, or give you the greatest up-lifting, motivational speech when they see you water a plant or pick up street garbage. They were mostly elderly or people whose poverty deprived them from any contact with the complexity of our modern lives. So, they clung tight to the values they inherited from their ancestors. They led a simplistic life, kept their doors open for they trusted everyone, invited every stranger to lunch or to a delicious cup of tea. And as long as you respect them, you will be treated as a son, a brother and a friend. They are the ones who’d wake up at sunrise every day to pray in the street mosque and sleep just after the night prayer. They would break their fast together, in Ramadan, and share whatever they could afford with their poor wages ,with those who were even less fortunate. They were all just one big family.
On the other lane, however, one might find the exact opposite: those who covet money above everything. They have ruptured every bond with their past, forgot every tradition and adopted “modernity” as a way of life. They live in fancy west-like neighborhoods where everyone is a stranger and drive luxury cars that would occasionally hit a homeless child and gets away with it without a prosecution. They look down on the poor, take advantage of them and steal their money. They pretend to be pious but their actions tell a different story. Guilt has yet to find a way to penetrate their hearts. Sadly, the corrupt state protects them. That’s why many started to indulge in these unhealthy habits. They become haunted by the desire to earn more and more. It would pain them to give a spare Dirham to an old famished beggar, even though their great fortune won’t suffer. Greed traps them eventually and makes them unable to enjoy life, for their minds are always calculating their losses.
Then, there were those who are trapped in the middle, mostly young men and women like himself. They are torn between these two different worlds, not knowing if they should follow the strict traditions of the past or break free from every moral restraint. Poverty was a big problem in Egypt. And the new generation was eager to get rid of it, that’s why the “modern” life style seems so appealing. It’s the fast guaranteed way to money. Still, making that choice wasn’t easy thanks to their up-bringing. It was really hard to sever the ties and erase every lesson their parents have taught them. In fact, Badr was sure that most preferred the “old” way that left them unsatisfied. After a couple of years, few remained in the middle. Life forced them to make a choice. And to Badr, many seemed to be making the wrong one.
Badr finally spotted his bags. He clutched them as they slid beside him and headed towards the exit. A young brunette was pushing her luggage close to him. He let her go first through the exit. She smiled at him and thanked him. Badr followed her and found his host family waiting for him. As he shook hands with the people he’d be spending a year with, he noticed that the young brunette was doing the same. Was she an exchange student as well? The young brunette was in fact Esther.
Source: Stadt Frankfurt am Main, Photo: H.D.Fehrenz