We are now on to our third week in Cairo. Navigating the city comes a little easier every day. Haggling with shopkeepers does not. To avoid insanity, I’ve come to accept the noise, pollution, and overcrowded streets, rather than fighting them. And as I adjust, I push the life I know at home as far from my mind as possible. Part of this is due to my inability to justify the incongruities between the two. Driving on I-40 at home, I would see neatly ordered lanes and the occasional cop sitting on the highway shoulder waiting for that unsuspecting driver; here in Cairo there are no traffic lanes, no police officers, but I see women with their babies weaving through stagnant traffic, hoping to sell packs of tissues so they can feed their children. Despair written on the faces of street vendors and children selling bracelets is enough to evoke an emotional response from me. Working with our community partners further compounds this mental break between home and Cairo.
The past two Saturdays were spent playing games with children at an orphanage called al-Farqan. When we arrived, the children came up to each of us in turn to shake our hands. Needless to say, my heart melted and my emotions took over. When I asked the director at the end of the session about al-Farqan’s adoption rate, he basically told me adoption on the whole is nonexistent in the Middle East. This answer floored me. It was only on the bus ride out to Ana al-Masry the next morning that I began to think about civic engagement in regards to orphans and the ramifications of our actions those two Saturdays. These children never know family or opportunity. It is only hoped for that they will eventually find employment when they are older. As a transient entity in their lives, I can’t help but wonder what they will think when we don’t show up with a bag of toys and games next Saturday.
Of course the answer is not to abandon volunteer work with orphanages altogether. I would advocate, however, for a look at the bigger picture. To me, my job as a volunteer is to serve the cause to the best of my abilities. Emotional response, however, tends to get in the way of that for me, especially with disconnect between American ideals and on the ground realities. How do we then best serve DukeEngage Cairo?