As I write this post, my family is probably eating Watermelon, enjoying fireworks, relaxing on the lake and enjoying the parade I mentioned in my first post. But I am miles away on one of my favorite American Holidays, in a place that is tasting its first bite of the democracy which I have been enjoying my entire life. However, today I experienced Independence Day in a new way.
The day started with the normal Cairo smells of cigarette smoke, smog, Tamiyaa, and Fresh Croissants instead of the smell of hamburgers and apple pies which normally accompany this day in my hometown. The children at Ana El-Masry had no idea that the American students in their midst were feeling homesick, and continued to be energetic and adorable as usual.
For our secondary NGO’s AlKayan and AlResala, we wanted to do something special to celebrate the day and give them a taste of American culture. All day yesterday, the girls in our group cut and peeled apples while I tried rather unsuccessfully to make pie crust without measuring cups or a rolling pin. My estimates turned out to be wrong and I ended up smashing it into the pie plate like pizza dough only to find out that the oven in our room didn’t work. However, all turned out well after I went to the guys apartment to use their electric oven.
All this effort definitely paid off when we arrived to see a series of signs in our classroom at AlKayan reading “Happy Independent Day.” We laughed and thanked them for being so thoughtful and proceeded to tell them all about the holiday and why we celebrated it including a list of vocabulary words like patriotism, barbecue, fireworks, and independence. We were comparing the independence of our two countries and discussing patriotism as a love for one’s country when Moataz, the worker at AlKayan who runs the English classes, said “Before January 25 (the recent Egyptian Revolution), from 1973 when we were freed from colonial rule until January, we never felt for our country what you feel for America. We did not talk about it the way you talk about your country.”
To say the least, I was shocked. We’ve been in Cairo for over 4 weeks now and we’ve seen Egyptians so passionate about their country, so hungry for change, and so full of patriotism, but this passion, like democracy, is a new concept here, one which makes me appreciate my homeland even more.
I’ve always heard that DukeEngage in Cairo makes you realize your “American-ness,” but before now I’ve never really thought about that aspect of this experience. I cannot imagine not loving my country, my home. Even though I may sometimes see the flaws in the system, the ability to see these flaws and the will and ability to change them is what democracy is about. Now that I’ve seen democracy at its birth, seen the realization of flaws turn to will and blossom into change, I am even more proud than ever to be an American.