Every morning my cell phone alarm blares at 7:45. My eyes are heavy and I fumble in the dark to find my phone, dazed, confused, and annoyed from the sound that has awoken me from my deep slumber. I stumble to the bathroom to get ready for the day ahead, and as soon as the hot water hits my face, I remember their faces—the beautiful little faces that greet us every morning. After a long and bumpy ride into literally the middle of the desert, I forget how little I slept and how long the day will be. I can only think of the smiles on their faces.
The kids at Ana-El Masry are different from any I’ve ever worked with. They are absolutely crazy! They bite us, kick us, hit us, and pinch us. But they also love us. They hug us, hold our hands, kiss us, and attach themselves to our legs all day long. It’s a strange feeling to be so frustrated when one of them repeatedly slaps you in the face so hard that you get bruises, and then gives you a big sloppy kiss on the cheek. It’s been impossible not to fall in love with them. Every time we leave Ana-El Masry I get teary-eyed. It seems so unfair to leave them every day as they pout “Bukra?” (Tomorrow in Ameya).
Working with the kids every day, I can’t help but imagine taking them back to America; to give them opportunities that are not even remotely possible for them given their current state. But I have to constantly remind myself that the life Ana-El Masry gives them is better than the one they would have without it. They have a bed to sleep in, food to eat, and teachers who care about them. Their horizons expanded immensely the day they came to Ana-El Masry, and even though I cannot give them everything I want to, the staff cares for them intently and they are living a better life.
Every day at work reminds me of the disparity between America and Egypt. I have absolutely loved my time here, getting to know the wonderful people and seeing their passion for their work. But Egypt lacks mobility. The children at Ana-El Masry are stuck in a poverty trap. It’s hard to ignore the stark contrast: in America, socioeconomic and educational mobility is possible, and happens frequently. In Egypt, it seems like the poverty cycle keeps people chained to their social class no matter how hard they work to move.
Growing up in America has given me so many opportunities that I haven’t seen until now. Even the smallest luxuries can make a huge difference in one’s ability to achieve. I wish there was someway to provide these opportunities for the perseverant and arduous people of Egypt.
I know the day will come when I have to kiss my Muhammad (the little boy in the picture) goodbye. But until then, I want to teach him and all the other kids everything I can, as well as learn from them. I have already found that every day I learn more about myself through this process. The kids have already taught me to be more patient and forgiving, as well as stern when need be. And with each passing day, I’m sure I’ll learn more. When I look back on this whole experience, I hope I can say I lived in the moment, and ignored the harsh reality that the end would eventually come, and I may never get to see the kids again. Until then, though, I’ll be plotting to take my Muhammad home with me!