Now that I have been here for about 7 months, I (thankfully) have a better understanding of what Cairo really is. I wouldn't say that I'm an expert, but at least I know that it's not just about pyramids and Pharoahs.
When I first arrived, I was excited like any other international student would be. The food here amazed me and the sites were incredible. The architecture, the history, the chaos of the crowds at the Khan el Khalily bazaar, the traffic, everything was just....an experience. At the same time, I was also strongly reminded of Karachi, Pakistan, especially the bustling of the city. The spontaneity and laid back attitude of the people were particularly very similar. However, I know that Pakistan has issues that I just assumed were close to nonexistent in Egypt. But I was wrong.
I'm realizing now that studying here for 1 semester would definitely not have been enough. The entire last semester, I spent getting over my culture and language shock. This semester, I'm finally seeing the problems, the reasons for why this city works the way it does.
Now that I'm not worried about how to converse with a cab driver, or burying my nose in a map figuring out where I am or even deciding what food to eat and what to avoid so as not to get an upset stomach, I finally have the chance to talk to my Egyptian friends about real issues. Before, it was always me asking for advice on how to handle different situations, but now it is a real exchange of information, jokes, feelings, etc. I'm finding out how frustrated Egyptians my age really are. So many of the students who attend AUC are desperate to get out of Egypt, the black hole that will just keep sucking in more and more problems. They want to see the rest of the world and just get out, which is exactly what I see in Pakistanis and probably in most other developing countries. The younger generation just don't want to deal with the problems because they feel that they have already put up with enough. Now they feel they deserve to a have better and different life away from home.
Bribery and corruption are widespread in Egypt, but what can you expect from a government that hasn't changed for the past 30 years? And yet, the worst about all this is the fact that many young Egyptians are actually just waiting for someone to come and take them out of this misery. Many of them who I have talked to claim they need a leader to guide them out of this mess, to rouse a movement and inspire them all to act.
But no one can simply wait for someone to rise up as a leader. People here (and most definitely elsewhere) don't believe they have any power to create real change, especially not in the legal system. They want someone else to do it. How can there be a leader if everyone is only sitting and waiting for one? The people have to organize and unite to show their wants and needs.
Sadly, this is a lot easier said and done.
Even when I try to explain this idealistic point of view, the response I get is, "Well, you Americans got your Obama. Why can't we have ours?"
What are you supposed to say to that?
"Well we all really believed in change and there was a lot of organization of support that led to Obama being elected...blah blah blah"
Outside of the US, it's hard to see the work that had been put into his campaign. In a country where you haven't seen any visible political change for the past 30 years, it's hard to believe that your own personal actions will have any effect on anyone. When your parents and grandparents keep reminiscing about the old times and debating over which leader did the greatest good for the country, it's hard to move on. In a country where you have to feed into the bureaucratic system every day and settle for corruption, it's hard to believe in a different, let alone brighter, future. So I suppose in the end I can't blame Egyptians my age for feeling this way. I just hope it doesn't last forever.
I hope these discussions are what I end up remembering most vividly at the end of this semester, not necessarily the pyramids. I have pictures of those. And although we all know that Egypt has a wealth of beautiful architecture and historical landmarks to offer, it is still a country filled with people dealing with basic problems and frustrations. It's not as exotic as it seems in the movies.