Back when I was dating Khaled, traveling to Egypt and the Middle East wasn’t on my radar. I was super excited that I had already travelled to Europe and wanted to plan on doing it again. I love traveling to Europe and want to go as often as possible.
Then we became engaged, all of a sudden Egypt became somewhere on my menu of travel options. We went overseas together a few months before we married for the first time. It was a stressful, nerve-wracking but exciting time. I was able to share some of my favorite places in Europe with Khaled, and I was introduced to a Middle Eastern country for the first time.
In preparation for my first trip there, I got travel guides. The Lonely Planet and Fodor’s Guide to Egypt. I worried about appropriate clothing choices and if I would be able to get a decent cup of coffee. I worried that his family wouldn’t accept me. This was before Skype or Facetime and the only way we could talk to his family was to pay $3.00 a minute. As I prepared for my trip overseas, I settled into a comfortable acknowledgement that this trip was going to be part of my life, for the rest of my life. Friends and family members were in awe of the trip we had planned. They kept asking me why I wasn’t completely giddy with excitement. They shamed me because I was taking it in stride. Why I wasn’t a gushy, over the top worshipful mess for this ‘Once in a Lifetime Trip?’ For me, this was just the first time of many, many times I would make the trip to Egypt to see my new family.
In my eyes, the differences would include where we would stay, where we would layover, what we would bring home, what we would take with us. I envisioned different excursions in and around Egypt. Of course, all of this would depend on if Khaled’s family liked me, if I was accepted, if I could handle the culture shock.
My first time in Egypt was a life changing event for me, and even though I was more than ready to return to the United States, I wasn’t ready to leave my new family.In those early years of our marriage, we were able to take my brother and sister-in-law with us on a trip. We were able to buy an apartment and decorate it in a way that helped us to feel like we had a little bit of The States there with us. We were able to take all 3 of the children to visit our family and to see where Khaled grew up. We planned to visit every 2 years. We planned on making our Egyptian home and our US home equally as comfortable for the whole family. We left clothes in the closets there. Toiletries. Shoes. We planned on not having to take suitcases with us when we went to visit. We had PLANS.
But now it has been 9 years since I’ve been to Egypt. The children do not remember what the air smells like in Egypt. They don’t know the sounds of the men selling bread from the streets or hearing the call to prayer echoing through the landscape. They don’t remember what the cars look like or the noises of traffic along The Nile. Memories are refreshed with photos, but they don’t know deep in their hearts the Egypt that is half of their blood. I don’t know if we will ever be able to return to the home where Khaled grew up and this makes me very sad.
Through the grief that has settled over us like a fine layer of dust, is the fear and longing to return to Egypt. Khaled and I discussed traveling to the Middle East recently and I will admit that I have no desire to go. I can’t consider taking the children to any country where there is the possibility I couldn’t protect them like I can at home. I can’t consider traveling to a country where I could be targeted because of the way I look, or because of the way I pray or even the color of my passport. I won’t consider traveling to a country where I cannot understand what is being said around me. How can I protect myself and my children when I don’t know what people’s intentions are? I can read body language, but that is not enough sometimes.
Even saying this smacks of privilege. I can see it in my words, and I recognize it in my actions. I know that there are people in my city who are treated differently because of how they look and how they pray. I interact with people every day that don’t understand my words, just like I don’t understand theirs. But I am not surrounded by it all, and this is my home court. I’m just not that brave. Not yet.