As an environment with nearly 50 percent international students, we know that there are lots of “Hmmm” moments when you were asked, “Where are you from?”. “How would YOU want to rephrase the question?” This question we asked on our Facebook Page a few weeks ago. Our student Marielle Rüppel thoughts a lot about this topic during her semester abroad – and gave us an answer, which we would like to share with you.
“Ana min kaukab el ard” – “I am from planet Earth”
This was my response to the question where I was from. Cashiers in the supermarket, strangers I encountered and classmates started laughing about that response, mostly because they probably did not anticipate this answer, especially not in Arabic. In Egypt, especially in Cairo which happens to be very cosmopolitan, I apparently still look like a foreigner, with blue eyes and blond hair. Is this the only aspect that unveils the actual similarities and subtle differences?
My thoughts are moving on to culture – essentially, this moving, dynamic culture that circulates around “same same but different “; as different as many behaviors seem on the surface, just as similar are the basic underlying needs, emotions, fears and joys. I realized this as I met new people and heard their stories and memories of the past, struggles and eases of the present as well as plans and wishes for the future.
Here in Egypt, people love their country but at the same time are often incredibly disappointed and frustrated about their country, a place that is supposed to make them feel home but instead only makes them feel imprisoned. From this point of view, I do understand the curiosity of the Egyptians, why someone from a country like Germany voluntarily comes to study and live in Egypt. And I am happy about their happiness about my happiness to be there. Reaffirming how overwhelmed I am by the hospitality, friendliness and helpfulness of the people, that don’t let me be lost for more than a minute.
Why don’t we just abolish nation states?
Their only legitimacy seems to be that they have existed before (someone once said). But, given that rather few “sovereign nation states“ are actually able to fulfil their duty of providing food, shelter and protection to their population, I doubt their effectiveness in managing social systems and at least on an abstract level I like to contest their “un-contestedness”. Maybe a more decentralized form of human organization can be facilitated through technology, that might replace what we currently seemingly need governments for. Moving on from an exploitive to a sharing and caring economy. This will eventually also suffocate the notion of “home countries” and leaves just home – for breathing.
What means home for me?
Home, which could be that place where you find silence (which is actually very rare in Cairo, and therefore incredibly precious if found) and serenity.
Home, which could be a historical site, where you feel antiqueness that relativizes all sense of time and stressfulness flushing through your body, connecting you with Cairo aka “um ad-dunya”, the mother of the world.
Home, which could be delicious ice cream, carelessly enjoyed with friends, recommending their favorite flavor, reminding me of my childhood.
Home, which could be a spontaneous jam session where musicians exhibit their vulnerable self in an otherwise loud and unremarkable party.
With this experience I would explain home as a place, where I am self-evident: not having to explain why you’re doing what you’re doing, because it is just right, feels natural, seems normal. Home, that I was not conscious of before.
Frankly, there are some of those “self-evidences” that I miss from “home” while staying in Egypt: “home”, where, without question, I respect traffic lights, drink water from the tap or use recycling waste bins – and German bread – to be honest, the only thing I can proudly name as outcome of alleged German eagerness. I admit that I bought bread from the German Bakery – and despite all adaption to local cuisine, it was SO good.
Currently, my home is in Maadi (written Ma3di in the locals’ style), which happens to have a sound in its name that doesn’t exist in any other language that I know of. The sound is challenging but at the same time acts as an entry ticket, as soon as it is mastered; that sound system that requires its own, particular language to be spoken and understood. And I start not getting lost as often anymore, and actually was able to show a classmate – an ORIGINAL Egyptian – the way, which officially made Maadi my hood and me almost a real Egyptian.
Fair enough, people don’t switch as quickly to English anymore when I ask in Ammeia (the local dialect, 3ammeia) for directions or try to get whatever other information relevant to me. I simply started developing enough courage to just talk, and from the very fast answer, I can just extract enough words, accompanied by gestures, that allow me to take the next step into the right direction.
Article by Marielle Rüppel