Thursday, 18th September 2014
The man next to me at the lunch counter gloats about his trip to Bali, including a full day for the ruins, another day for the temples, and a private cooking class with the locals, which he promises he’ll do from now on wherever his passport takes him. But that was nothing compared to Bangkok.
They stayed at one of the best hotels and were taken on a water kayaking tour for snorkeling and would you believe it, he even got to pet a tiger.
There’s more, but I’ve tuned him out. I’m thinking about a time I was in Cairo with one of my mentors, Erik Ehn. We were in town for an international theatre festival and had a week ahead of us to explore. Because I have family there, I did my best to try to host my friend, although I was more of a tourist than a native. I told him about the temples we had to see and the pyramid tours we should do or the moonlight horse rides in the desert. It was his first time here and I wanted to share everything I knew of that would make his trip memorable.
He smiled and fell quiet. The call to prayer filled the streets. Hanging out with Erik sort of feels like hanging with a monk. The presence of God is always near. He is at once generous, mysterious, and invisible. He’s one of the few people I’ve ever met where I swear I can feel his inner peace. Erik is a prolific playwright, a passionate teacher, and a devout man committed to solemn work. Years ago when he taught a writing intensive in grad school, he shared his schedule of rising at some ungodly hour to complete his daily habit of putting pen to paper. I understood humility in his presence.
So naturally, I tried to impress him with what little I knew of to do and see and experience. And then he said in his soft-spoken voice, “What are the neighborhoods?” I didn’t understand. You don’t walk around neighborhoods here. There’s nothing to do. He said, “I want to go where the people go. What do the people see and do? I want to be in the community.”
He confessed he had no desire to see shrines of worship from days long gone. He wanted to be part of the Cairo of now. And so it was. He showed me a new Egypt—an underground world of art, theatre, politics, and perversion. It was awesome.
What struck me most was his audacity. He wanted to experience a living culture—gritty, raw, and unrehearsed. It not only inspired the way I travel now, but how I live. Adventure awaits when you go where the people go, see what the people see, and are in community.
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