Thursday, April 26, 2012

Show Some *Southern* Hospitality!

1 month and I will be in Bamberg, Germany
3 weeks after that and I will be back in Knoxville, Tennessee

Never in my life have I really been “home sick” but after having two amazing visitors—one from Nashville, and one who studied in Knoxville—I’ve come to realize that I always find myself missing SOUTHERN HOSPITALITY.

I’ve found that I’ve in fact told several of my friends that southern hospitality exists only in the south of the United States. For heavens sake, I miss the SOUTH. You know, where people say sweet things like “yes sir,” “sorry little darlin’,” and “God bless your heart.” Where people will hold the door open for you, even if their arms are already full of things. Where your mom will wake up before the crack of dawn to cook biscuits and gravy every Sunday before church so it’ll “stick to your ribs.” Where someone will give you their extra umbrella free of charge because it’s pouring outside and yours flew away, and got ran over by a beaten-up pick up truck filled with hunting dogs, as you were trying to hold down your skirt, walk in 5-inch heels and massive hair that Dolly Parton would be proud of.

I’ve never considered myself a southern belle or really “southern” for that matter. Sometimes I say “ya’ll” and wear cow-girl boots with a sassy summer dress, but that’s about as southern as it gets! However, I’ve found myself comparing this mindset and these simple, little actions with the inappropriate behaviors and thoughts of some people I’ve encountered over the past ten months. *Although this is not always the case! I’ve encountered so many sweet people in Egypt. When Darren was here there was a nice boy who walked us across the streets of Tahrir Square TWICE just because he was worried about us crossing the road. Another instance is when this feisty Egyptian woman, married to an American from Texas, took about 15 minutes out of her busy evening to help direct Darren and I around the darker streets of Zamalek because she didn’t want us to get lost since, “…people have become crazy after Revolution and it’s not safe to just go anywhere you please. Do you understand me?”* So, there are two recent experiences, one in Egypt and one in Israel, that has stuck in my mind for the past month and it only makes me question even more some (political and social) issues regarding hospitality that I have been toying with lately.

Incident #1: Alexandria, Egypt—The Citadel by the Mediterranean Sea
Sebastian and I went here during the early morning and I found myself basically getting my bottom grabbed by a school group of sixteen year old boys (there was maybe five or seven of them), multiple times, until one of them grabbed absolutely EVERYTHING—and it actually hurt. I turned quickly to latch onto him, but was too slow. The next thing I knew Seb started to break away from me, at this point I grabbed onto his arm, but he ran after the boys for several feet. I was so embarrassed (I had also just semi-fallen down the stairs just moments before but Seb somehow kept me from collapsing on the rocky ground), actually in pain, and beyond annoyed! This was my favorite place in Egypt and I wanted Seb to love it as much as I did. I never would have expected such an incident there and became quickly infuriated. The woman and man in charge of the group came over to us and started scolding Sebastian. I stepped in and started to explain what happened but they started laughing! They said the boys are young and didn’t mean anything. I exclaimed, “They should not touch me like that! How would you like to be grabbed like that? We will never return to Alexandria because of this. Those bad actions are why people do not come to Egypt! They should be ashamed!” At this point they both apologized and I showed them the group of boys that harassed me, as it was easy to spot them since they were laughing and pointing in our general direction, and told them that something should be done to the boys for their bad behavior. I looked at the woman for confirmation but she said nothing…

Beautiful Alexandria. I still love this city. 

Incident #2: Bethlehem, Israel—The Church of the Nativity, where Jesus Christ was born
This one is a little fresher in my mind.  So much in fact that I still get hot when rolling it around my memory, trying to analyze each angle without a grain of intolerance or prejudice. Darren and I finally made it to Bethlehem, and all I really wanted to see was the Church and the Western Wall or Gaza Strip—which worked out perfectly for our plans of heading to Ein Gedi for a dip in the Dead Sea, then onward for a night in Eilat so we could secure our visas at the Egyptian Consulate the next morning. We thankfully arrived fairly early in the morning, after a bit of a struggle getting to the bus without coffee and a proper breakfast, and found ourselves in the middle of a square directly across from the Nativity Church. Darren and I are monsters when it comes to eating, and we realized that we were both absolutely famished. We looked around and decided to have a quick brunch before going into the church, so we quickly consumed extremely tasty chicken sandwiches and vast amounts of coffee before we made our way to the church. Once inside I didn’t really know what to expect. I was still waiting for that pang inside of my stomach or maybe tears to come to my eyes, but nothing…I was too distracted by the line of loud tourists waiting, packed like animals, to get inside of the cave where Jesus was born.

As soon as we got into line, mind you we also had all of our luggage so we looked rather hilarious and suspicious, *I mean honestly, who brings a suitcase and massive backpack into the Church of the Nativity? Security must have been off work that day.* there was a man who came up to us saying he could get us inside much quicker, if we just paid him a small amount of money—which actually wasn’t that small at all! We decided to wait it out, like every one else, and stood in line for over two hours waiting to see the birthplace of Christ. Suddenly I was being smashed and the temperature was boiling. I heard the familiar sound of Egyptian Arabic ringing in my ears and turned my head slightly to have a look. A herd of 50+ Egyptian tourists, all wearing neon green neck-key chains, swarmed around us and tried to cut in front of other people who had been waiting in the line for hours. People were getting angry, but I kept silent and pushed back against the crowd so I could simply breathe.

Finally, we made it through the small doorway and found ourselves beside the alter and the smell of incense, along with so many other languages, was overwhelming. There were some marble steps just to the right of me and about four Egyptian women, all older than fourty, started to step onto them and began to push me out of the way. “Yalla, yalla!” I held my ground, there was nowhere to move! Somehow two of the women stepped down in front of me, stepping all on my feet and causing me to fall backward against another person behind me, but I still said nothing. Then one of the women began to grab onto this tiny Russian girl, who was about my age. She was squeezing her shoulder so hard and the girl kept writhing about, clearly annoyed and a bit scared. The woman continued to grab her, started shoving the distraught girl with her elbow, and yelled in her ear in Arabic. The other Russian women, I think there were two, tried to pull the girl away but the oblivious Egyptian woman wouldn’t let go! I absolutely lost it, grabbed the woman’s hand and moved it to her side, and started yelling at the woman in Arabic, “Khalas menfudluk, khalas! Fayhem?! Eib aleik!” “Stop please, stop! Do you understand?! Shame on you!” The two Egyptian looked at me, bewildered, and asked if I spoke Arabic—completely forgetting to apologize or even acknowledge that the Russian girl was standing there. I told them just a little, and that I live in Cairo. They proceeded to tell me that the line needed to move faster, that they were tired of waiting. I just pointed to everyone around me, who was staring at the scene that was just made, and said I was sorry but there was nowhere to go. This did not satisfy the women so they continued to yell and talk loudly with one another. At this point I noticed a very handsome older gentleman standing next to us, with what seemed to be his father. Darren and I couldn’t figure out exactly what language he was speaking, it sounded to be either Portuguese or Italian, so I asked. As it turns out, this man was there with his father from Italy (who had been wanting all of his life to see the Church of the Nativity), and he also worked for the United Nations. Darren and I were both smitten, obviously, and listened to him as he exclaimed his frustrations with the Egyptians around us. He said, “Their culture allows this. It’s very sad to see this in this church today.”

After being slightly massacred as I inched my way down the steps of the cave, and laughing like a blithering idiot because of the ridiculous situation (and the fact that Darren was using his suitcase as a mode to stand properly), I found myself surrounded by red and gold tapestries with hanging lanterns and ancient photographs. More people poured over top of me and I quickly moved to a wall so I could take everything in. There was an alter-like area on one side of the room and I saw people bending down to kiss the place where Jesus was born. Others were in another small portion of the room, trying to pray in the deafening droning around us. Suddenly a saw one of the Egyptian men stand up from the birthplace and he began to scream in Arabic, and started pushing and shoving people out of his way. Others shoved back and there was chaos for a few moments.

It was so interesting to actually see the church that I had heard about for so many years. It was definitely an experience I will never forget. 
It is said that this is the very spot where Jesus Christ was born.


You could hear a pin drop. As soon as the group of Egyptians left the small cave, there was peace and order. It was remarkable, and the man from Italy made some closing remarks about social dialogue in Egypt, along with Arab Spring countries. I left the church exhausted and physically unscathed.

It’s because of experiences like this that make me so thankful and blessed to have come from Tennessee—where boys would be beaten with a switch for ever grabbing a girl, or knocked upside the head for making a scene in public. I know that every place has it’s flaws and I’m also glad that society is different, every where you go (otherwise it would be a boring world to live in). My mother taught me to search for the good in people, even if they are sometimes not.

One of my best friends said this to me, “In my recent experiences, people tend to ruin anything good, especially anything having to do with faith. It's like this over here, all the right wing crazy conservatives are making me lose faith in humanity. But not faith in God.

At the end of the day, regardless of where I am, this is all that matters.

Beautiful poppies in Israel--a little gift, when I least expected it. 

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