By: Evronia Fr. Angelos Fathy Azer
I have never been outside Egypt by the time I am writing this article, I am almost 18 now and I have traveled abroad with my mind only, visiting cultures and civilizations using modern technology and books. It is a widespread common dream for Egyptian youths and even adults these days to travel abroad. Nevertheless, people say this without knowing the pros and cons of living away from everything they have got used to and leaving their homeland. They believe that their reasons are enough to leave Egypt, regardless to what life is actually like abroad and simply neglecting how cruel it might turn out to be. However, I am not writing about the pros and cons of immigration or anything of this sort, because it is an entirely different thing from the topic at hand. I do not want to sound personal, but I have to, so as I would be able to tell you -from my point of view- about the one and only advantage that I see in living in Egypt, which made me lately thank God repeatedly for having lived in Egypt for all this time until I have learned what I had to learn.
Maybe my life in Egypt is much shorter than many others'. I too have this dream of traveling, yet I have reasons which we will discuss in here. But throughout my life, I have realized a variety of facts and gained much experience and done a lot of things. I simply want to share the most important of all this with you.
Being what could be considered by others as successful; it has not been easy to be so. This is due to my strong personality and my absolute refusal of compromising, hence, whenever someone says something I do not agree on, I always have to declare my disagreement because I believe that silence is a sign of agreement. Though this has caused me lots of problems, especially with narrow-minded people, still, I do not regret it at all. This habit has made me feel special, however, it changed the way I analyse things.
This 'refusing-to-compromise' characteristic has made me always look for better things in life, as well as avoid dealing with those who give me a real headache, those who merely refuse to accept hearing your opinion. But I have always believed in what the French writer and philosopher, Voltaire said "I disagree with what you have to say but will fight to the death to protect your right to say it." I do not truly feel that many Egyptians are able to believe in that. They just cannot!
Another thing which they cannot accept is a person's creativity. A talent is something praised by others, but, if truth be told, it is not always wanted, because it will turn life upside down. You will demand unusual things, and unusualness is certainly unwanted. For example, look at schools; can you be creative in a comprehension passage or a mathematical problem? You will score a big zero, as a result, you simply trade the same path like many generations before you did, and take private lessons to get the highest possible marks. I was somehow lucky not to go through many of this as I was an IGCSE student, but I am still living in Egypt and I have much unusualness about myself, my thoughts, beliefs and habits. Thanks to my parents! But I have to admit, I like being who I am!
There are more and more things that make me dislike life in Egypt. Nevertheless, I will mention the most important ones. I am doing so, in order to appear more realistic to you by the time you reach the end of this. One of those 'important reasons' is the fact that many people have no conscience in doing their jobs, or even the daily things they do. You might find the taxi driver calling you names if he does not like the fare, despite the fact that is more than enough! Or a neighbour doing lousy things to bother you and invade your privacy making you hate your life even more! Does this taxi driver just think before he insults and shouts? And does this neighbour consider your feelings before doing such things? These are only examples of the 'no-conscience' phenomenon in my opinion. It means these people have no ethics, or at least it is what seems to me.
Well, everything -big and small- that is happening to me bores me to death on a daily basis. Everybody knows what life is like in Egypt, especially when you are a Christian and a girl. I am not going to waste your time describing it. Everything emphatically appears to be quite dark. Therefore, I have no hope in living here... It makes me remember all the ridiculous things in my life once something annoying happens to me. And what makes matters worse, is the fact that I was not accepted in all the scholarships I applied to, for a try to go abroad and achieve my dreams. But I am sure God is planning another path for me where I can achieve my dreams; at least what does not kill me, makes me stronger.
Speaking of dreams, I have tons of them, all sizes and kinds: big, small, serious and even silly. Like many teenagers who feel that they can change the world, I too feel so, but in a realistic way, so much different from what everybody feels, because I know how it feels like to change others around you. It appears that Oprah Winfrey has inspired me greatly. Well in fact, she has. She is a living example of what 'striving determinedly for a dream through hardships' means. I thought, "Why can't I be like her?" I already had this 'striving' thought long before, but she made it more precise and specific in my mind.
All the difficulties I faced here in Egypt made me feel that I would not be able to achieve my dreams in Egypt. This made my life duller, because it meant I would have to continue without arguing with people, taxi drivers, governmental clerks, so as not to have a daily headache. But with a personality like mine, I could not, cannot and will not do this. So I have made up my mind one more time and reached a resolution: do not let others determine your way of living your own life, even if it means you would have to fight. And I declared the challenging fight and decided to achieve my dreams wherever. Publishing this article simply means that one of my small dreams is achieved, because my voice has reached others.
So as you can see, I am in an endless daily fight: a fight with life, streets, dreams, future, present and most importantly the people living and causing all this. With having to put up with this kind of fight daily, I saw unexpectedly the only advantage in living in Egypt. To be honest, what I have gained from this 'advantage' is more than anything else I have learned from all the books I read or movies I saw in my whole life.
Of course you are all expecting me to tell you that the advantage of living in Egypt is that I have learned what it means to have hope and fight for dreams. However, I am truly sorry to disappoint you because this is not the truth. Hope and fighting for dreams are not something bad of course, but anyone can simply acquire these things from a good novel or a TV show. It was something more, it was something I have often thought of, yet it was painful to think of.
First let me tell you something you do not know about me, I am a realistic person, though emotional and romantic, I am realistic. I refuse to be imaginative sometimes when it is no use to be so. And one of the things where I get too realistic about is death; I refuse to neither wear black nor even cry when someone dies just because he is dead, I might shed a tear or two because the situation is affecting, however, it is not because the person himself died. I am not heartless, but I think of it this way: this person who died, has reached the ultimate goal of all, he has reached what we all seek, which is why we were created in the first place. Regardless to missing the person who died, because it is difficult of course to lose a beloved person, but still, the truth is that the one who died is feeling a lot more comfortable than what we feel living on earth.
You might think that I have gotten out of my issue, but the truth is, this is exactly the core of the issue: death. I have worked for some time on a book in Arabic about death from a religious point of view, I thought it would really transfer my point of view to others, but it would still be similar to all the other books written by people who are better than me. However, this notion about death has not abandoned me. Nonetheless, I still feel affected when I hear someone is dead regardless of all my opinions. Yet, whenever I realize that life could not get any worse, I find myself wishing death. Consequently, with time, I appreciate death more and this minute feeling of sympathy which I used to feel when thinking of someone's death was gone... my life changed forever.
It was the time of St Mary's fast in August when I got so many messages from God about this death issue. I went to church as many times as I could because it made me feel more comfortable to ask God to take my soul when I was in church, when I had a clear mind and a peaceful soul, because times like these, I thought, were the best times for the person to die. However, God knows the best time to take somebody's soul. When I was in church during the fast, there were lots of sermons about that discussed this issue, and that is why I thought these were messages from God directed to me in that time of year specifically...I certainly believe in the 'messages from God' thing, it happens a lot to me and to everyone alive, like St Anthony's famous story.
Before that time, I wrote plenty of things concerning my dreams in life, which are to help others find the real beauty inside them, teach people how to help themselves and each others, serve humanity and inspire people all over the world... I hope that wherever I live, I will be able to enjoy the 4 freedoms: freedom of worship, freedom of speech, freedom from want and freedom from fear, so as to be able to achieve my dreams. However, I am not quite enjoying those freedoms! My years in this country taught me that if I want to live happily I would have to give away my pride, self confidence, dreams and sometimes even forget that I am human. It is very painful to do so. It is hard if you try to hold on to who you are and what you believe in and even if you try to enjoy your everyday life. It is simply impossible.
The fact is that I prefer death to not-being-a-human in order live; death is better than this way of living. If we even come to think of it, death is not bad at all, on the contrary! Death justifies life. It might sound strange but it is true. Life is just a meaningless game that we get so much occupied with but...is it worth it? The answer is certainly "NO".
However, we cannot wish for death because human beings normally wish for a happy life, but I do wish for death (and my thoughts are not suicidal!). It is just better than 'living like the dead' against your will. However, death is not something to be chosen or determined, unfortunately. I think if death was something to be chosen; many people alive now would have chosen to die a long time ago, including me. I am not a pessimistic person, but a realistic one, as I mentioned before. Because when one faces a hardship, one prefers to die... We are always afraid to fight life back. But I chose to fight and I know I will win, at least by influencing the lives of people around me.
I believe that God gives us not all what we want, but all what we need... so even if we do not live this kind of life, it is better for us...Oh, if God only talks to us! We would not need to decide for anything and leave everything to be done in the best way by God, because He is the one who rules it all, even if we get to choose our decisions, these decisions are pre-known by God. So, you can never know what kind of life is good for you and what is not and it is up to you to decide if you want to be respected and live life the hard way, or be disrespected and live easily as if you are dead.
If death means 'life is meaningless', then we do not need to be sorry about anything that happens to us while we are alive on this planet. However, we still seek better standards, better money and better everything. Meanwhile, it is most important to seek better being, better personality and better 'who-we-are' because it is what counts in the end; it is what makes a true difference in life and even in death. It is what gives life a reason and gives death a meaning: we live to become better and qualify ourselves for death. Death is the only great adventure in life, but even if we cannot make our days longer, we can certainly make them better.
Someday we will look back at this painful life and laugh because life is worthless and we are mortal. We are all going to die someday and what others think of us, for example, will not be the keys to Heaven, but our good deeds in life, how good we were to each other and how sincere we loved everyone, even those who are different. That is why if you think about death, you will not have to regret any decisions in life or even cry about anything, except your sins, you do not even have to think "should I re-sit the B that I got in my language exam to look good among the other nerds?" and that is the advantage of thinking of death. You will discover that your life has a better meaning if you think of death as a fair end.
If the end of life comes tomorrow, what counts? 1- The true achievements and deeds that brought quality and joy to others' lives, 2- the quality we gave to our days and how optimistic we were about our lives.
To sum this whole thing up, everything is in vain; all will go someday. And this is exactly what I learned from living in Egypt, and I think it is the best thing to be learned ever. You might be wondering now, what this lesson has got to do with living in Egypt...The answer is that if I had lived somewhere where humanity is respected and every citizen is considered, I would have enjoyed life in a way I do not enjoy now and had lots of things to do, lots of places to go to. People living abroad would really understand this.
Living in Egypt has made me more religious and attached to God. I no longer care as much about money, clothes, or even think of what others think of me, other than what I used to think in the past, when I used to care a lot about what every person around me thought of me. But now, I think, "What others think of me will not send me to heaven or hell, they will not give me the keys to success in life or eternity."
I also learned to be more thankful to everything I have, because now after all this, I am ready to face the world, with this brand new lesson of mine about the vanity of life and how much we should believe in it, in a way that would make us see and understand things in life differently. Materialistic dreams should be all directed towards this new view of life and everything we do in life should have a benefit, a cause and a reason. However, I do not wish that my words are understood as "live life as nuns and do not do anything at all" because I already mentioned above that "I declared the challenging fight and decided to achieve my dreams wherever" so as long as your dreams will carve your name in history, then go for them...and there is no harm whatsoever to have simple 'silly' dreams like "I wish to plant tulips in my backyard next year" because we are still human beings and we cannot abandon the earthy nature in ourselves, but most importantly, "Seek not the things that are too high for thee, and search not into things above thy ability: but the things that God hath commanded thee, think on them always, and in many of his works be not curious, for it is not necessary for thee to see with thy eyes those things that are hid."(The Book of Sirach 3:22-23) And remember "It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in man." (Psalm 118:8) When things get tough, remember, faith does not get you around trouble, it gets you through it and when you relinquish the desire to control your future, you obtain happiness. Just do what you have to do in life and leave the rest for God to determine.
-- Special thanks to Lydia Ayad for editing the article.