In my haste to post my reaction to what was happening in Egypt, I left out a crucial detail. Far froman authority, I believe this detail lends me a voice. I did a lot of research about Egyptian history, customs, and people before my trip. I went with an open mind, not knowing what to expect from my first, hands-on experience in the Mideast. I never imagined the impact this trip would have on me. What began as a pleasurable vacation, ended as a life changing journey.
My third night in Egypt. I was invited to attend the opening reception of the Mediterranean Food Summit, which my husband was a part of. I was a bit apprehensive at first, because I would be there alone. At the last moment, I decided to go. Why not? I thought. I will only go to Egypt once in my life, and after all, I will never see any of the attendees again. After trying on everything I had packed, I donned my $50 "designer discount" Marshall's dress and took the elevator to the seventeenth floor. The guests had begun to gather. I scanned the crowd for a familiar face, and not seeing one, I walked over to the edge of the balcony. The circular pool was surrounded by a transparent glass wall. Beyond it was the Mediterranean Sea, above it a full moon shined down, and far below it, Alexandria's bustling street scene played out. Party music that came from the speakers could not drown out the sound of car horns, nor the eerie siren sounding its last call to prayer for the day.
I thought how amazing it was to be standing there. I felt like I was on top of the world. The sound of footsteps broke my reverie and I was joined by a well dressed, older gentleman who spoke with an accent. In a rather deep voice he asked, "Breathtaking, isn't it?" I sighed and said something about how lucky I felt and how incredible it was to be in a country that I had only dreamed of visiting. He laughed aloud. We went back and forth for awhile. Soon a woman walked over and he introduced her as his wife, Suzanne. What I came to find out later,was that what appeared to be run of the mill party banter was, in reality, a brush with fame.
Had I known in that moment, I would have been freaked out; I would have been intimidated and not able to relax enough to be myself. I am now thankful I was blissfully unaware. I had no idea to whom I was speaking. The conversation ended when introductions for the gala began. As the couple walked away from me, the general manager's wife came over and asked me how I felt after talking with the President.
When I look back now, I can remember the signs. I can see the security guards move closer as they formed a tight circle around us. I notice the men on headsets as they reported to one another and I recall a curious crowd of onlookers staring in our direction. The security detail was protecting President Mubarak and The First Lady of Egypt.
*(A version of this story is an excerpt from this week’s Noticing newsletter. You can read more about Noticing here.) * In a rare interview, Italian auth...