To Egypt This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

I pressed my face against the windows of the 747 bound for Egypt and looked down at the ocean. I was in a state between sleep and wake, wondering where I was and what I was doing. Finally, I dozed. A few hours later, I was awakened by my mother.

"We're finally here," she said.

We climbed into taxis and headed toward our hotel. Looking around, I found myself in a different world. People wore traditional Arabic garb and sandals, a distinct contrast to the Western clothing styles I was used to, and some stepped in front of our taxi trying to get money or food, anything to help them survive. The air was thick with pollution and sand blew aimlessly. It was too much for my lungs; when I coughed, some sand came out.

My grandparents called this place "home," but I could not understand how a place so distant, so different, could be home for us. I had never understood why they felt such nostalgia for it. This was a shock to me, having never seen anything like it in my life.

I was seven that year I was dragged to Egypt with my mom, dad, brother, grandparents and my mom's brother's family. There were ten of us in all, but we were there for a somber occasion. My great-grandmother had died, and we had come to see many of my relatives - uncles, aunts and cousins I had never met before. We were also here to explore the many historic sites of Egypt. This was something that, at the time, I considered boring, and I continually complained on the way there. I kept telling my mom that we should be doing something fun over Christmas break. Little did I know how important this experience would be for all of us, especially me.

During the first few days, we spent most of our time in Cairo, the capital and the largest city in the country, and one of the cultural centers of the Arabic world. The streets were lined with small outdoor markets selling everything from poultry to clothing. The streets were congested with pedestrians and automobiles, all honking their horns as they tried to weave through the packed streets. Smog and pollution were ever present.

Cairo, however, was also filled with wonderful, ancient sights. We visited extraordinary Coptic churches, where Egyptian Christians had to worship underground to avoid death at the hands of Muslims. The animosity between Christians and Muslims in that region is unparalleled. These places were damp and cool, and I felt as if the walls would cave in at any moment. As we visited more churches, I realized how important it was that I was experiencing this. Being in these cold, lonely dungeons almost made me feel like my ancestors must have, hiding in these caverns so they would not be killed for their beliefs. This visit really had an impact on me. There was a lot to take in, but I realized how brave my relatives had been so I can worship without these fears. It put life into perspective, and I began to realize what my parents mean when they tell me, "You are luckier than you will ever know."

In Cairo, we also visited many family members. I met people I, at first, thought were so different, but when I talked with them I realized we weren't that different. I got to know those who are now some of my closest relatives, though they live faraway. When I met my Uncle Anis, for example, I was nervous at first. I felt a cold sweat coming down my forehead as I extended my hand to greet him. But when he smiled at me, it made me feel more comfortable than I had the whole trip. It was the first time I felt "at home" in Egypt, and it was a spectacular feeling. Never again will I feel so at home in a place that is really so far from home.

Other highlights were a cruise on the Nile River and visiting amazing sites built thousands of years ago. Though at that time I did not fully realize what we were seeing, I really learned a lot. In fact, this may be the reason the memories are deeply embedded in my mind. I had the chance to ride a camel in the desert sun, and visit the Sphinx, which is one of the experiences I remember most. Looking up at that towering stone creature while feeling the sting of sand blowing against my face was one of the most memorable moments in my life. This was an experience I was able to share with my cousins, which made it even better.

By the time we reached the last monument, the Pyramids of Giza, my attitude had completely changed. Instead of wishing I could go home and complaining that I was bored, I looked with awe at the towering pyramids and realized what my ancestors had done thousands of years before. These amazing structures took nearly a century to create, and were built so extraordinarily well that they are still in good condition today. I was finally appreciating my history, and it was amazing. I look back at all the relatives I met in Egypt, and all the monuments, churches and villages I visited, and realize that this country is where my roots lie.

As I flew back to America, I realized the magnitude of what I had seen. I had experienced, with close family and friends, one of the most incredible places on earth. It was a lot to take in at that age, but when I returned home, I felt completely different about my heritage. I had changed.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.

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Fayrouz This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Nov. 21, 2009 at 3:31 pm
First time I went to Egypt, I was very homesick and I wanted to go back, counting the days left until I went home. I'm also Egyptian. But Egypt is phenomenal once you "get used to it" if you know what I mean.
soiggang said...
Jun. 18, 2009 at 2:01 am
I really enjoyed your story. I wonder how many times you have traveled Egypt as I read. Did you write it after your second trip or you just wrote it totally depending on your rememberence of it.
Could you respond me ASAP?

Sohee from Korea
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