A point of perspective can vastly change how one views certain aspects of the world. I often get emails from home in concerned caps. “I SAW THE NEWS,” “ISN’T EGYPT DANGEROUS?” and, my favorite, “ARE YOU ALIVE?!?!” I have to note that while I will always appreciate the passionate concern from my friends and family back home, I sometimes cannot help but chuckle at what feels like, to me, overly dramatic reactions to sensationalized media crises on the nightly news.
I’ve been fortunate in my time in Egypt to experience this country many times from the air. Staring out the window of our small passenger plane en route to Hurghada, the Red Sea stretches out for eternities unto the horizon. No matter how high one flies, the vastness of the water remains. The beaches disappear, the hungry Russian tourists fade to nothingness, but the blue abyss below continues to grow as I hang suspended, testing the power of gravity in a small metal tube miles above the earth.
One of my favorite experiences in Egypt occurred on our last morning in Luxor. I fumbled to get ready for the day in the dark of night, stumbled my way through a short bus ride and a black ride across the Nile in a small boat surrounded by a deep, dreary water so unlike the glittering currents of the daytime. I rubbed my eyes and eventually found myself in a large, glowing field, bathed in an unnatural light that emanated in short spurts from the burners of twenty-some hot air balloons.
Here were the great creatures I had been anticipating for so long, rising from the ground just as the sun began to peek from it’s home beneath the horizon.Slowly, gingerly, the envelopes filled with hot air and the baskets turned upright. All 16 of us, and a few Japanese-speaking tourists, pulled ourselves up and into a basket, and before I knew it, the ground was sinking beneath me and we were rising with the sun into the open sky.
The ride was unnaturally smooth. Our pilot made a joke about how it was his first flight ever (at least, I hoped it was a joke), but I felt absolutely safe. The experience is akin to what I’d always imagined what floating on a cloud felt like. As we rose, we began to do a sort of dance with the other balloons, twisting around one another in large arcs. My fingers gripped the edge of the basket and I eased myself over the edge to look down.
Earlier in the week, we had visited the great sites of Luxor. Karnak Temple, Hatesphut’s Tomb, the Valley of the Kings. I’d stood at the foot of colossal statues twenty times my height and marveled at how incredibly small I felt in comparison. These monuments were not only mammoth in size, but they were also grandiose in legacy. The gods they represent are infamous, the stories of their builders are acclaimed. I had stood and stared during just a tiny moment in their long history. It was humbling.
Up in the basket, however, I couldn’t help but marvel at how incredibly insignificant all of these immense structures seemed. As we ducked in and out of the desert mountains, I couldn’t help but notice that the great tombs looked like foxholes. The Colossus of Memnon were nothing more than little figurines in the grace. Even the mighty Nile, glimmering in the sunrise, was nothing more than a golden thread crossing the green plateau so far below. All of a sudden, I was caught with a new angle of the “giant” emblems the ancient Egyptians had built in these deserts so long ago. Suddenly, they didn’t seem so mighty.
Coming down, of course, meant that everything once again grew large and important. But having been up, having seen that different point of view, I recognized something about perspective. On the ground, up close, everything seems immense. In a small moment in time, anything can seem overwhelmingly meaningful. But in the larger scheme of things, even the greatest of monuments fade into specks on the horizon as we recognize the vast size of the world we live in.
Which brings me back to my safety in Cairo. I do not mean to criticize the revolutionary changes occurring in Egypt on a daily basis, because they are, indeed, monumental in the recent democratic history of this ancient nation. But I am quick to note how small in scale they actually are, even when compared to the whole of Cairo. How, from one correctly placed angle of a news media camera, protests can seem large and volatile, when, in reality, most are extremely peaceful.
I can spend a morning in my dorm room on the island of Zamalek and watch videos of an angry mob storming Tahrir like any American back home, and despite the fact that I am only a 20-minute walk from the goings on, it affects me as little here as it would if I was home in Minnesota. Cairo is a city of 18 million people, and even if a few thousand take to the streets, the majority continue to live daily life per usual. Later in the day, I can take a bus to the upper bluffs of East Cairo and stare down at the city beneath me, built into a large canyon gorged away by the Nile over thousands of years. From that angle, Tahrir doesn’t even exist. It is smudged between two grey buildings smother in Cairo’s smog just like all the buildings around it. Even the pyramids, immense wonders of the ancient world, are almost invisible on the far horizon, no bigger than the nail on my thumb.
Understanding is all about seeing a different perspective. Being in Cairo during a historical moment in history has truly humbled me to the power of humanity, but has also humbled me in recognizing the vast size of the world around me. Being small doesn’t mean being insignificant. In a world of seven billion people, a few thousand protesters in a small square in a buzzing metropolis don’t seem like they’d stick out. But they still have the power to make change. This is life, and my perspective on that is beautiful.