|After I left Seeds of Peace International Camp in the summer of 2013, I knew I could not rest until I visited the Middle East. Seeds of Peace, a camp focused on conflict resolution, brings together every summer students from Israel, Palestine, Egypt, Jordan, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the United States to Pleasant Lake, Maine, and encourages dialogue about the Israeli-Palestinian and South Asian conflict. I attended the camp as part of the American Delegation to consider the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I count the experience as the most significant of my life so far.
I have been drawn to Arab culture ever since I visited Egypt in 2011 with my grandmother. Struck then by the warmth of the people and the riches of Egyptian culture, I vowed to return and immerse myself more fully. Camp only increased my desire to return to Egypt—I wanted to experience the lives of my new friends and to gain greater understanding of their beliefs and customs. When my initial plan for a trip in 2014 didn’t work out, I rescheduled it for this summer, having been accepted into a post-Seeds of Peace trip called “Bayti” (meaning “home” in both Arabic and Hebrew), designed for “Seeds” who wanted to study the conflict at close range by spending two weeks in Israel and the West Bank.
After finals ended at Wellesley, I packed a small backpack and boarded a plane to Cairo. There I was greeted by a group of Seeds of Peace friends and quickly whisked off to my friend Miriam’s house, where I would live for the next two weeks. I should point out that when Egyptians talk about “Egypt,” they are in fact referring only to Cairo, an unimaginably large and diverse city.
Not surprisingly, then, though I never actually left the city during my entire two-week visit, I felt as though I was exploring an entire country. Every day a Seeds friend took me to new sites—the winding ancient streets of the Khan al Khalili (the old city of Cairo), the ancient churches and synagogues of Coptic Cairo, or the large strip malls and universities. At night my host-father took me to meet locals at coffee and juice shops, where they discussed the changes occurring in post-revolution Egypt. I ate endless amounts of sharma and makluba with my close friend Bahira as she showed me the city. Once again I was impressed by the kindness and hospitality of the Egyptians. The two weeks flew by, and when I left, I was assured that I had a home and a family in Egypt.