One year down.... But the challenge to figure out the mysteries of this place only intensifies the more I allow myself to dig and know this ancient world. Combining Islam with a country that was historically Christian, Arabic with Coptic, and various tribes with pure Egyptian blood make this country unusual, a puzzle that I truly believe is not meant to be solved.
I became frightened a few weeks ago, when I caught myself finally admitting aloud my struggle with anger. This is new for me within the last year...always known as "the cheerful one", I was caught off guard when it became evident this was no longer the case. It began with small outbursts related to the physical and sexual harassment that females face each day they walk the streets of Cairo. Once I became comfortable enough to confront strangers directly rather than ignore them, I noticed my temper shortening upon each negative encounter with a man. This turned the expression on my face into a permanent frown from the moment I left my flat, until I was safely in the company of friends. Our faces do effect our emotional well being. Frowning for chunks of my day was not good for my heart. This was followed by the quick lesson that taxi rides with minimal communication and no smiles produced more respect when it was time to pay. Cheerful attitudes only encourage one's chances of being taken advantage of. However, once I saw how often people attempted to cheat me, my heart became even harder.
It's not just the harassment and cheating, but also the force required to accomplish simple tasks such as crossing a street, checking out at the grocery store, attaining a place on the metro, requiring a handyman to complete a task, or buying a train ticket. All of these require an aggressive spirit . One quickly learns that patience is not an option if you plan on completing tasks...if you wait, "your turn" will never come.
But go ahead and try training yourself to turn off this aggression once you have seen the necessity it is for survival here. It's almost impossible to switch back and forth, our minds don't work that way. It's not like turning on "work mode" and then slipping back into "home mode" at the end of a work day, it's a lot more complicated than that. Intense becomes life...life becomes intense.
Things were put into perspective for me in regards to one of the reasons I feel defeated so much of the time during a conversation with the man sitting next to me on the train one night. He calmly explained to me that as a woman God viewed me as inferior to him, a man. He didn't understand my blank stare. Why should he? But this explains a lot.
Combine all these elements, and ask me again why anger is difficult to avoid? Exactly, it's impossible without Divine power to not be overcome with sinful aggression as my response and let my emotions guide me. Unfortunately, they win a lot of the time. One then finds the struggle of not just dealing with anger, but now processing through the guilt of responding sinfully.
During a stroll last week, i was watching people pass by, their brows scrunched, their expressions sour...their eyes, heavy. It was that moment clarity struck, and God revealed a small glimpse of truth to me. Compassion... once part of my daily life, but hidden for almost a year now. I was relieved to discover it didn't disappear completely. Allow me to share what I learned and have been twirling in my mind recently.
Whether or not we will admit it, our society plays a huge part in who we develop into as we grow and mature. People live based on what they are taught through how others treat them, what they see, what they experience, and how they best cope. I cannot hold angry feelings against people around me here, when they are doing what they know is necessary to survive. There is no reason for them not to respond with aggression when it is all around them. It's all they know. It is what "works" here. The same way that it has seeped itself into my veins, they have breathed it from day one. It runs deeper in who they are, than I will ever understand. I can't hold them accountable for being what this society has trained them to be. Staying angry and refusing to accept this as a reality that I can't change, is HARD. I come in with my American standards for how things should be and then get frustrated that I am always disappointed. News flash, this isn't America, it's the farthest thing from it. Don't think deadlines, timeframes, or consideration for others is a priority here, it's not. I don't expect it ever will be. Being angry at the anger all around me doesn't change the truth of this place. I have to submit to their culture, the aggression is what it takes to make it here, we are all products of our societies, our families. Wishing it away is not an option.
This brings me to the next piece of the lesson God is teaching me. GRACE. Not only should I begin each morning praising Him and asking for His strength, but I also must CHOOSE grace. The very grace He extends to me, I am expected to give freely to those around me. My flesh will buck this, it's not natural, it goes against the grain of humanity to choose grace when we feel we are being wronged.
I am frustrated that my culture has taught me to demand respect and personal rights as something I am owed. I am not owed a thing by anyone. It's not about me, but my western upbringing told me that it is, and that I have the freedom to make it that way. A small percentage of people actually get to live out freedom on a daily basis. We think that is how it is supposed to be, but that's not reality. I can't expect to be "free" with "rights" when I am living in a society that knows nothing of this. Freedom? some wouldn't know what to do it with it... and those that have it are clueless as to the gift it is.
What ever happened to community? Once again, it's not about me...although my will challenges this everyday.
Rather than dwelling on how I am constantly wronged, taken advantage of, cheated, lied to, harassed, propositioned, I should change my focus to ask the Lord to show me how to willingly display GRACE, and ask Him to place me in positions where I can share this gift of GRACE with those I encounter. It's not about how I was "wronged again today," but rather getting one step closer to offering truth...GRACE, in every context of how it can change lives...