Friday, June 7, 2013

Now I'm the Tourist

I used to poke fun at tourists, and then I became one.

During my time living in Cairo, you couldn't help but spot and then run from the masses of tour groups swarming the streets and monuments of our cool, ancient country. Yes, I said our. I lived there. It was my home.

Squinty eyes unable to handle the blazing Egyptian sun, tan lines, fish belly white skin, often horrific accents, and awful cultural no-nos coming out of the you know what, all while asking for people to take their pics, wearing backpacks, cargo shorts, and "comfy walking shoes".

They lined our streets, while holding maps, cameras, and most importantly hand sanitizer. Often they could be heard "making friends" with locals (who were laughing AT them), and in constant awe of everything "old and pretty" in our city. Oh and smiling. The biggest give away, was their enormous grins and constant "oohing and awing", making them prime targets for anyone with a scam.  They are too trusting, desperate  to spend their "vacation budget", and anxiously attempting to get the most highs out of their allotted time. The locals feed off this. Often you could locate the foreign girls, simply by watching the eyes of the local men, who couldn't help but stare straight into the deep cleavage of the tight see through tank tops and sundresses.  Ugh.

I forgot one, the look and sound of pure GLEE at the sight of a Starbucks or McDonalds, as if they have never been to one.

So needless to say, those of us that live(d) in Egypt, had little to no appreciation for the thousands of tourists that flooded our borders, bringing with them them the dollars that helped fund and grow the economy. I should have been more appreciative. Now, those tourists are few and far between, and so are their dollar signs. Egypt needs them.

During my trip to Turkey and then Portugal last month, I found myself time after time again, feeling quite the tourist. I was easy to spot, the perfect target. With a NIKON camera strapped around my neck, my inability to count out the proper change, walking in circles with a map, asking for directions, hailing taxis the wrong way, and of course "oohing and awing at the cool old stuff"...all with a giant "I am so excited" grin plastered to my own face.

I was the quite the idiot. But I had butterflies, like all tourists do, to be part of something least new to me. To join a world away I had only seen via technology. To walk amongst a mysterious mindset and history I will never understand, and to pretend, just for a few days, that I was part of it.

Every place has a story to tell, and the right to tell it. Those listening and willing to learn should be given grace to enjoy it and experience it however they choose. Even with our rose colored glasses and naivety, it's okay to see things from a lighter perspective. It's refreshing to have a break from reality sometimes...and there is nothing wrong with wanting to just escape and explore the surface of a different culture. Being a tourist lets you be a kid again, and you don't have to dig into the nitty gritty and ugly of a foreign people if you don't want to. Instead, you can get lost in a mysterious city, all while snapping pics of old buildings and enjoying your overpriced ice cream...knowing people are watching, pointing, and laughing. But who cares.

It was in those moments I realized I need to be graceful and helpful to tourists...even the obnoxious ones. Everyone deserves to have a break from life...

(Yes we get them in Iraq...not tons, but some great brave souls)

Some pics below of my own moments of being a tourist. Be nice about the self portraits. Some days, I was touring by myself. :)
Below Istanbul in the Cisterns

Covered up in order to enter the Blue Mosque

Windy Portugal coasts

I stopped for a hot tea and bite to eat my day in Istanbul
That one day in Istanbul by myself, I decided that solo touring was not for me

At a castle in Portugal!

I loved the roads!

Sunset in Portugal

Blue Mosque!