In Egypt Observing Martin Luther King Jr. Day Among DreamersMe Ra Koh
We have been in Egypt for only four days, and my heart and mind are full.
Among dusty roads, crowded open markets, camels walking alongside the stalled traffic, there is a people that is foreign to me and my family. The call to prayer rings out faithfully throughout the day, a song rising above the heated arguments between vendors. A group of women walk past us, stealing a glance at me and my family as I steal a glance at them. Some cover their heads, and others cover their whole body — draped in black so I can only see their eyes. They remind me that a smile lives in
the eyes, and I don’t need to see any other part of their face to see a woman’s joy or another woman’s sadness.
There is a tension in the air that you can’t ignore. I did not know until I walked among the people, sat with them, discussing the topic of freedom over late night dinners, that this country is in the midst of mighty, undeniable change. January 25th, only a handful of days from now, will mark the two year anniversary of Egypt’s revolution. Many of the locals tell me they are disappointed with the country’s current leadership — some confess they are disappointed with themselves for not choosing better. One man said that he fears this is the beginning of the end, and I can see him fighting internally to not believe the words he hears his lips confess because he loves his country. He loves Egypt.
In the states, my family and friends are celebrating Martin Luther King Jr. Day. The I have a Dream speech is even more alive to me today, as I stand in the desert with a Bedouin man and his camels, and hear him tell me his own dreams. It is in this moment of synchronicity that I realize I am walking among dreamers, and what better people to reshape a country than those who know how to dream.
“I say to you today, my friends, that in spite of the difficulties and frustrations of the moment, I still have a dream…I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.'”
In my ignorance, I thought there were only three pyramids to see in Egypt. I didn’t know there are over 90 identified pyramids. But before seeing the most famous pyramids in Giza, the three big ones we’ve all seen photos of, our family went to see the first pyramids built. One is called the “bent pyramid” and looks more like stacks of stone that taper off as it nears the top. Another is the Red Pyramid, which again looks like a practice run or a draft compared to the three famous ones in Giza.
With tourism having dropped dramatically, we had the Red Pyramid to ourselves and were able to go inside–stooped over, climbing down a step ladder that went for a 1000 meters into the belly of the pyramid. To stand in the middle, the heart of this historical monument, was surreal.
But when we finally made it to the pyramids in Giza, and we saw the clean lines, the strong, triangular shape, the solid foundation that reaches to the heavens, I felt inspired as a dreamer and an artist.
To see for myself that these amazing pyramids evolved from the almost “practice ones” that came before it, to be reminded that the validity of a dream cannot be based on the first attempts, that refinement, rewriting, and recommitting to create the work again–the work that we have a vision for our loved ones and future generations to experience–that dream building takes time, and the time, the effort, the mistakes, the work, the fight to keep going is not in vain. This country is a work in progress. It is in the midst of finding form, being molded, recreated, refashioned. The end result is never guaranteed, and yet the creation process asks everything of you.
Egypt is a country full of mystery, intrigue and rich history. For two years I’ve watched the news and media with the rest of the world and been confused at the chaos I see on my TV screen when it comes to Egypt. But to be here, only four days into our trip and only days away from their anniversary — to hear so many Egyptians share their dreams from our Egyptologist Guide to the Bedouin Camel Owner to the Nubian Villagers, I realize my family is walking among dreamers. That in our choice to visit Egypt for a family holiday, we chose to be among those who are discussing the form of freedom in every waking moment. This is the language I want my children to hear. These are the conversations and words that will gird them in days to come. And whether Egypt’s dream becomes a reality this year or in fifty years, there is much hope–as every American can attest to as we remember a dream proclaimed in 1964.
…”We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force…
I have a dream today.
I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.
This is our hope. This is the faith with which I return to the South. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.
This will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with a new meaning, “My country, ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim’s pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring.”