When it comes to roots
The last few weeks have been hectic, as I was working on the 4th annual Wikimedia conference, Wikimania. It happened this year in Egypt, in Alexandria. And it took all of my time for the past two months.
So although I gave a glimpse of my Egyptian travels, I never got to write about the most important thing that happened to me in Egypt. Maybe because that thing is a thing of the heart rather than the mind, and it takes a long time to process, or better, it's harder to put into words. Now here I am, sitting back at home, looking back at the past few weeks.
Alexandria, as I explained, stretches along the Mediterranean, white city against blue skies, full of life and bustling with noises. It is a city with a heart and the Egyptians are simply amazing people. In the time I spent there, I was overwhelmed with a warmth I have seldom felt anywhere while being a "tourist" or rather, a "foreigner".
To try and put things in perspective, I have to go back on another case of being a foreigner. About ten years ago, while as was living in green Austria, I left for a few days to go to Italy. Arriving in Italy, I suddenly felt as aif a wieght had been lifted from my mind and heart, it was the first time of my life that I felt so strongly about my Southern roots. I attributed it to the latiness of Italy in contrast with the Germanic-ness of Austria.
There are few countries where I have really felt at home. France of course, Italy is definitely next on the list. Germany today is home, but it does not feel like home (maybe I should write about this some day). And to my greatest surprise, Egypt was one of those "feels like home" countries. Of course the language and some parts of the culture are foreign to me. But the heart feels right. Maybe because of shared Mediterranean roots. Most of the Egyptians I have met, those who took care of me and showed me their country, shared their culture, whether by walking in the streets or sitting for breakfast in a local restaurant are simply incredible people.
When it comes to experiencing the Arab world, I have been to Marrocco and Tunisia, albeit very shortly in Tunisia, and although both countries are still very much impregnated with French, and communication is somewhat easier, I did not experience the same well-being as I did in Egypt.
I am a bit stuck with words to describe it. Maybe it is the constant smiles, direct from the heart, maybe it is just some strange recognition of common qualities that are inherited with the sun. Maybe it is simply a fluke, some unexpected but real turn of chance that allows for understanding and agreement. Shared insights, shared values, which place the human experience before everything else.
It was hot, I hate hot. It was warm, I loved that warmth. I know that amongst the craziness of organizing a conference, I have made friends, friends who have impressed me with their honesty, their dedication and their truth. Friendships I will cherish across borders, seas and times.