One of my most vivid memories of my year abroad in Egypt came on my very first day in the country. My plane had arrived in Cairo, seemingly wending its way through dozens of minarets, touching down amidst the shimmering heat and dust. Immediately I was swept into dealing with luggage, passport control, customs, and the choking traffic. I finally arrived at my dorm in the quiet, shady neighborhood of Zamalek and I sat on the edge of the bed, surrounded by suitcases. I remember that moment, sitting in the cool quiet, and the one thought that ran through my mind: “What in the world have I done?”
Looking back now, more than three years later, I know the answer to that question. That year in Cairo ignited an interest in the Middle East that is still an important part of my life. It widened my perspective to an extent that I hadn’t even known was possible. It humanized a part of the world that is routinely dehumanized in the media and in politics. It gave me a sense of self that continues to be a touchstone for me, and the knowledge that I can handle just about anything that comes my way. It introduced me to the amazing depths of hospitality, generosity, and humor that exist amongst a people. Last but certainly not least, it allowed me to perfect my hummus recipe. I am not a wildly different person because of that year, but I do think I am a more sensitive, courageous, perceptive, and, ultimately, a better person because of my experiences in Egypt.