“It’s not safe over there” is what we heard from a lot of our friends and family when they found out we were planning a trip to the Holy Land and to Egypt. Indeed when we watch the evening news it certainly seems to be the truth. Scary words like “sharia law” and “Sunni” and “Shia” and “jihad” have the desired effect: they make us afraid.
Truth be told friends, I felt just as safe in Israel, Palestine, and Egypt as I feel at home in Michigan. If I really thought about it, I probably felt a bit safer over there.
We arrived home about two days before the attack on the al-Rawad mosque in the North Sinai region of Egypt. We hadn’t recovered from the jet lag before this attack happened, and we began to receive messages from friends who were glad we got out in time.
I appreciate the concern, friends. I really do. But the idea of “safety” in this world is a myth. The truth is, at any place, at any time, there is potential for disaster to strike. All it takes is the right kind of extremist to decide to act. Just like in Texas, and Las Vegas, and Miami, and Sandy Hook, and Charleston, and Virginia Tech and, and, and, and the list goes on. In fact, one of our new friends in Jerusalem shared that, whenever he travels to the States, his friends worriedly warn him, “It’s not safe over there!”
The idea that we are any safer here than we are in Jerusalem or Cairo is simply not true.
While in Jerusalem, five other Americans and myself decided to go for a walk in the old city of Jerusalem. We walked from our hotel and the nearest gate let us into the Muslim quarter of the city. We walked and talked and shopped and laughed and never felt like we were in danger. I even got to play a little soccer in the streets with some kids while their dad closed up the family’s shop.
In Cairo, our entire group was welcomed into the oldest and biggest mosque in the country. We were able to admire its beauty and talk with many of the people who were there after the midday call to prayer. We were not threatened. We were welcomed and respected.
The point is friends that anywhere you go has the potential to be dangerous whether it is your own backyard or Egypt. (But in Egypt, at least you get to see thousands-of-years-old pyramids. I don’t have any of those in my backyard; do you?)
Speaking specifically of Egypt, since it is in the news, you have to know that it is a gorgeous country full of wonderfully hospitable people. I drank tea in Bedouin tents with actual Bedouins. We danced and laughed and became friends.
There are only two things that I feared the entire time we were in Egypt. The first was the vendors. They were everywhere and always wanted to sell you something. I feared them not because they were aggressive but because I wanted to buy everything!
The other time I felt fear was in Cairo traffic. Cairo is a city of 23 million people, and sometimes it seems like all of them are either trying to drive or walking out in front of people trying to drive. The fear was not for myself but for the pedestrians who seemed to step out in front of vehicles, hardly noticing them and narrowly escaping being hit. Thankfully we had a fantastic driver. (Much love Monty!)
All an American really needs to be safe in Egypt is the ability to only keep a couple of dollars in your pocket at a time so you don’t buy everything, and the smarts not to try to drive yourself or walk anywhere you might have to cross a street. That’s it.
When you travel, especially to places that our media wants us to fear, you will discover that people are just people.
In my conversations with my new Bedouin friend Said, I kept asking about how the Muslims and Christians got along and how the Egyptian government treated the Bedouins. He kept repeating to me time after time that there are no categories; there are just people. Muslim or Christian it doesn’t matter, he said, because there is one God of us all. And he kept telling me that Bedouins are Egyptians; there is no difference. All are treated the same. All are respected.
Is it possible for a terrorist to hurt you while visiting the Holy Land or Egypt? Yes. But it is just as likely for you to get hurt in your church on Sunday morning or pumping gas at the gas station. There are no guarantees in life, no matter where you are. I just really, really don’t want to let fear keep me from living while I’m here.
One of my biggest takeaways from this trip is the reality that people are people. Sure, we all have our own distinctiveness, those things that make us different and unique. But when you get down to it, we are all people. And most of us all want the same thing: to live in peace.
When we look at the world, at places like the Holy Land and Egypt, and decide that it’s too dangerous to travel there because of terrorism – then the terrorists win. They’ve done exactly what they set out to do: they have made us afraid, and that fear takes away our freedom. It robs us of rich and beautiful experiences. It makes us less.
If I had the time and the money, I would go back to Egypt in a heartbeat. I would even take my kids with me (though I fear that long plane ride with an 8 and 3 year old!!!). We would ride camels together and see the pyramids and eat lunch on the Nile. We would hike up Mt. Sinai and swim in the Red Sea. My daughters would dance with the Bedouins and make me buy them everything. We would make fantastic memories, and we would come home broke – but so much richer for the experience.
Friends please, do not let fear keep you from seeing the holy places or visiting the wonders of our world. You only go around once, and there is a great big world out there full of wonderful memories waiting to be made.