25 February 2010
My year at the London School of Economics is over and I’ve managed to actually obtain my Master’s degree, a first for someone of the Taylor clan. It feels good. Really good. When I look back on the year, however, LSE isn’t really the first thing that comes to mind. In fact, it’s not even in the top three. My coursework itself definitely ranks in the number one spot. The reading lists were incredible, the opportunity to research and explore my areas of interest were phenomenal and the entire learning experience fundamentally changed the way I see the world, but I don’t really give the LSE too much credit for that. Yes, my department put the reading lists together but no, they didn’t really give “teaching” the subject matter much effort. No time for us. That was the theme. No time in office hours. No time in seminars. No time in lectures. Figure it out on your own. The entire institution seemed to run on the same mindset. If you can’t figure it out on your own then you’re an idiot. Even then, don’t bother us with it. We have “stuff to do.”
Next, I’d say, would be the incredible people - My “Glee Team.” We were anywhere from five to ten strong at different moments, we were wildly international, we could hold our liquor and we - without a doubt - had more fun than any other group of people at the LSE. I now have an international network of political junkies, all ready to watch each other’s backs should the need arise. In no time we’ll be running the world, which will also be super fun. If you aren’t convinced that we are the “real deal” yet, consider this: An hour before graduation we met at the campus pub to toast our success. There were literally hundreds of students on campus who had either just graduated or were just about to graduate. With all that excitement we expected a packed bar of revelers cheering each other on. Nope. Just us. In our caps and our gowns we raised our glasses to surviving and succeeding not just as individuals but as a team. That felt good.
Still ranked above the LSE would be the city of London itself. There is no place like it on the face of the earth. It is the world’s finest metropolis and - in my opinion - its capital city. From free museums to delectable cuisine from all over the world, a brilliant public transportation system to the world’s first “bicycle highway,” the best street markets in the western world to the most diverse collection of human beings known to man, London is where the heartbeat of our planet beats the loudest. I love it, and I have no doubt I will call it home again very very soon.
Finally, but not “leastly,” there is Harvey and my Channel swim experience. It started with 3 12-minute runs per week (that led to some serious huffing and puffing) and ended with $10,000 raised for a young boy in need of new prosthetic limbs and a marathon swam in the ocean. It was a life-changing experience for everyone involved and I continue to look back on the entire escapade and think to myself, “did that actually happen?” It proves that anything really is possible.
I guess LSE would slip in somewhere here. Of course, there is also GBK...and half-price movie Wednesdays. Decisions, decisions!
24 February 2010
Four months, nineteen countries, nearly 10,000 miles and countless granola bars later, the sojourn of a lifetime has come to a close. While I am still in the midst of processing this whirlwind adventure, I have begun to see some of the “take-aways” from this kind of experience.
The first is that I am “at home” when I’m moving. Not just traveling but physically moving. Whether it is on a train, plane or bus, when I am in motion my blood starts pumping, my heart races, the endorphins flow and I am really really happy. This is no doubt a rather difficult need to constantly fill. That is, it’s not easy to maintain constant motion on a day-to-day basis.
Traveling overland is THE BEST. Plopping down in different places is definitely more convenient from a time perspective but moving on the ground means you keep time and space attached in a more human sense. Yes, you still move faster than you would by foot but you’re not soaring OVER everything at 400 miles an hour. It also allows you to see the slow transition from one country to the next, one continent to the next, one culture to the next. I don’t know if I’ll ever really be able to “plop” again. It just seems terribly unnatural now (not to mention terribly expensive).
Couchsurfing is the greatest social phenomenon since AOL in 1993. Connect with people online who are offering their couch to weary travelers for free. Crash at their place and don’t just sleep, but make new friends, see the sites through the eyes of a local and eat way delicious food that you’ve either cooked in or eaten out at a local joint. So basically, save money AND meet new people. Does it get any better?
People - human beings - are remarkably similar creatures. When I first started traveling I hopped from the USA to Europe and it felt like I had landed on another planet. They “talked funny” and “ate funny food” and “drove tiny cars.” Then I was whisked eastern to China, which equally felt like another universe. They “talked really funny and “ate really funny food” and “drove really tiny electric scooters.” The further I go, the less “funny” things seem to be and the more “real” everything begins to appear. That is, human beings the world over are dealing with the same issues from finding a job to raising a family, cleaning their house to getting dinner on the table, seeking out happiness to rolling on the floor in laughter. Our entire identity is built on seeing what makes us different than anyone else - understanding our own existence by how it compares to the existence of others. This has driven to fight wars over those differences, driven racism and discrimination and fueled hatred of “the other” for literally thousands of years. What would happen if we focused on what brought us together as a species? You don’t want to kill someone who is like you and it’s certainly hard to hate someone that you see as similar to yourself because then you’d be sort-of hating yourself (which is definitely not in our nature).
Maybe that’s the real lesson here. Seek out similarities rather than differences. Look at the world and our existence and one big challenge that requires all of us thinking and acting together to guarantee survival. What a novel concept...
23 February 2010
We’ve heard the stories and we’ve seen the pictures. The Dubai skyline is massive, and it popped up nearly overnight. Of course, we’ve also seen the most recent update: Dubai is totally broke. While that doesn’t mean a whole lot for the 500,000 Emirati who are actually citizens, the other 5.5 million Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi immigrants most definitely feel the crunch. While the superficial Dubai is all glitz and glamour - the world’s tallest building, the world’s biggest hotel, the world’s largest indoor ski slope, an entire island development made to look like the World, every western chain from Applebee’s to TGI Friday’s - the underbelly of the city is built entirely on the back of overtly oppressed foreigners.
Beyond the tall buildings that line Sheik Zayed Road, nothing really passes two or three stories. While the gargantuan air-conditioned shopping malls are deserted, the street markets selling cheap toys made in China, imitation name brands and a seemingly endless supply of trendy scarves. The market for kid’s goods is huge, as five million of the 5.5 million immigrants are men with families back at home. They’re only allowed to leave every 14 to 18 months for 2 or 3 weeks (this after working 12 hours a day, 7 days a week non-stop for those 14 to 18 months) and when they go, they bring piles of goodies home to their families.
While the history of Dubai is fascinating - it’s growth from a tiny nothing town in the middle of a sandy desert to one of the World’s largest transport and shipment hubs - the real story lies in the otherworldly, archaic, humanitarian crisis that is the near indentured servitude faced by a majority of the population. Just 500,000 people control the lives and livelihoods of ten times that number of residents and as the economy tanks, the question becomes: what happens to them? They have no protections at all. No retirement packages, no guaranteed flight home, no recourse for wrongful firing. It’s pure, unbated, unregulated, un-unionized capitalism and it serves as strong evidence for what happens when we let the invisible hand sort everything out. Be careful America. We don’t want to be next.
11 February 2010
Rather than troddle back up the King’s Highway from Amman, we decide to take route five through what the Jordanian’s refer to as “the dead earth.” Good idea Kyle. Good. Idea. It seems the whole dead earth thing comes from the fact that the highway is lined with the remnants of what seems like hundreds of tires that burst along this scorched land expressway. That and the fact that minerals in the soil make it impossible for anything - anything - to grow.
The really bizarre part of this drive (if that’s not enough) is the road signs that give a near constant countdown to the Iraqi border. It is easy to forget just how “neighborly” these small countries are. Just as the distance sign drops below twenty miles, the highway banks left through the ancient lands of desert castles and onward to Amman. We won’t be going to Iraq today. unfortunately.
The magnificent Desert Castles thankfully offer enough inspiration. Serving as Crusader-era trading outposts as recently as 500 years ago, they appear to be nothing more than an extension of the sand beneath them.
Our Jordanian adventure ends in Amman, Jordan’s sleepy yet delicious capital. While the country’s physical treasures may be concentrated north and south, their edible wonders are nestled comfortable at the top of one of the seven hills (except for Popeye’s, which is just off the freeway). From life-altering cupcakes to divine salads and falafel, Amman is a place to unbutton your pants and just let it all hang out.
Farewell Jordan. You will be missed.
10 February 2010
The Great Wall of China. The Pyramids of Giza. The Taj Mahal. Petra. It is without a doubt, one of the most spectacular historic sites in the world, yet Petra doesn’t get nearly the amount of “street cred” it deserves. Nestled deep in the canyons of south central Jordan, Petra is an entire city carved into the sides of mountains. You approach through a long Siq lined on both sides by one of the world’s oldest irrigation systems. This entryway end at the Treasury, an enormous red sandstone facia carved into the face of rocks. It’s like the gorgeous architecture version of Mount Rushmore. From there you continue on down other streets and avenues lined with buildings, amphitheaters, religious facilities and the like. It’s so massive, I find it difficult to really focus my eyes on any one structure.
What makes it all the more inspiring is that there is really no other known place on earth that even remotely compares to it. I meet a slightly older couple from Utah and we end up spending the entire day together. Our paths originally cross because we are all vying to be the first people in just after 6am. We called it a tie. I think I continued my function as a tag-along because he was an archaeologist and there is no one better to explore the hidden world of Petra with than an archaeologist.
The day included a picnic lunch atop the highest peek in Petra, which houses the city’s monastery and most religious site. From there you can see into “The End of the World.” That is, according to the sign at least. More temples, more mosaics and more unbelievable facias carved into the sides of mountains. More water breaks (there is absolutely no shade AT ALL and the sun is giving us a beating). More Americans that aren’t nearly as cool as we are (obviously) and a delectable Jordanian paella to finish the day before we re-enter the park to experience Petra at Night.
It is on this tour that I realize how unbelievably incompetent human beings can be. Three rules are announced before we depart. Number One: No talking. Number Two: No pictures. Number Three: Walk Single-File. Do you think any of these high-functioning, intelligent, worldly human beings are able to follow these instructions? Absolutely not. Sadly, scared for the future of humanity, I am unable to contain my rage and become Petra’s official “traffic cop” to which I receive a less than appreciative response. But my goodness, can’t you people follow directions?
09 February 2010
As terrible as this may sound, my expectations of a place usually end up matching my actual experience in said place quite well. Russia = Hilarious, Mongolia = Immense, Poland = Fascinating. Every now and then, however, there is a shocker; not a place that moderately exceeds my expectations but a place that DRAMATICALLY exceeds my expectations. That place - on this trip - is Jordan. I had heard Jordan was “boring, slow and less then extraordinary” from more than one person. “Certainly with Petra that couldn’t be so,” I told myself. That negative Nancy will remain nameless for fear of shame and retribution because Jordan is spectacular.
It all started the minute we got across the border from Israel, where our parting gift was a taxi driver who screwed us on the fair. $20 to go 2 miles because “it’s a special location departure arrival tax border rate fee.” Whatever. Pan to the Jordanian side, where $8 gets you a 40-mile ride in a luxury sedan. That is followed by a 2-hour bus ride that costs just over 75 cents. I know what you’re thinking - stop it! Well, I can’t it was just that amazing. Another $3 cab ride and we’re at the home of a friend of a friend who is shuttling us into his magnificent apartment - a welcome respite from the chaos of the past several months.
After some R&R and the greatest cupcakes the world has ever known, it’s time to head south. I am driving yet again and the chosen route is the King’s Highway - a mythically titled, seemingly famous path that lives up to its name in every sense of the word. I have never driven a more spectacular road in my entire life. Minus the occasional speed bumps that would leave me slamming on the breaks to avoid going airborne, the 5-hour trek from Amman to Petra and on to Wadi Rum was out of this world. I felt like I was in a car commercial. Winding roads that bob and weave around brilliant peaks, desert landscape unlike anything I had ever seen and a road that swerves around the world’s second largest canyon after the Grand Canyon in Arizona. Who knew, right?
This highway ended at Wadi Rum - the ancient stomping ground of one Lawrence of Arabia. There are no paved roads in the red desert area, which meant hiring a Bedouin four-wheel-drive guide to carry me deep into the region. Basically, Bedouins are the best. Ever. Despite the changing scene of geo-politics (especially in the Middle East), they do their best to maintain a way of life that has proven successful for literally hundreds of years. Slightly nomadic, slightly established, the Bedouins have their own style of dress, their own style of cooking (burying whole chickens in the ground for eight hours then unearthing them in a magnificent display of showmanship and jazz fingers), and their own style of telling time.
“How long does it take to hike to the top of that mountain,” I ask. “4 hours.” “When are we stopping for lunch,” I ask. “4 hours.” “How long will we be staying at Lawrence of Arabia’s House,” I ask. “4 hours.” “How long have you lived in Wadi Rum,” I ask. “4 Hours.” Clearly there was a slight communication breakdown...
More shots of Wadi Rum:
08 February 2010
Upon arriving in Israel everyone said going to the Dead Sea is something you “just have to do. It’s a must,” I was told. But it was said in that tone where it’s like, “yeah, I mean, you have to do it even though it’s not that great because everyone does it and that’s that.” I don’t understand this kind of recommendation. It’s like saying, “this pie is gross. It doesn’t taste good at all but everyone eats this pie because they just always have.” Huh?
Fortunately, a visit to the Dead Sea was nothing like this. It was, instead, of the most bizarre sensations I have ever felt. The bus drops me off a good mile away from the Dead Sea resort and I walk - in the blasting sunshine - through the ex-battlefield of the Israel/Jordan war, noting the bombed out houses, schools and shops. It’s like a ghost city. Twenty minutes later I reach the gate. It’s $12 to actually go into the Dead Sea. Why? The towel, special creams and showers for afterward, which will be much appreciated later.
I get down to my skivvies and wade into the mushy clay and salty, oil-like water up to my neck. It feels like walking on the moon or rather, since I haven’t walked on the moon, what I think walking on the moon would be like. As you lie back and let your feet rise to the surface, the real wonder is felt for the very first time. It is physically impossible to sink. It can’t be done no matter how hard you try.
The Dead Sea is the lowest point on the Earth’s Surface and it seems that every last ounce of Salt the world over sinks slowly toward this point. The water is 33% salt! That means in 1 gallon of water there would be over FIVE CUPS of salt! As a result, you just skim the surface , bobbing up and down like a deep water buoy in the ocean. The sensation is similar to being on the moon or rather, since I haven’t been to the moon, what I think being on the moon would be like.
I throw the healing mud all over my face and body, “doing as the locals do.” I swim back and forth, gliding across the surface with the greatest of ease. I sit Indian-style, my butt nearly on top of the water. I AM SUPERMAN. I decide to dip my face under and with that one quick motion all the fun and frolicking stops. The water tastes like eating a frying pan or rather, since I’ve never eaten a frying pan, what I think eating a frying pan would be like. Every tiny wound on my lips - a place where you actually have quite a few wounds but would never know it - is stinging in salt-infested pain. I am spitting incessantly, trying to make the nasty nasty nasty stop, now fully understanding why this is something you “just have to do.” Apparently, the thing NOT TO DO is put your face under. Ever. Under any circumstances.
I get back to my friend’s place in Tel Aviv and tell her what I did. “You put your face under? Why? Everybody knows not ot put your face under.” Everybody but me, apparently, the one zipping across the water with the greatest of ease, walking on the moon while eating a frying pan.
05 February 2010
Regardless of whether or not you are a person of faith and even then, regardless of what faith you subscribe to, it is impossible not to be somewhat in awe of the phenomenal historical significance most cities, sites and sounds in Israel. Like it or not, the Judeo-Christian-Muslim faiths have been key drivers of political, cultural, social and economic policy and power for the last 2000 years and for most Americans especially, the story of the Bible is fairly well known.
You step into Old Jerusalem and it’s as if you’ve stepped into the center of the modern World. It begins at the Western Wall, where Jews of all stripes come to pray. Sitting atop the wall is the Dome of the Rock - Islam’s 3rd holiest site, as it is the place where Mohammed is believed to have ascended to heaven. Just steps from this - The Temple Mount - begins the Via Delarosa; the path Jesus walked carrying his own cross on which he would be crucified. The Via Delarosa ends at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, which houses the rock in which the cross was wedged into as well as the site from which Jesus is believed to have resurrected. It’s like the Holy Grail (in a very literal sense) of the Western Religious World.
It doesn’t stop their either. Every city in Israel and Palestine is somehow significant. It’s like, “Oh, no big deal, this is where the Angel Gabriel appeared to the Virgin Mary and told her she would carry the son of God” and “Oh yeah, and that’s where Jesus was born or whatever.” The only indication is the massive, shiny, glistening millions-of-dollars churches built by the Franciscans, Greeks and Eastern Orthodox in the midst of otherwise poverty-stricken cities and towns. Definitely the most essential buildings, all things considered.
I stood at the shore where Jesus reappeared to St. Peter after his resurrection, where Jesus turned water into wine and multiplied the fishes. I looked out onto the Sea of Galilee where Jesus is believed to have walked on water, walked through the Olive Trees where Jesus realized one of his followers would betray him and floated in the Franciscan “space ship church” under which lies the ancient home of St. Peter. It was a nonstop onslaught of historically significant sites and sounds.
As a matter of fact, the experience can be so intense for some that they actually start to believe they are the second coming of Christ. It is called Jerusalem Syndrome and several dozen people a year become affected, needing hospitalization at a specialized clinic just outside the city for treatment of this mental disorder. Now that’s all fine and good but in all honesty, how do we know one of them isn’t the second coming of Christ? This whole thing is faith-based but seriously, if anyone were to walk up to you and say, “Hi, I’m Jesus The Sequel” we’d most definitely label them “crazy” and put them in a room with padded walls. Is it because they aren’t performing miracles? Is it because they can’t walk on water too? What is the modern-day threshold for Christ? Solving the banking crisis? Buying us all a Porsche? Health care for all? Being able to turn all that extra CO2 into delectable air freshener? I’m curious. What would convince you that someone is actually the second coming of Christ? I’m gonna go with the air freshener one.
04 February 2010
The driver drops me at the Egypt Israel border. and points toward a winding fence that is climbing up and over a mountain in the distance. “There Israel,” he says, making a u-turn and heading back for the Sinai. I tromp toward the fence, bags on my back and front, souvenirs in my hands and passport in my pocket.
The border crossing is somewhat of a maze. There are absolutely no signs or people to direct you and pathways dart in every direction, yet everyone seems to know what they’re doing accept for me. An old man wearing a jacket that says “safety first officer” across the chest flips quickly through my passport then grunts. “Sir, which way do I go,” I ask. “Grrrrr,” he roars, pointing to a door with a sign over it that says “Egypt Leaving Office.” Of course.
I nip in to find three women standing side by side, all actively texting on their cell phones. Wow, security seems really tight here. One looks up and rolls her eyes, clearly irritated that I am now standing in her presence. “I’m sorry, but...” she cuts me off by grabbing my passport out of my hand. Exit slip window three, change money window 5, pay window seven, to Israel door nine. My first thought is, where do doors one through eight go? I feel like I’m on the Price is Right. I get my slip, change my money at a ghastly rate, pay my exit fee and head for door nine (there are no doors one through eight, naturally).
Door nine obviously leads into a Duty Free Shop. I say obviously because people everywhere in the world except the USA are obsessed with Duty Free. Some countries even have rules that allow you to shop Duty Free up to five days after arrival. I am eternally befuddled by this concept because no matter what the item may be inside Duty Free, it is ALWAYS - and I mean ALWAYS - cheaper at BevMo! or Target. Alas, the rest of the world is simply unable to enjoy the joys of nationwide big-box retailers selling everything under the sun at “unbeatable” prices.
The Duty Free “lets out” in no man’s land, which I have to hike across in the blistering Middle Eastern heat. On the other side is a loudspeaker that tells me to “stop there.” I stop. Now it’s Israel time and lets just say I’ve heard stories. The loudspeakers squawks again, “go.” I feel like I’m seven years old playing red light green light in my front lawn. “Red light! Green light! Red light! You didn’t stop! Back to start you go!”
We meet the first line of defense. Another elderly gentleman sitting in a plastic lawn chair holding a kalishnakov. This will soon emerge as a theme. There are soldiers carrying kalishnakovs everywhere in Israel and I mean everywhere. At the bus station, in the Burger King and in the supermarket it’s semi-automatic rifle season like whoa. He checks my face. I smile wide since I’m smiling in my photo. He is not impressed.
Next I’m greeted by a woman wearing a white polo shirt tucked into blue cargo pants. She is most definitely wearing a bulletproof vest under her shirt. “Where are you going?” I list the cities. “Who are you staying with?” I give her names. “Do you harbor any hatred toward Israel or Jews?” I say no. She affixes a number to the back of my passport and waves me on. My travel companion is slightly stressed by the whole situation and struggles through some of the questions. She shakes her head and affixes a different number to his passport.
My bags go through the metal detector and are handed back to me. “Right that way to Israel,” I am told. I continue to the immigration officer who only has one question: “Have you ever participated in an organization aimed at the destruction of the State of Israel?” They really get to the point here fast, I think to myself. “No,” I tell her. “Okay then, welcome to Israel.” I slide through the glass doors and am welcomed to the country by the sound of Britney Spears singing “3” on MTV.
My travel companion isn’t so lucky. Apparently he seems fishy, and two officers open his bags, proceeding to completely empty them of every single article of clothing, toiletry item, DVD movie, electronics component and souvenir. Twenty minutes later once they’re through, they plop what is left of his pride on the table next to everything he owns in the world and tell him he can “repack his stuff now and go.” Another twenty minutes later he actually manages to get everything back into his bag and proceed on to immigration.
We’re not in Kansas anymore Toto.
03 February 2010
There is always that place on every trip that you’ve heard about a million times. People have said it’s “perfect” and “wonderful” and “amazing” and “so unique.” When you arrive it’s often all of the above but the hype is just so high it’s hard for the whole thing to live up to the pressure. Dahab on the Sinai peninsula is not one of those places. Instead, it seems that when the Earth was doing its dance and deciding where to create heavenly, awe-inspiring and comfortable (yet affordable and enticing) places, Dahab came to be.
Imagine a semi-circular cove lined with jagged rocks and filled with the bluest water imaginable. Dot that shore with tiny beachside cafes filled with enormous cushions, topped by thatched roofs and filled with delectable food from all over the world. Now insert a calm breeze and the sound of waves lapping against the rocks, people walking right into the ocean clad head to toe in “real deal” scuba gear, that one perfectly placed fishing boat complete with picture-perfect local fisherman and free wifi internet. That’s Dahab.
At $6 per night for a private room and and bath with windows that open to the sea, $3 American breakfast and $2 happy hour specials, Dahab just might be the most perfect place on earth. If only I could stay forever. At $180 a month for “rent” and a daily food budget of around $5, I could have stayed for 2 years on the amount spent on this trip. How insane is that? I wonder if they rent rooms long-term...
Bottom line, come here and stay for a very long time.
02 February 2010
I love sunsets. Can’t get enough of them. No matter where I am in the world it’s the one thing that remains consistent. The sun always rises and the sun always sets. It’s something to count on. It’s consistency in an otherwise constantly changing lifestyle that puts me in new places with new faces every few days.
No matter how awful, busy, confusing or unrelenting a day may have been, you can count on that big ball of fire to dive below the horizon in a magnificent show of color, light and shadows. It’s as if the sun has danced with us all day and now it’s time for her to rest her feet. Of course this transition from day to night is not always the same and certain days are far more mesmerizing than others. Having grown up in Southern California - where the otherworldly display is magical almost every night - my expectations remain somewhat high.
It also seems that the further south I go, the more spectacular the sunset becomes - with South Africa topping the list - until now. As we sailed out onto the Nile with our boat pilot Faruq on his own Felluca, I had no idea what to expect. Our pit-stop on “banana island” to grab our share of delicious local fare left me queazy about our prospects. The colors weren’t all that bright. The sun fell so fast I could hardly “see” it. But once we pushed off and headed back out to the middle of this seemingly infinite river that brought life to this magnificent nation, that magical show of colors, light and shadows began. People had warned that a sunset over the Nile would be a site you never forget and they were absolutely right. The brilliant display of boat sails, palm trees, tiny islands and a gleaming red ball of fire were a site I will probably never forget.
As the sun sets today take a minute to watch it dip below the horizon, know that it’s one of very few activities every person on the planet shares with one another. It’s communal on a global level and it connects us all in a way that almost nothing can. That and a divine love for Ice Cream, or is that just me?
01 February 2010
It seems to be the most commonly used phrase in Egypt and its meaning is seemingly endless. “InshaAllah” - “God Willing.” “I’ll see you tomorrow, InshaAllah. The weather should be nice tomorrow, InshaAllah. Take me to the airport, InshaAllah.” Things, the Egyptians believe, only occur if it is god’s will.
Now that’s a fine belief system - if not a bit hands off - for most situations and circumstances. It’s entirely understandable that a person of faith would think that tomorrow’s weather is determined by god’s will even if I think it has more to do with barometric pressure, wind systems and the position of the moon.
The same holds true when it comes to situations that in some way assume that you will be alive tomorrow, next week, next year and so on because once again, if you’re a person of faith, your life and death is god’s will. So indeed, “I’ll see you tomorrow...if it is god’s will.” I, however, may die tonight and therefore it was not god’s will for me to see you. I, however, think life and death (especially in Cairo) has more to do with traffic patterns, road rage, a lack of barricades to protect you from steep ledges and football matches that lead to near riots in the streets whether Egypt wins or loses.
Still, there is still one situation where I honestly cannot grasp the use of this phrase. It involves directions. Our driver picked us up bright and early at 7am for a trip to the Camel Market. Did he know where it was? “Of course, InshaAllah.” I’m sorry, what? You know where it is if it is god’s will? No. You either know or you don’t know. we proceed to spend the next hour in the car lost nearly the entire time, pulling over every so often to ask for new directions. And what, might you think, passersby would respond with when we asked directions? “Ah, the camel market is just up this way, InshaAllah.” Again, what? “The Camel Market is this way if it is god’s will?” Unfortunately for someone in this equation, god’s will seemingly has very little to do with the location of the Camel Market. Either it’s this way or it’s not. God isn’t going to suddenly move it if he decides that is “his will.” It’s not like we’re going to finally get somewhere and the guy is going to say to us, “Oh yeah, it was here ten minutes ago where it has been for 100 years but then god’s will was for it to move over there, so it did. And now it’s not here. It’s over there. Because of God’s will. So yeah.”
It’s fascinating to see what activities, actions and situations people in different parts of the world leave up to god’s will. It’s like saying, “I have nothing to do with this. I am just a pawn so if it goes wrong, I had nothing to do with it. It was just God’s will...”