One of the things I really love about Egypt is the sense of community. Maybe it is due to the lay out of the city and the close proximity of housing. Or perhaps its just part of the culture that doesn’t have the same value of individualism that you tend to find in the west. Whatever it, I am touched by people’s willingness to help one another in ways that I have never really seen before elsewhere.
Life is very different here in Egypt as compared to how things are in Australia. Generally speaking, in Australia you leave your house, hop into your car, and you’re away. However, the process of leaving your home is quite different in Egypt. Going out usually involves going down several flights of stairs, during which you are likely to bump into somebody. When you leave your block of flats somewhere nearby there will be a corner store, another shop of some kind, all with a store owner and possibly even a group of locals who congregate outside. All people you are likely to see on a daily basis, people you will greet, and people you will form a bond with.
You don’t really notice the bond until something happens. The arrival of gas truck brings to life the group of men who congregate in the street, they help out by passing on the orders of those too far away to be heard. A traffic jam brings out a man from the take away shop across the road, he is still wearing his apron as he directs the traffic and allows it to flow once more. Last but not least, sending my 6 year old son across the road to help him learn some independence resulted in the man from the local corner store leaving his store unmanned to hold his hand while he crossed the road with him, ensuring his safety. It was nice to see him go to the same store that I had gone to countless times as a child. The store hasn’t changed a bit, Ummi Gabra has only aged slightly, but now he was serving the new generation.
What is even more inspirational is learning of people’s generosity. With the lack of any real social security system there is a lot of poverty and hardship in Egypt. Perhaps personally knowing people in need is both more humbling and more rewarding than donating to people who you will never see or know. Of those more fortunate, there are some who will give monthy salaries to those in need. They personally know these families, watch them grow, and are happy to help out when there are extra expenses to be met. Its a constant reminder that the only thing that prevents us from being in that situation is the blessings that Allah has given us, and we will be questioned as to what we did with them. Did we let our neighbours go hungry while we filled our stomachs? Did we force them to lose their dignity and beg in the streets? Or did we share our blessings and support them, and watch their children grow up until they were able to take over and support themselves? Its a constant reminder to never forget those less fortunate than ourselves.
The older generation here speak like there is no longer a sense of community. They speak of a time when neighbours were like family, constantly passing on plates of food to one another, caring for one another’s children, helping one another out in times of need, and most importantly, always being there for one another. Its sad that today’s community, a community which in their eyes is a pale comparison of its former glory, to me is a community of warmth and generosity that I have never seen the likes of. It also saddens me that my children, like myself, will probably never know what its like to grow up surrounded by people who will always look out for them. The harsh reality is that most the people they are surrounded by probably won’t even know their name.
In our search of material thing, the need for yet more money, our busy lifestyles, our bigger houses and our quest for complete independence we have lost something very special, something we can probably never get back. I wonder how many of our social ills are directly related to this?
Nowadays, there is a new trend moving towards community once again, but this involves different type of communities – online communities. Those who have never been part of one will dismiss them a not real, empty, and meaningless. However, those of us who have been fortunately enough to have been a part of a caring online community have seen the positives – the friendships, the generosity and the sense of belonging. Like most things online, it will never be exactly the same as those in the real world, it will have some advantages and some disadvantages, but for most of us we don’t get to chose.
The world is changing rapidly, and as I watch my children grow with things around them, thing which at their age I had never even imagined, I wonder how different things will be when they are my age, and what their children will have. Technology is leading the way to a different world, I only hope that our destination is a better place.