Saturday, June 11, 2011
Impressions of England
I landed last night, flying in from Cairo. My first thought upon leaving Heathrow airport was that the contrast between here and "the field" is a lot less on this trip than it has been when coming from places like Haiti, Timor or Kosovo. Cairo is a big city with paved roads and lots of cars. London has all those things, too.
But... a few images are sticking in my mind during my first 24 hours back:
1. This one isn't really an element of culture shock although it sort of is too, because I really don't think I would have ever seen it in Cairo. As I walked out of the arrivals hall into the orderly throng of drivers toting signs, parents waiting for children, and friends waiting for friends, I passed a man standing a little bit off from the centre of activity. Disheveled and carrying a supermarket bouquet of flowers, his nervous face full of anxiety and hope caught my eye. Because I was busy and a bit distracted, I didn't dwell on the sight, plus I didn't want to stare. But as I walked away I thought that probably the girl he was waiting for was lucky indeed - he was full of good intentions and that means a lot.
2. This morning I was walking into town and passed a little busy roundabout. I stood there and stared as I watched each car taking its turn, each driver knowing her or his moment to go. They were all using signaling but none of them made eye contact with any of the other drivers. Everyone just knew where to go and they got efficiently through that roundabout. THIS DOES NOT HAPPEN IN CAIRO. (In Cairo, there would probably be a major backup as everyone tried to go at once, or a bunch of near-accidents as people pulled into any tiniest space as quickly as possible: there is no such thing as 'waiting one's turn' there!)
3. Also as I was walking this morning, I caught myself twice swerving my steps to veer away from men on bikes. I was on the pavement (sidewalk) and they were on the road, so why was I veering? I realised that in Cairo, I've learned the hard way to suspect every man of trying to get me. If a man on a bike is riding towards me, even remotely close to me, he will probably reach out and try to grope, or at the very least, say something inappropriate. Obviously this is not a common occurrence in a little sleepy English town. (I am not saying it never happens, I guess it probably does. Just not all-the-time.) So I had to discipline myself to keep walking and not suspect the bikers of lewd motives.
And once I had taken all this in, I realised that the cool fresh air on my face had already dried out my tear ducts after a very difficult few days, and I set about enjoying the rest of my day.
p.s. Cairo has a lot of stuff going for it. I like Cairo, I do! But just for today I want to enjoy being here not there.