Africa Without Borders
When I first began travelling outside of Egypt, I called myself an Egyptian, which is normal since that’s the country I grew up in. I was defining Egypt as one of the biggest countries in the Middle East North Africa (MENA) region. Both in terms of population and strategically, Egypt is in a very critical position. It plays a big role in the region, and at times when I heard it called a part of North Africa, I didn’t feel comfortable with that term. Are we really part of Africa? That question had always come to my mind since I was kid. Why do we have different languages, religions, and skin color if we are all living on the same continent? Accepting difference wasn’t yet part of my mindset at the time. Difference made me feel uncomfortable and living in a closed community that was controlled by habits and culture I couldn’t find a way to start thinking about how having difference is something that we need to celebrate, and not be afraid of.
I first left the country in 2011, heading to the USA for a summer school funded by the US Department of State at Connecticut University. I was shaking and worried. I couldn’t understand the feeling at the time as it was one I had never felt before, but later I called it the fear of change: I was getting out of my comfort zone and trying something totally different than I had done before. I definitely had my stereotypes about the USA before travelling, but the five weeks I spent there has totally changed my life. I’ve become someone else, one who is more welcoming to new cultures, accepting of people’s differences, and understanding of the importance of diversity as it helps to expand one’s horizons.
During the summer school I had the chance to meet thirty-nine nationalities from different African countries. I still remember that feeling now, sitting with thirty-nine students, the majority of whom spoke French, their skin colors various shades of black, brown and tan. Attending classes with them gave me the opportunity to understand their ideology and way of thinking, and while it differed based on social level and education, there was always something we had in common. I can never forget the feeling of deep connection and similarity that we all had. I was suffering from culture shock as it was my first time living abroad, but at the same time, I was also shocked by how deeply African countries are connected.
I came back to Egypt with a passion for travelling, learning, and discovering new cultures. Subsequently I had the chance to travel to several countries, some of them in Africa and the rest in Europe and Asia. I no longer felt any culture shock, and accepting people’s differences was part of my mindset.
When I travelled to South Africa to attend the successful democracy transition experience training at Cape Town, I had culture shock again, but this time was different! It started when I was applying for the visa and it was free for Egyptians. It continued when the South African people were very welcoming when they learned that I was Egyptian. The culture shock this time was in how very connected South Africans and Egyptians are: even though both our countries are located at the farthest points of the continent. That deep passion again appeared and I felt that I couldn’t call myself only Egyptian anymore: I am African Egyptian. How much we are connected, share, and have in common motivated me to think deeply about how if we could have all the continent’s countries’ borders open, people could feel that we are all one unit, we are all part of the African Union. It would create the opportunity for more development, and would give more power to the continent as a whole.
During my trip to South Africa, I noticed how we similar are socially and politically. It starts with the family bond. The child grows up in his/her parents’ house until he/she gets married, and the family supports their child even after getting married, which is the same in Egypt. The idea of loyalty to the country and how much they are in love with their country is also similar. They have been in war for years to live independently, they are dogmatic, love to have very deep belief in God, are very religious, and welcoming to new people, over-welcoming sometimes, especially to Egyptians.
The trip successfully managed to lead me to my passion, an Africa without borders, where countries would be more connected. It makes me very sad when I see the best people of the continent (engineers, doctors, football players, writers, actors, etc.) leaving it because of lack of appreciation for their work and lack of resources. These same people then succeed abroad in Europe, the USA, and Asia. Africa is the beginning of life, and the second largest continent in terms of area. It is unfortunate that colonization destroyed the majority of African countries, but we still have many different resources that make us the richest continent economically. Again, we need to be one unit first.
My passion will always push me to support Africa; I will keep the dream of building the African Union in my heart and work hard to spread the word of Africa without borders. Long live Africa.