Even though I’ve been avidly traveling for about five or six years, I’ve never been far away from ‘home’ for long enough to seek out my true home. Not until I ventured on my first long trip which took me all the way from the capital city to an oasis in heart of the Great Sand Sea in Egypt.
Over the past six weeks, I have lived amongst a population of no more than 30,000 as opposed to Cairo’s 12+ million – and that’s just Cairo, not Greater Cairo.
Preserved in isolation far from the tight corporate grip which has mutated the urban identity, Siwa has served as sanctuary for my soul away from everything mainstream and conspicuously fake. It was there that I met my soul family, and it was there that my strong held beliefs on identity were for the first time really challenged, provoking me to question who I truly am.
The Pleasant Numbness of White Noise
Born and bred in Cairo, much of the identity that I have tailored for myself was highly influenced by the city. While many Egyptian youth have continued to express their great desire to flee the country, I never really shared such an urge. As a matter of fact, I always thought Cairo and I were a perfect fit for one another – lively, diverse and oftentimes intense.
Similar to many capital cities, Cairo has always provided me with the luxury of extensive options, be it in activities or merchandise. I’d be a hypocrite if I claimed I didn’t enjoy that. However, it was only when I was deprived of such luxury that I realized how unnecessary it is. Not only is it unnecessary, but more dangerously so distracting from the concrete matters of life to which one should be attentive.
With no billboards or franchise chains to haunt me, I noticed how I was only buying what I needed, sometimes even discarding my need for some products due to their unavailability (because maybe I don’t exactly ‘need’ hair conditioner). Needless to say, there is no such thing as shopping sprees in Siwa, let alone taking your stress out on consumerism.
But Siwans are still human beings who are subjected to pressures and stress. What do they turn to then? Nature. With palm tree fields that extend as far as the eye can see, salt lakes and hills all embraced within an endless desert, Siwa can be both an exhausting social trap and a safe haven for the wandering souls who seek more than meets the eye; souls who truly yearn to connect.
There is something peculiarly calming about the energy of Siwa that is very hard to describe in words. Theories have differed in regards to the reason behind such energy, but the easiest way to explain it would be the scarcity of all things artificial and ‘plastic’ in the oasis – food, architecture and people alike.
Sturdy Intellect and Feeble Souls
Within the early days of one’s arrival to Siwa, it is quite achievable to start seeing beyond the smog which the city distractions cause. However, it takes one longer to detect other forms of noise which may have before gone entirely unnoticed.
To be honest, it was only through spiritual guidance that I was able to acknowledge the unhealthy grip which my intellect has grown over my feelings – a grip which I had earlier considered to be a privilege, a shield that makes me stronger.
Life in the concrete jungle oftentimes tends to truly adopt the politics of the jungle where you’re either prey or predator. In order to prepare the young blossoming ones for the massacre they are bound to navigate– also known as life – they are taught to always feed their brains with academics that will help them lay their hands on better chances, a brighter future, if you will. Add ‘girl’ to this equation and the protective shields she’s taught to wear get even heavier and denser, for she has to go the extra mile to prove herself ‘worthy’.
In the midst of this slow grind, it is very scarce for youngsters to be taught how to listen to their hearts, how to be intuitive and how to weigh out the sound of intuition against the sound of reason. Portrayed as the most worthy to follow, the brain and its consequent reason have grown into unmatched power that dictates much of what a person decides.
Having always been quite competitive and eager to prove myself worthy, I bore all the shields. For a great chunk of my life, I was considered a nerd, and further on as I grew older, I learned how to ‘manage’ my emotions – that is to say, how to always keep them in line.
“Stop deceiving yourself or you’ll forget who you truly are,” said one of my spiritual guides who also happened to be the first one to challenge the image I have adopted for myself. “You are too smart,” he would always comment every time I found the perfect words around an argument, which he would always follow with a glare that I knew all too well – the glare by which he silently meant “your brain and word tricks are leading you nowhere; stop hiding and running away.”
It took me plenty of exhausting practice in order to accept letting down my guards. It was one of the most frightening experiences ever, to be vulnerable and exposed, to let someone in.
As rich as I consider my trip to Siwa to be, there is so much that I’m yet to learn down the path where the psyche flourishes, a path that now seems inevitable to walk, a path I am incredibly curious to explore.
Ever since I was a little child, I knew I didn’t fit in with the other kids. The norm never really changed as I grew older. While everyone was busy being cool, I just observed unamusedly, never really eager to join in but somewhat bitter nonetheless that I will always be off the attention grid.
With the progression of time, I grew more confident in my difference, but I also grew more certain of the illness which has decayed the heart of the city.
For 42 days, I felt like I could freely breathe, like I didn’t have to pretend to be anything. I needn’t prove myself or speak words that aren’t mine. Better yet, I was surrounded with people who were similarly fed up with the city and were in pursuit of mental and spiritual clarity. Among this crowd, it was quite common to speak of matters of the soul and parallel universes; a language that sounds nothing but alien in the city.
Oftentimes, I get distressed that I’ll lose grip to my brain and slip back into being a zombie who has somehow managed to believe herself to be alive. However, I find consolation in knowing that my soul family awaits me somewhere beyond the industrial, consumerist, mainstream erosion of the soul – somewhere where I’m free to be myself without having to put up a fight.