Tourist versus Traveler

Shortly after the Berlin Wall fell, I went to eastern Europe to talk with the people who had made the revolution happen. I was advised to get there quickly because “once the history books are written, the truth will be lost forever.” I fell in love with then Czechoslovakia. The revolutionary spirit was still vibrant, everything seemed possible and the motivated and talented Czechs seemed to be just the right people to share my organizing skills with.

When I promoted my campaigning, fund raising and media skills in service of their post revolutionary efforts I was told politely “We have so many westerners here we dont know what to do with them. Go back to the west and if we need you we will call you.” Dissatisfied with the terrorist regime which had recently taken over the US (George Bush I), I embraced my refugee status and settle in the Netherlands where I had a lovely new girlfriend and political work to do.

Soon I would volunteer for the Amsterdam anti-nuclear group WISE (the World Information Service on Energy). Some months after I arrived Honza Beranek (whose house Christina and i are now staying at in Am*dam) from the Czechoslovakia arrived for an internship. When WISE asked me to leave the collective for being too much of a campaigner, which was not their mission, Honza who was upset with the collectives choice that he made me an offer “Come to Czechoslovakia, we are fighting the Americans who want to build reactors in our country and we dont know how. You’re an American, you can help.”

So I had my invitation and I went for what would be 7 or the most exciting and satisfying years of my activist life. The point is with my invitation I stopped being a tourist and started being a traveler.

So it is in Egypt. In Cairo, were we knew no one before we arrived we did the touristy things: Climbed into the pyramids, took a camel ride and went to the Egyptian Museum. Here in Qena, a town I never would have even known of without my invitation from Mahmoud, I am a traveler. I see the city through eyes of locals, I am being guided by students and talking with members of the Muslim Brotherhood and the April 6th movement and presenting at their college in a way unlike the experience of tourists who come through this city. [Blog posts on all of this to come.]

One need not share my political mission to step out of being a tourist. I had never met Mahmoud before I came to Qena, but we were Facebook friends through a friend of Abigail’s who is working for the region. Knowing nothing about me except some of my writings, he was happy to invite me to his city and into his home. I find the world I full of such hospitality and encourage me traveling friends to do the extra work to arrive with an invitation and leave the tourists behind.