Country Living as Spectator Sport

Siwa Oasis, Western Desert, Egypt

From Siwa Oasis

It’s weird to think about being homesick for the Peace Corps. Maybe it’s because Rachel quizzed me about my Peace Corps experience on the bus to Siwa. Maybe it’s because the last time I was anywhere near this stressed was in Peace Corps. Maybe it’s the PCV friends I miss. Whatever the reason, all weekend I was imagining what it would be like to be a Peace Corps Volunteer in Siwa Oasis. My head was spinning with community integration and secondary project ideas. I itched to find out what the locals think of the tourist industry, of the local development projects. I wanted to sit down with local women out of their distinctive garb and learn more about their lives and their thoughts. I wanted to pick and dry dates, and sit down afterward for a family meal. Perhaps more than anything, I wanted to be back out in the country, away from the noise, crowds and pollution of Cairo!

From Siwa Oasis

Siwa is nothing like Cairo. Not at all. I don’t just mean how quiet and green it is, or how clean the air, or how dirty streets means sandy with road apples, but far less littered with manmade trash.

From Siwa Oasis

What I’m talking about is the people. Cairo has made me defensive, suspicious and mistrustful of people. I live my life on the offensive against harassment, claustrophobia, scams and being cheated. I avoid speaking to strangers, because I expect them to either be creepy or take advantage of the “rich foreigner” or the “loose white girl.”

From Siwa Oasis

The people of Siwa, though, remind me of the Jordanians I so love. Gretchen met a man on the bus to Siwa who offered to get us a reliable guide while we were in town. I expected, and I wasn’t the only one, that he was going to rope us into giving our number to a lecherous local man who would bilk us of all our guineas. Instead, he introduced us to Yusef. We paid him, but not outrageously, and in return he helped us have a really great time. He’s studying his Masters in history in Alexandria, with the intention of helping to preserve the local culture of Siwa against the onslaught of tourism and development. He took us bathing and to a sunset in the desert, and then to a great party with Bedouin music and dancing on the desert’s edge. And he wasn’t the only Siwan to help us out with great honesty and respect. It was such a refreshing change, even more than the vistas and clean air.

From Siwa Oasis

2 comments

  1. The two things I find myself saying most consistently about my experience in Jordan (admittedly much, much shorter than yours) are that a. Wadi Rum is the single most gorgeous place I have ever been and b. the Jordanian people were easily among the nicest I've ever encountered in my travels

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