The idea of backpacking southward from Cairo was born last January, as I lay prostrate at home in New York recovering from a tonsillectomy. The previous year had been amazing and frustrating in equal measures, and I wanted time to reflect and condense all I had learned into some useable wisdom. Moreover, by February, photos taken by my friends studying abroad evoked nostalgia in me for times past in Europe, the Levant, and Egypt. And, by April, as much as I love the challenge of Harvard, I longed for a more tangible challenge than papers could offer.
For these reasons, my feet itched. I knew I wanted to travel a long way, and I wanted to do it all on the ground where I could meet people, explore unmarked wilds, and philosophize. At first, I imagined an epic meandering through Europe. But alas, Europe is not cheap, not even for epic meanderers. So I looked southward, and I imagined myself back to Egypt.
In summer 2012, Egypt’s January 25th Revolution remained in full swing. In Tahrir Square and at al-Qaed Ibrahim Mosque, I saw the ideas of Smith, Marx, Hassan al-Banna, and Sayyid Qutb clash in the streets. Simultaneously, away from the protest epicenters, I enjoyed simple pleasures with Egyptian friends: playing football with children at night atop a tenement building, dirt-biking after Iftar, and smoking watermelon sheesha under the shadow of al-Azhar.
I learned so much in Egypt last summer, so I decided to begin this year’s journey in Cairo. I decided to aim for Cape Town because, well, “Cairo to Cape Town” has a nice ring to it. More importantly, it’s something that no one I knew of had done before. That meant that this would be completely new territory for me. Though I could stitch friends’ experiences in discrete parts of Africa together to imagine the journey, I would be the first person I knew to experience the whole thing. Pulling this together could, therefore, be a challenge uniquely my own.
To my surprise and good fortune, the challenge became uniquely our own when my Harvard roommate, Nathan, signed on to join in on the adventure. It’ll be great having such a great friend with whom to share shitty hostels and spectacular vistas. Together, we synced our visions for the trip, and over the spring and summer living together, prepared to leave.
And leave we will next Wednesday! I am so excited for all the unknowns headed our way. Insh’Allah, my next report will come from Cairo, where the Revolution seems to have hit a snag.
Best wishes to you all, and toodles til next time!