Kelsey is now fourteen-years-old and has been lucky enough to have traveled throughout Europe, Asia, and Africa. She and her brother lived with her father, Laco, and me for one year in Cairo, Egypt. Just like anyone else her age, Kelsey has already had many experiences that have helped shape her worldview and her personality. When she was nine, we shared an experience together that I still remember fondly.
The four of us had left Cairo for a long weekend in Dahab, a small town in the Sinai peninsula that is situated directly on the Red Sea. One afternoon, we were hanging around The Blue Hole, where Laco and Alex were having an adventure snorkeling and identifying various fish and other marine life. Kelsey and I had decided to get out of the sun and hang out in the open cafe, which was wall-less but nonetheless afforded us some shade. We were lounging around on the thick blankets and cushions that served as seats and which required us to either sit cross-legged or to stretch out completely and eventually snooze off. While we were waiting patiently for the waiter to bring us two glasses of cold lemon juice, we were each reading from books we had brought with us on the trip. Soon, four young Bedouin girls ranging in age from about six-years-old to twelve approached us and began to show us their bag-full of hand-crafted bracelets. Some were made of beads and others were made of colorful, knotted string.
Immediately, I recognized how open Kelsey was toward these girls and how she happily looked through their bracelets not as a customer would, but as a young person appreciating her friend’s artwork. It didn’t take long for the girls to respond to that receptivity and forget their work of selling goods. They all filed in around the table alongside us and began to play what appeared to me as their version of what I grew up calling Pat-a-Cake (or Patty Cake). The three younger girls explained to her, in Arabic and a tiny bit of broken English how to play the game and she made a strong effort to pick it up and play with them. As I watched them, I thought to myself: How beautiful and amazing this is. Is learning culture–or not being side-railed by cultural differences–similar to language learning in the sense that younger people are better able to wrap their heads, non-judgmentally, around what is new? I was so impressed by Kelsey’s intelligence, openness, and sense of adventure that day–I will never forget that experience.
As the younger girls and Kelsey were teaching and learning from one another, the older girl in the group had scooted up next to me and engaged me in conversation. She had a very strong grasp of English and seemed very mature and intelligent for her age. Her clothes were dusty and didn’t fit her properly, her face and hands were dusty–as one might expect since the girls were wandering around in sand all day–, and her eyes were bright, intelligent, and curious. She told me that she loves to speak English, she can’t wait for the school year to recommence, and that she plans to be a doctor one day. “The first woman doctor,” she beamed “in my town.” At that moment her face, her wit, and her intelligence made a deep impression on my heart and I sent a prayer to the universe that this girl would indeed have the opportunity to go to university and then on to medical school. How would she manage, I asked myself. And Then I looked at her again, her eyes filled with excitement, confidence, and hope and I glanced at Kelsey and the three younger Bedouin girls sharing, laughing, and playing together. At that moment, the sun seemed to shine even brighter, I perceived the breeze more keenly, and the taste of my lemon juice was intensified.
I bought a round of lemon juices for all six of us. Let’s drink girls and dream about our futures.
To your health!
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