I always felt a little smug about living in New York City. It's big, it's exciting, it's filled with people and motion and excitement.
Then I went to Cairo, a teeming city jam-packed with 18 million people, all of whom drive like maniacs and want to know where you are from and if they can interest you in something. Their 24-hour stores aren't limited to bodegas, and people walk the streets at all hours. Suddenly, New York City looks much more like Omaha than it used to.
Part of our trip included a cruise down the Nile, during which we were divided into groups by language. Our English group (dubbed "Ramses" by the tour guide, Hamoud) included J, me, a couple from Boston, a couple from Buffalo, and a 16-member Indian family from outside of Mumbai: 4 sets of parents, 7 children, and a grandfather.
One of the temples we visited is situated on an island, and requires a boat ride in what looks like a sail boat with a motor slapped on as an afterthought. Ours was captained by a kid who could not have been older than 14. During the trip, I sat next to the grandfather, who had been quiet for most of the tours. We were all chatting about Egyptian culture vs Indian culture when he turned to me and asked a strange question.
"Are you an anthropology student?"
I am about 7 years past getting my Communications degree, but most people in Egypt assumed J and I were much younger than our 29 years. Still, anthropology? Nonplussed, I told him no.
"Is your friend an anthropology student?"
I again said no, and then asked why he thought that.
"You both ask so many questions and pay such close attention to the guide."
Ah, I understood. Unlike the Indian children, who (like most kids) only paid attention for the first 5 minutes of anything before wandering off, J and I had planned this trip for awhile, saved up for almost 2 years, and paid for it ourselves. We both find Egypt fascinating, read the guide books and wanted to know everything we could, get as much out of the trip as we could. He was right, we did hang on Hamoud's every word, stood directly in front of him when he spoke, ran to catch up when he charged ahead, and asked many questions about what things meant.
In short, we are giant Egypt Nerds. I'm not sure if that would translate, so instead I just said, "Oh, we're just really interested in Egypt."
He didn't talk to me anymore after that, but I spent the rest of the trip thinking about the short exchange. It reminded me how lucky I am that I could go to Egypt, and how it made much more sense to do it now than when I was much younger and more interested in looking cool than appreciating where I was. Now I don't care if someone notices how much of a nerd I am. I've earned it.