I am grateful this morning for the following thoughts on the trip to Tanta, a place I visited last month in preparation for our tour. I knew that this would be a monumental visit for the Band, and I'm pleased that this was the case. Our guest writer is Meredith Reynolds, a 3rd year French and Biology double-major from Sioux Falls. She enjoys playing the sax, cats, Diet Coke, and bacteria. (Her words, I promise!) :-)
First and Lasting Impressions
Today was one of those days that renews your faith in humanity. I'll start from the beginning. We arrived in Tanta--about 1.5 hours north of Cairo--by midmorning. We had a police escort and a full security detail not because trouble was anticipated, but more because Tanta is pretty off the beaten path tourist-wise and they wanted to ensure a smooth ride for everyone involved. It's hard to say how many traffic accidents we nearly caused as we rolled into town, as everyone was staring at us and not watching the road!
After our VIP arrival at Tanta University we had a quick rehearsal and sound check. The auditorium was beautiful, with somewhat of an Old World charm. As a performer it's always interesting to play the same pieces in different concert halls, as the different acoustics allow you to hear the various parts differently as they intertwine to create the musical whole.
Following this was a tour of the Faculty of Medicine, led by several medical students and the med school dean himself. It was cool to talk with the other students. In Egypt medical school starts right after high school, with 6 years of schooling followed by a period of clinical internships, which is quite different from the 4 years of undergrad, 4 years of med school, and 4+ years of residency that American doctors go through. Interestingly, all the Egyptian students I talked to were already quite familiar with how the American medical school system works, thanks to Grey's Anatomy!
Lunch was quite the event. We ate at a hotel restaurant in Tanta, and they literally rolled out the red carpet for us. The food was delicious and the service top-notch.
The concert, too, was quite something. The hall was half full 45 minutes before we were set to perform, and during the concert there was standing room only. Afterward the audience was thrilled--students grabbed band members in twos and threes to pose with them in pictures, and everyone was asking for our names to add us as Facebook friends. In short, we were rock stars.
Seeing how thrilled everyone in Tanta was to have a bunch of musicians come all the way from America to perform for them was an experience beyond words. I mean, what's so special about me that all these other students want pictures with me and ask for my contact info? Is it just the fact that I'm American, a foreigner, a stranger in a strange land? Because really, I'm just a somewhat socially awkward, yet well-intentioned 20-year-old who likes bacteria and has a knack for misplacing things. If my nationality and musical talent alone render me celebrity status, that's kind of a scary thought.
Between chatting with students at the medical school today and making friends at Cairo University last week, I've realized that we're really not that different. Sure, we practice different religions and speak different languages and wear different clothes, but we all have families and friends, hopes and dreams, fears and the hope for a better tomorrow.
I was thinking about the drive to Tanta this morning, as we passed many kilometers of farmland on either side of the highway. Farmers were in the fields, but harvesting and weeding either by hand or using animals. Our guides have reminded us again and again that many people in Egypt are struggling, and that little things that we take for granted are a luxury to many folks. With this comes a wave of uncomfortable (yet probably healthy) self-consciousness. By American standards I'm far from rich, but in the global picture, I'm loaded. Millions of people struggle every day to make ends meet and the worst thing that's happened in my life was when the Gap discontinued my favorite cut of jeans! I ask myself if I want to become like many of my fellow Americans, with more toys than common sense? Anything but that.
As bus 2's guide Khalid explained as we drove past the farms and looked out over the farmers in the fields, their lives may be simple "but their hearts are good." Today, in Tanta, I saw that firsthand. Today I realized that sticks and stones will never reconcile misunderstandings and break down walls--only acceptance and love can overcome boundaries. In the words of Albus Dumbledore, "Differences in habit and language are nothing at all if our aims are identical and our hearts are open" (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire). It's the heart that really matters in the end.
"And you think you'll be happy if granted one more wish, but the truth is you'll never need more than this." -Vanessa Carlton, "More Than This"
(Check back for photos of their visit later................)