One thing about showing up somewhere when you don’t know a single soul, I was forced to quickly meet people. Of the many wonderful people I met, three were from Egypt, two women around my age, and a man my son’s age. They are unrelated, but all participants of the Master Trainer workshop we attended two days ago. Beginning conversations involved questions about what we teach and where we were from. It was pleasant and rather formal. We made plans to spend some time together walking around the nearby Lotus Pond. The group entailed Magda, Sahar, Ahmed, and then Kate and I from the US. As we walked, the conversation became lively and relaxed. Magda mentioned that her oldest son is engaged to a woman that loves her son very much, and that made her smile in the most beautiful way. Her whole face lit up. We saw a young woman wearing a Chinese styled dress, and Sahar mentioned that she would love to find that dress for her 17 year old daughter, and I thought the same for my daughter, so we have joint quest to find it. Ahmed, being 20 years old, was climbing trees, posing for photos, and playfully leading us to climb flights and flights of steps in towers and down steep and slippery paths. Sahar and Magda were calling him back from here and there, and cautioning him on this and that, and Ahmed would affectionately say they they were his mother and aunt. We walked and laughed, posed for silly pictures, all experiencing for the first time the wonders of an area of temples and shrines. We watched the Taiwanese people in the temple as they lit incense. We all followed the ritual together by replicating the motions. We were friends experiencing life together, not as Egyptians and Americans, but as mothers, sons, daughters, teachers and friends.
During the opening ceremony of the iEARN conference, we sat in groups by country. Many wore the typical clothing from their countries so the auditorium glowed with bright splashes of color and beautiful fabrics, from kimonos to saris, handsome African dashikis to suits and dresses. As each country was welcomed, that group would stand and wave as the crowd applauded. Each country stood proud, many waving their national flag. They stood together, many not knowing anyone else from their country, but together representing their country, proud and united.
The pride and unity I felt standing with my fellow Americans, and the connectedness I felt taking a walk with my fellow human beings, were distinct experiences and equally emotional. I didn’t have to renounce one for the other. I left the day feeling that we can acknowledge and be proud of our differences, and simultaneously experience and connect through our similarities. And it left me with a profound question…what the heck is our country’s national dress anyway?! In the case of our participating high school kids, it’s jeans and a t-shirt:)