As soon as I arrived in London, my mind started to ease at the thought of some much needed solace and tranquility from the harsh city life that had enveloped me whole for the past month in Cairo. I unfortunately had a thirty minute layover in Rome that I needed to catch in order to get directly to London, but before I even arrived at the airport, my flight had been delayed an hour. This caused me to miss my connection, and as I landed in the airport, I was immediately given a voucher for the night in an all-inclusive hotel. I couldn’t complain about sleeping on the brand new sheets and comfortable bed, as I relaxed for the first time in years in a bath and tried to sort out what I had experienced during the past month.
Walking around the metropolitan, clean, and even-surfaced streets of London when I arrived was such a relief. Being able to walk freely around without worrying about being hit by a car (although changing sides of the street took some getting used to) and breathing in clean, fresh air (not mixed with sand and dust) were incredible sensations to regain. With neither Ben or Nat knowing that they would be living in Europe during the same time Jeremy and I would be traversing the world close by, having a place to stay with family was a blessing. I poured out my thoughts on my month within Egypt to them over the dinner table, spewing equally venomous and sympathetic words for all the people I had encountered and been touched by. It felt odd and unfair that I had the ability to pick up and leave such a bustling, loud, and unforgiving place solely based off being born in the United States and having an American passport, whereas my new Syrian friends were having many countries close off entry to them. Our personalities were so similar, yet this difference in nationality drastically separated our abilities to travel.
Taking public transportation brought me back into the prosperous first world country where people’s heads were always stuck in their smartphones and their brand new clothes cost more than a month’s rent in Egypt. Most people here had no idea or reference to the hardships many were facing in my previous destination. How could I begin to grasp being back in such a clean, orderly, and economically thriving place?
I can definitely say I had culture shock and the feeling is still so vivid as I type about this a couple months later. I don’t think it is something that ever goes away, but is a feeling stored on a shelf in our labyrinth of memories, waiting to be reopened upon traveling to another place so dissimilar to one’s own way of life. Seeing my sister and brother in law, eating their incredible home cooked meals adapted from our parents recipes, and walking around where people actually obeyed stop lights was odd. I consistently felt distant trying to reconnect back to something previously so normal.
Some highlights included eating delicious Indian food as we pondered about Jeremy’s crazy adventures within the country at that moment, going for beautiful walks in national parks, and seeing the smile that lit up my sister’s face as she began to explore new areas of Occupational Therapy. We also walked around for miles between neighborhoods, checked out a couple photography exhibits, and looking out on the city through the massive windows of the Sky Garden during a downpour. I also had the chance to meet my friend Ariel from Philadelphia and see a Boiler Room set with her at the Institute of Contemporary Arts.
Interested in seeing more than just London, Nat, Ben, and I set our sights on going to Bristol to visit Courtney, the older sister of one of my best friends Jed, who I hadn’t seen in more than four years. She had transferred universities from Philadelphia to Scotland, and found a job that allowed her to extend her visa for living and working in the UK. I was extremely excited to catch up and explore another new place, this time with my siblings.