Joe came over for dinner last night. I had never even met him before, but we had a great time and I really didn’t want him to go.
Joe is from Egypt, and he works for a “rent-a-tech” company that assigned him to our little community hospital to work as a medical technologist for three months on the weekend night shift. David works weekend days, so he and Joe have gotten to know each other a bit. Joe works three days, then goes home to Chicago (a seven-hour drive) until the next weekend. He has brought homemade Egyptian food back for David to try, and he even brought gyros from a Chicago restaurant when David told him how much I liked them. So I decided to cook a traditional Danish meal for Joe…more about that in the next post.
By the end of the meal, Joe was doing all the talking, and his story is sad but fascinating. How many Americans really know what goes on in other countries when we are not watching? Or even if we do watch, how many times do we not hear the true version? If we do hear the truth, chances are excellent that it is only a watered down version of what actually happens, edited for political expediency.
Joe is in his late forties, born in 1965 to a wealthy and influential family. He has six siblings, and they are all very well educated professionals. Joe himself is a doctor. He worked in family practice for four years, then was an obstetrician for another four years. Just listening to him talk, it’s obvious he loved his work, and he was very good at it. But he kept noticing that he was being watched. For sixty years, just until the last few years, Egypt has suffered under a totalitarian military government that has a nasty habit of tossing all its influential citizens into prison.
Joe told us how his brother-in-law, an accountant, was taken to prison for speaking about the Koran’s denunciation of bribery and those who practice it during a religious gathering at his mosque. Joe’s cousin was similarly taken away, and for fourteen years was held and tortured. When Joe realized that he too was being watched, he left everything and came to the United States.
Some of his family are here with him, but some are still in Egypt. Joe spoke passionately and logically about the 2011 Egyptian uprising, the United States’ funding of the Egyptian dictators, and how the American political system is going downhill fast. I think he has a unique perspective on American politics that should be listened to. “Don’t talk about Democrat and Conservative,” he said. “That does not matter at all. Just be willing to listen to both sides, because how can you make a good decision when you do not know all the information?”
I know another Egyptian man, my friend Kamal, who lives here and owns a restaurant. His son, Mustafa, told me one day that Kamal was also from a well-to-do Egyptian family. He left as soon as he turned eighteen and came to the United States. I asked Mustafa if he had ever been to Egypt, or if he wanted to visit someday. He said he would love to go, but if he went to Egypt, they would probably force him to serve in the military. Yikes.
It’s so hard to keep on top of everything that is happening in the world. When you hear some of these stories, you say “enough,” because really, what can you do about it? When I said that to Joe, he said, “Tell people. Tell someone else what is going on.”
Joe had a lot of other insightful things to say, and he has a love for his adopted country, referring to “our sons going to war in Afghanistan,” and “our representatives in Washington.” So for me, I am going to do my best to at least understand what things I have been exposed to, and like Joe said, to tell the story as best I can.
This is Joe’s last weekend here, and his next assignment is to a hospital on Martha’s Vineyard. He will work weekdays, and he says he will take every weekend to visit all the historical places on the east coast that he can find. (He thinks it’s rather funny that our oldest American things are four hundred years old at the most. He also told us that to properly visit Egypt, it would take six months to see all six thousand years of Egyptian history.)
Maybe when he is on Martha’s Vineyard, he will get to have dinner with some influential Americans (think Kennedy?) and tell them the story of Egypt.