Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Filthy English

‘Filthy Arabs.’ That’s what the charming Englishman said.

The issue of racism, prejudice and general demographical ignorance is one I’ve written about on numerous occasions. It hits close to home due to my diverse background, plus living for so long in what I hate to admit is a largely discriminatory country, Australia*. My latest encounter with this rampant phenomenon occurred only last week.

As some of you will know, I’ve just returned from a wonderfully relaxing stint in Egypt. My week, cruising along the Nile, took me from little rural Luxor, and further south on the river towards Edfu, Kom Ombo and finally, Aswan, before returning along the same route.

Egypt is often lovingly referred to in Arabic as ‘مصر ام الدنيا’ or in more legible terms, ‘Egypt, mother of the world’. A sense of pride unlike any other is the foremost emotion you experience when strolling through the incredibly simple villages that border the Nile. This is highlighted via the pure grandeur and historical magnificence of the sites I had the honour of experiencing on my trip.

Egypt as a whole harbours a culture more rich and vibrant than dozens of others that speck the globe. The country is not only home to the last remaining member of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, but is also a burgeoning hub for the arts in the region, with an unrivalled cinema and music industry to boot amongst a thriving tourism market.

I don’t want this following comment to shadow my fond memories or your vision of Egypt, but feel like I need to make a point; an optional excursion to Cairo saw several tourists make their way to one of the busiest, most congested cities in the world. Upon their arrival back to the mother ship, much feedback was given.

The conclusion: the pyramids were astounding, the museum an undeniable work of art and the city itself? A dire mess. 

No news there, really. Consider the population of 7.8 million, spread over just 453 square kilometers, with what has been labeled as one of the busiest metros in the world, counting over 700 million passengers in and around said metro annually, one can only imagine the traffic and pollution that inevitably ensue.

What saddened, and surprisingly, angered me (surprising only because I’ve been through like situations countless times) was the reaction of one city goer, who took to his vehement description of the trip as dismal and then continued on to shockingly spout, and quote, “Absolutely disgusting. Filthy Arabs.” I was standing right there.

I had half the mind to tell him about how I spent time out from my holiday in London last August, volunteering at a council estate in Brixton, knee deep in trash that included discarded needles, hair weaves and a dead bird. Not that Brixton could even remotely compare to the enormity of a task like cleaning up a sprawling metropolis like Cairo.

Not once did I say, ‘Filthy English’. Not once. 

*Disclaimer: In no way is this comment meant to generalise or label the Australian public as a whole. As an Australian myself, I have experienced racism due to my mixed background and have witnessed this with a high percentage of friends and acquaintances who enjoy cultural backgrounds that are not purely Caucasian. Many tourists experience the same. 

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