This is My Earth, My Country

The supposedly old Chinese curse, “May you live in interesting times” makes more and more sense the older Hank gets, even as a fictional phrase. He prefers “It’s better to be a dog in a peaceful time than be a man in a chaotic period” because it’s so obviously true and he loves dog proverbs. Nevertheless, he’s pretty inspired by courageous folks who take the interesting, the chaotic, and the bad and turn it around for good.

Hank’s been watching the situation in the Middle East and keeping all his toes crossed (try this as a Labrador) for justice and peace and truly meaningful and healthy change to come to this part of the world. He was particularly stuck by a bit posted today by Tom Friedman in the NYT (click image for link): Egyptian protesters/Dylan Martinez/Reuters

I spent part of the morning in the square watching and photographing a group of young Egyptian students wearing plastic gloves taking garbage in both hands and neatly scooping it into black plastic bags to keep the area clean. This touched me in particular because more than once in this column I have quoted the aphorism that “in the history of the world no one has ever washed a rented car.” I used it to make the point that no one has ever washed a rented country either — and for the last century Arabs have just been renting their countries from kings, dictators and colonial powers. So, they had no desire to wash them.

Well, Egyptians have stopped renting, at least in Tahrir Square, where a sign hung Thursday said: “Tahrir — the only free place in Egypt.” So I went up to one of these young kids on garbage duty — Karim Turki, 23, who worked in a skin-care shop — and asked him: “Why did you volunteer for this?” He couldn’t get the words out in broken English fast enough: “This is my earth. This is my country. This is my home. I will clean all Egypt when Mubarak will go out.” Ownership is a beautiful thing.  [emphasis Hank’s]

As I was leaving the garbage pile, I ran into three rather prosperous-looking men who wanted to talk. One of them, Ahmed Awn, 31, explained that he was financially comfortable and even stood to lose if the turmoil here continued, but he wanted to join in for reasons so much more important than money. Before this uprising, he said, “I was not proud to tell people I was an Egyptian. Today, with what’s been done here” in Tahrir Square, “I can proudly say again I am an Egyptian.”

Humiliation is the single most powerful human emotion, and overcoming it is the second most powerful human emotion. That is such a big part of what is playing out here. [emphasis Hank’s]

If you’ve traveled outside of your personal comfort zone–whatever this may be–you will understand how big a moment this is for Egyptians and how much dignity and respect and ownership this collective cleaning-up signals. Getting beyond learned humiliations and growing into more complete, whole and healthy versions of ourselves is what we are meant to do as individuals and as societies. This is evolution and this is what is meant by the fittest: dignity, respect for all beings, accountability and grace.

Hank’s headed back out to pick up more plastic and send aloha eastwards for the challenges to come in the days and years ahead.  Innaharda, ehna kullina Misryeen!


About Hank.

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