What is geography? Do we define our selves by the countries we live in? What if we leave this country and visit somewhere else? Do we change? Or is it more like different set of characteristics come out and redefine us? Or do we actually pick up other characteristics from the people of the visited country? Or do we adamantly hold on to the traits we grew up with in the country we lived in? I was haunted by all these questions this summer during my trip to Egypt. My experience this summer came to me as I was reading Hau’ofa’s “Our Sea of Islands” and Wendt’s “Pacific Maps and Fictions.” From each of their respective essay, I observed that geography does have its impact of humans’ personalities and, in the long run, identity formation.
When I went to Egypt this summer, I wasn’t seen as the daughter returning to her home to see her family, but more like the “American” who is sightseeing. It was interesting to see everybody view me as a foreigner. To them, I was an outsider because I came from a different country. It really didn’t matter who I was; they were certain that I was not like them in any shape or form. The best example of this happened when I went to my mom’s hometown, which is on the outskirts of Alexandria and it’s known for its traditional values. I was invited to my mom’s uncle’s house for dinner, and they were simply shocked to see that I ate with my hands like they did. They thought that I was going to need a fork and a knife to eat. Their astonishment grew to a pitch when I laughed the whole thing off, and told them that I was raised like an Egyptian but not in Egypt. I think this most resonates with Wendt’s meaning of a cultural map: “Whatever those maps are/were, they are the grids through which we read reality” (Wendt 60). My family believed that because I was a resident of America, which has a different set of “maps” (geographically and culturally) than the ones Egypt has, I was going to assimilate those different “maps” into my being, and as a result, I was going to adopt new set of cultural values as the standard by which I view reality. All this because I lived on a different side of the globe!
However, my Egyptian family was somewhat right; my trip to Egypt became more interesting when I noticed that my personality is slowly changing during my stay in the country. For example, before I went to Egypt, I upheld the characteristically-Egyptian attitude towards time management: when I had something to do, I eventually did it when the time came up for it to be done. But, when I was in Egypt, I became quite the opposite; I was very strict with my time, and kept all my appointments to the second. This reminded me of the narrator of The Whale Rider on his trip to Australia (p.62-69). I have realized then that our character changes because of the cultural change, which comes with the territory change. Each country has its own rich history of traditions that visitors are welcomed to behold and uphold (to avoid any nasty cultural faux pas).