I’m not generally afraid of traveling to so-called “unsafe” places.
Sure, I put on full hijab regalia for my Saudia flight from Riyadh to Medina three months after 9/11, but that was mostly because I wanted to escape notice. Was it intimidating to board the plane and look across the sea of red-and-white scarves to the aircraft’s television screens, which featured steady footage of a qibla that changed direction as we flew, always pointing to Mecca? Absolutely. But was I ever scared? Not really.
And sure, I noted the limited escape potential as I walked through the narrow, towering walls of the entrance to Petra in 2003. But there was the cheery Brown University flag waving over excavations, and the sweet Bedouin children who followed us around in ratty Kansas City Chiefs sweatshirts, trying to sell us rocks and chanting the only English they knew. It wasn’t scary.
But something changed before my 2008 trip to Egypt. I blame three things:
I got married and started watching boy movies, namely Body of Lies and The Kingdom.
I had a boring job that allowed me to obsessively follow online coverage of the frequent terrorist attacks in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and, most recently, Mumbai.
My husband and my best friend each dreamed that I died in Egypt.
Now, clearly, they’re not clairvoyant, because I’m still here. But it’s a bit disconcerting to have the two people who know you the best relate to you their eerily similar dreams. So when the flight from Frankfurt to Cairo started to shake uncontrollably (I thought) upon takeoff, I put in my headphones and tried not to think about my inevitable demise. And as we walked around the temple of Luxor, I made mental notes about the locations of the guardhouses so I could find the nearest machine gun when we came under fire.
So there I was, in the middle of thousands of years of history and culture, constantly distracted by my horror and curiosity. And worse, I had a deep mistrust of the people around me. Hollywood had me convinced that everyone I passed was a potential killer, and that foreigners in the Middle East get ambushed in the streets all the time.
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