I woke up this morning in a daze, as I was tangled to near oblivion in my sheets, and reached for my phone to see what time it was…4:36 a.m. I drank a few sips of cold Chai tea, and found that I had added too much cinnamon to the mixture, before I laid my head back onto my incredibly flat pillow. I tossed one way, and turned another, trying to coax myself back into my typical zombie-slumber. However, I kept thinking of him. The poor, Cairene man I saw in Egypt sometime in December 2012.
I saw him as I tore away from the Metro so my friend, Jayanni, and I could continue our Cairo exploration activities. I was a graduate student at the American University in Cairo and she was visiting me from our home state, Tennessee. It was an unusually hot hour and the pit of my stomach was hard, and unkind, as I had prepared myself to go into the depths of Cairo without any male friends to accompany me.
Walking around Cairo wasn’t a big deal, and it still isn’t if you have your wits about you, but Jayanni and I made quite the pair. She is gorgeous, African American, and had the most eye catching head-full of natural curls, which was filled with precious clip-in flowers; and then there I was, with an unruly mane of red hair, typically louder than necessary, and ghostly-white. See where I’m going with this? I had to be more brutal than usual, and told Jayanni not to smile or wave at anyone since men might take that sweet, Southern gesture the wrong way.
We were making incredible time given the circumstances, which explains why I was only able to look at the unforgettable Cairene man for mere moments before clambering down into the dust and dirt. He had positioned himself on the stairway that led out of the Metro line, and he was wearing the filthiest robes I’d ever seen, which were more than likely a beautiful cream color at one point in time. His aged right foot was stretched oddly to the side of his body and my stomach turned at the site of it—green from disease, bloody and boiling,, and skin hanging off around the rest of his limb. The poor man’s head hung down into one of his callused hands, and the other hand was placed upon his right leg, perhaps to take away some of the pain or in case some generous soul would take pity on him. No one looked at him and I didn’t see a bowl for money.
Right before I stepped down beside of the Cairene man, he looked up at me and I was startled, something burned inside of me right down to my very core. The anguish on his face, the silent plea for help, the shame and humiliation…I didn’t know what to do. Jayanni was already a few steps ahead of me and I only had enough time to pull the loose change out of my jacket before tossing it his way. I was shoved, and almost pushed down the stairs from the hurried Metro passengers, before I even had another moment to look back again.
My heart hurt more than it ever had, and the man never even uttered a word to beg for any form of money or assistance. I couldn’t help but think of how he had to suffer in such a terrible, gruesome way. I think of this man often and I swear my heart breaks every time. Every time I buy something for myself, even if it is necessary, such as winter boots or a heavy pair of socks I tend to think of him and how he did without.
Even now, whenever I receive a care package in Berlin or Cairo, I think of how blessed I am that someone is looking out for me. Why did he have to suffer so much, when I was suffering so little? Why were people looking out for me, when no one was looking out for him? Every time I’m in a terrible mood and question whether I’m doing the right things with my life, I look back to his dirt and tear stained Cairene face, and remind myself that I must do the very best I can with this life, to be of use in our world. I am luckier that most. We, as Westerners, are luckier than most.
Now that we are almost halfway through the year, I am not surprised that I found myself thinking of the Cairene man who has been etched into my memory. It is our duty as human beings to help others and treat our neighbors how we want to be treated, regardless if they are seeking asylum in our country or if they are of a different race, religion, or sexual orientation. What will you do for the remainder of 2016 in order to be of use, to fulfill your duty in life?
Note: This article was originally featured on Huffington Post.