Fragments and Antiquity Becoming Whole and Current

by Ekua on February 25, 2011 in general travel

An Affinity for the History of Ancient Civilizations

When I was in 6th grade, we studied ancient civilizations and I was particularly intrigued by Greece, Mesopotamia, and Egypt. The history of these places indulged my imagination.

I remember taking on the more creative humanities projects with fervor. I got into character while creating my idea of what a Mesopotamian newspaper would be like (we had to pretend that there were newspapers back then). With paint pens, I meticulously drew artifacts that were pictured in my history book. I created a colorful travel brochure for the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World and daydreamed about what it might have been like to be able to visit the six that crumbled with time. I made a mini pyramid out of  sugar cubes and painted it gold. I constructed a model of King Tut’s a coffin out of cardboard and starched gauze and made sure I had the eyeliner and the gold and blue details just right.

Back then, I knew that Mesopotamia no longer existed as Mesopotamia, but in my mind it had nothing to do with the country my country had invaded a couple years before. I dreamed of visiting Greece and Egypt, but it never crossed my mind to think about what those places were currently like. My preteen mind was preoccupied with the fantasy, the mythology, the aesthetics of it all.

Over time, my images and ideas of many of those places we studied were refreshed, but Egypt somehow remained ancient and mysterious.

A Brief Encounter with Gaddafi (and His Ridiculously Big Entourage)

I was 17. High school was a recent memory and university was in the not so distant future. I was in Ghana with my family and it was the first time visiting since the first trip I took there 15 years before. It was a visit full of reuniting with extended family and reacquainting ourselves with the landscape, culture, and history of Ghana. We spent a lot of time driving during those weeks, from city to beach to jungle to lake to village.

That summer, there was going to be a summit of African leaders in South Africa. Muammar al-Gaddafi decided to take a road trip from Libya to the conference and make stops in various countries as he made his way down.

He was in Ghana at the same time as us and seemed to be in all the same places as us. He and his entourage thwarted our sightseeing plans in Kumasi and caused sleeping inconveniences in Accra. But the Gaddafi experience that is most strongly embedded in my memory was when we happened to be on a highway that Gaddafi would be driving down later. We came to a point where the police stopped all traffic. We could not go any further, we were stuck in a spot with nothing but grass on either side of the highway. I had to pee.

As more cars began to line up on the side of the road and there was still no sign of Gaddafi, I knew what I had to do. I set off into the grass until I found some that was tall enough to conceal me. I was irritated. I didn’t know then that my squatting experiences on that trip were primers for many similar future squats in locations around the world.

I made my way back to the car and Gaddafi had yet to pass. In the damp and hot summers of Ghana, the air coats you with sweat. As soon as you wipe it off, more layers await, until you find refuge in a cool space. The wait time was too long to keep the car running and there was no shade. The line of stopped cars now stretched beyond our vision. We leaned against the car and waited. And waited.

And then Gaddafi’s entourage finally came. I’ve never before or after seen anything like it. There were scores of vehicles in the convoy — gigantic buses, RVs, SUVs, limos, and helicopters. In the middle of all of it, was a sunglasses-clad Gaddafi, smiling and waving at us from the sunroof of a limo. As if we were his fans. As if.

I was annoyed by the arrogance of his assumption that any of us cared. I was annoyed by the excess of it all. He rubbed me the wrong way, but still, I didn’t think about what that sort of arrogance and excess must mean for the people who had to live under his rule.

The Present

A few months ago, the contractor who is in charge of the renovation that’s happening where I work told me that his next assignment could potentially be in Libya. Images of Gaddafi and his ostentatious motorcade presentation came to my mind, but I realized I still didn’t know much about Libya beyond that.

Recently, I told a friend that one of my many travel dreams is to take an overland trip through Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Turkey (This friend has yet to leave the U.S. and her response was, “Why don’t you ever want to go anywhere normal?!). Even though I know people who’ve been to Egypt, have read stories about people’s recent trips to Egypt, and know that there’s a KFC and Pizza Hut right across from the pyramids, there was still a detachment from modern day Egypt in my travel desires; that fantastical image I had as an 11 year old still lingered.

Then January 25, 2011 broke the reverie and thrust my awareness of Egypt thousands of years forward. And I felt a little sheepish about not even knowing that Egypt was ruled by a dictator.

I’ve been reflecting on my knowledge of the current situations of the countries I’ve visited or want to visit. Certain countries may have a recent history I’m interested in and know a lot about, but for some, I don’t even know the basics. Moving forward, I want to change that. Because part of why I travel is because I’ve always been a hands on leaner. I think my travels could become even more purposeful if I dedicated more time to knowing about a country beyond a period of history that interests me.

And as I look back at my grade school days, I can’t help but wish there was a bridge from the ancient to the modern times, more of an awareness of the world as it is.  But here we are, and current events are bringing my knowledge and ideas of a region out of fragments of memories and antiquity and ignorance under tense and upsetting, but hopeful circumstances.

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Hal Amen February 25, 2011 at 1:59 pm

Great stuff, Ekua. Especially enjoyed the Gaddafi story.

And hey, one of my dreams is to cycle from Istanbul to Cairo. Do you ride!? 🙂

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Ekua February 27, 2011 at 10:45 pm

Thanks, Hal. Cycling? That seems like an undertaking, but would make for many great stories. I think I am more of a bus and camel type 😛

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Julie February 25, 2011 at 4:05 pm

Ekua-

Hal tipped me off to this piece. Love the next to last paragraph especially. I’ve always thought it’s really important to know about the places I visit, and like you, am a little bit ashamed when a huge world event breaks because it makes me aware of how much more I have to learn.

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Ekua February 27, 2011 at 10:50 pm

Yeah, I started to look back at the places I’ve visited in the last few years, and realized that for about half of those places, I couldn’t say who is running the country, etc. Really want to make it a point to be more informed before I travel from here on out!

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Sonia February 26, 2011 at 2:37 am

Dear Unstoppable Girl, I named your blog as one of my “blog picks” to receive the “Versatile Blogger Award”. It was sent to me by Snippets of Thyme this week. I have the info posted on today’s blog. Have fun!

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Mary R March 1, 2011 at 1:35 am

Such a great timely post. These past few weeks with all the events in northern Africa and the middle east, I too have been thinking a lot about my time in Egypt and experiences teaching students from those countries.

I love your Gaddafi story!

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Sunee March 3, 2011 at 11:34 pm

A fascination for antique cultures is something we have in common. I also didn’t realise Egypt was a dictatorship until recent events. I think that’s one of the reasons I haven’t visited the country yet – although it’s featured prominently in my daydreams for most of my life now – I’m afraid that the reality of it would spoil my perfect perception of what I think Egypt should be like.

And FYI – I had a similar experience when Bill Clinton came to visit us in SA a few years ago 😉

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Ekua March 4, 2011 at 2:00 pm

I’ve also had a Bill Clinton encounter. His daughter graduated from the same university in the same year as our family friend, so of course he was there. There were a lot of people around him, but nowhere near as many Gaddafi. And it was couple year into the Bush regime, so people were excited to see him. 😛

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