“I saw a play about the Arab Spring…”

My dance students here in Cairo are Egyptian. They are also Ukrainian, French, American, Japanese and Russian. Different religions, ethnicities, languages…

All in one preschool dance class. Becoming friends.

It’s a small world after all.


And I love teaching dance in areas where it makes a difference. Want to definitely do more of it. In bigger, more substantial ways. But I’ve been considering if I should shift to more stable work and start studying for the U.S. Foreign Service exam. It’s a long examination process that includes both written elements and high-pressure role play. A tough process that may have to be repeated again and again until successful. And if successful, the work may suit me perfectly, be a life I love, or it may be absolutely frustrating. The life involves 2-3 year long posts in different positions in different countries, not of your own choosing. Then an extra paid month of vacation back in the States in between. A friend of mine has this life. She is currently posted here Cairo, but soon will be off to Kabul.

Kabul is also where Jennifer, a friend of mine I met during my trip to Palestine/Israel in January, now lives and works. That makes two friends in Kabul to visit. Two friends to introduce to one another.

Small world.

Even smaller, a colleague I met in Bosnia is now here in Cairo. And looks like we might work together here. We are planning to grab a coffee tomorrow. And then the day after, I’m meeting a teen gal from Aleppo, Syria whom I met back in September at the TGIFriday’s restaurant on the Nile.

This has all made me realize something: The farther you travel out into the big big world, the smaller the world gets. 

Then there’s Globalization. Although it can be devastating and twisted, it can bring a comfort. Like a hug. A small, recognizable world of global branding and flavors. McDonald’s is the junk food friend you can depend on nearly any place in the world. I am well aware of the nastiness, but I admit to turning to a filet-o-fish meal and chocolate sundae every now and again on different continents. No matter what is happening, McDonald’s will be there with their addictive, additive fries and special sauces. Resilient and reliable.

McDonald's Tahrir - April 2013

Open for Business – McDonald’s Tahrir – April 2013

Technology also keeps the world small. With Vonage and Skype, I can call and video chat with my parents for absolutely free. I can call my mom at any time and get updates on her cancer treatments. My boyfriend can get on the phone and ask her, “How are you feeling, Beautiful?” Plus, the monthly data plan for my iPhone only costs about $15.

Then there’s Facebook, where I get messages from people I have never met. Dance artists in Baghdad. High school peers from Michigan. Emerging choreographers in Egypt in need of dancers for their choreography. And current students at my alma mater Millikin University in Illinois.

Hi Shawn. I am a student at Millikin. I am in the process of doing some research for a dance piece I want to choreograph and my professor said you may be able to help me. I went to London this last semester and I saw a play about the Arab Spring and I became very passionate about this topic and couldn’t believe this had been going on and I didn’t know about it. I think this is something a LOT of Americans don’t know about…”

This last request made me very curious. How is it possible that current undergraduates don’t know about current affairs? I guess I can relate, I didn’t have much of an awareness of Bosnia or Northern Ireland when I was in school; then I became shocked of my lack of awareness when I recently went to these places. Making friends in these places, friends who have been through so much.

I wonder if students in America know that on the same day of the Boston Marathon attack, the U.S. attacked in Afghanistan and 30 people died. Some were children, attending a wedding. Lives ended in two different, yet connected spots in the world.



The friend I mentioned earlier, the one who is moving to Kabul, asked me yesterday about what I had seen in Palestine/Israel a couple months ago and if I thought there would be a solution there. My response, “We haven’t even figured Belfast and Bosnia.” What we call peace involves cement walls, a separation of schools and services, revenge-driven art, and a denial of crimes. I know that now.

And I admit that I didn’t know about Rachel Corrie until two years ago when I saw a play in Scotland.

How are current high school and university students, the next generation of leaders, learning about their world? Are they watching plays? Making dances? Are Catholic kids meeting Protestant kids while playing Halo online? If it becomes possible for an American teen to make a friend from Iran or North Korea or any place that might give them hesitation, will they?

I wonder what friendships are being formed that will make their world closer, smaller than the one we grew up in.

1 Comment

  1. Enjoyed reading this- the road has many forks…keep following your heart, it has served you well so far.

    Be safe and happy ( you have shown that this is possible,!)

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