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The Present of Now

While Egypt's glorious past won't fade away, sitting and waiting for something to change the course of you future to happen just isn't enough if you want to live up to you legacy. Sally Sampson explains how me must actively seek inspiration.

I don’t know about you, but I’m one of those people constantly on the lookout.

I look to the stars and constellations (which can be quite a challenge given Cairo’s notorious pollution problem), I hunt around in books analysing the dynamics that give birth to timeless classics, I ponder rhetorical questions that try to define our existence...I even seek bright flashes of revelation in the food that I eat. And while, for some, that may conjure an image of me crying hysterically into my Bolognese and then choking to death in an attempt to shout ‘Eureka!’ with a mouth full of pasta, it’s not (for once) quite as dramatic as that.

Put plainly, I’m always on the lookout for inspiration. I’m forever keen on learning something new or better yet, discovering something that has yet to be discovered. I’ve always been like that, but I have become more so over the years.  At school, I was the Hermione Granger type, hair and all, minus the magic and at times, the maturity. I sat in the front row, refused point blank to cheat or to let anyone else cheat off of my paper during exams and actually came across a lot of the time as being a smug know-it-all.

Nowadays, I am conscious of this and I try to tone down the intellectual arrogance that I used to have in spades, because it is absolutely, along with athlete’s foot and other infections that cause you to ooze from various body parts, one of the most repulsive things in the world! And, of course, it is a marker of ignorance as well as the number one obstacle to learning. While it is crucial that critical thinking should remain in one pocket when it comes to education, it is also true that humility must rest in the other because, with the onset of new information, if we are unwilling to throw out the old and outdated and adopt the new and ground-breaking, we will remain stuck and our ignorance will deepen.

And no, I don’t mean to sound like either Plato or Stephen Fry, but the truth is I really have been spending a lot of time thinking about this notion of constant evolution. It’s not a new concept; people have known since forever that in order for a nation or even a single individual in a society to remain healthy and strong, they must remain active in both the physical and the mental sense. This is why when people retire, they end up quickly deteriorating if they don’t actively seek something else to direct their attentions to. Empires have fallen, from Troy all the way to the British Empire on account of stagnancy; it’s because these societies became so self-righteous and conceited that they refused to acknowledge the tides of change and adapt accordingly, until they were overtaken and engulfed till all that was left was a distant memory of greatness that was gradually left to fade and melt away into nothingness.

To take it one step further and bring Egypt into the equation too, I will say that we are not very different in this respect either. There is no doubt that Egypt has a great history. Yes, we have one of the oldest civilizations in the world and yes, we built the pyramids and yes, we have historically been a hub for the arts, for culture and for enlightenment…but all of that, in all its grandeur, has been the cause of our undoing. All those things in themselves were and are remarkable, but when I look around, I see how they have become a crutch for us in many ways. We lean on them and talk about the ‘good old days’ (whether it’s Ancient Egypt or el zaman el gameel (the belle époque of the 40s and 50s), rarely ever looking at the now and trying to make our current reality a beautiful and prosperous era.

Don’t get me wrong…I know there are those that have tried realising their dreams and either succeeded or failed in the process. But I also know there are many, both young and old, in Egypt with dreams, businesses, initiatives, projects, visions lying dormant within them, just waiting for the opportunity to be inspired into action!

So can I just take a moment and say it is not enough to passively await inspiration because in an atmosphere of hopelessness and monotony, inspiration could very well slap you in the face and you would remain none the wiser. And, if you do, by some miracle, realise that inspiration is knocking at your doorstep, you will not know what to do with it, because your vision has long since been clouded by the ramblings of reminiscence that you cannot perceive the limitless and vast prospects ahead. You will find yourself stuck in the dizzying whirlpool of all things once achieved, never daring to paddle out and explore the bigger, wider and deeper oceans that are just outside the limits of perception.

Like I said, I’ve given this a lot of thought and at the heart of it all, is intense frustration. The problem is I’ve found that people get angry when confronted with all of this. They start talking to me about poverty, our lack of education, the plummeting of the economy, the overall instability, the lack of resources… And yes, those are all factors that make breaking out of the whirlpool that much harder. But it is and will always be IMPOSSIBLE to change anything or go against the status quo in any way, unless we have both vision and faith that things can turn around.

It’s about actively seeking inspiration to dream the dream, walk the walk and build in the now. Egypt, right now, is at yet another crossroads and under new leadership. And whether or not you voted for our new president, we have to know that the power to build Egypt is in our hands and not in his hands. I want Egypt to prosper and grow more than anyone else, but we need to tear that blinding veil over our eyes and undo the shackles of inertia if building a great civilisation that rivals and surpasses that of the Pharaohs is ever going to be on the cards again…and it should be!

A great man once said “We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we’re curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.” And no, it wasn’t Einstein or Churchill or Oscar Wilde…it was Walt Disney.

And if one man can create a magical, fictional world that has stood prosperous for the better part of a century now, don’t tell me 80 million Egyptians cannot pull together and build a nation that future generations will marvel at.

I rest my case.


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