By ME RA KOH | January 9th, 2013 at 7:43 am
When I tell people we are taking the kids to Egypt, I get two responses: The first is sudden, like a knee jerk reaction: “Have you seen the news lately?! Is Egypt even safe to visit?” The second response, from the same person, comes a few seconds later with a smile that begins to spread wide across their face: “Wow. Ever since I was a kid I’ve always dreamed of going to see the pyramids.”
But before I can even address the first question, I have to start with how this all began.
Our family of four has a New Year’s tradition. We sit together and take turns setting the timer for three minutes (the first year we did this, we only set the timer for 30 seconds so the kids could work up to three minutes over time). For three minutes, we sit quietly and listen. Some might call this prayer, but it’s more of a listening exercise. We are listening for any impressions, words, pictures, senses that God may have for that person in the coming year. We write it down in our family prayer journal and then share what we got with each other. For example, this year Blaze looked at Pascaline after we were done with her three minutes. He said “Sissy, I saw you in a classroom surrounded by friends. You were wearing all kinds of patterns, colors, designs and really stood out. I felt like God said to me “She’s one of a kind Blaze. There is no one like your sister.” Man, when an eight-year-old boy says this to his big sister … words can’t describe the joy that spread across her face (and mine!). If I haven’t lost you yet (because I know this listening exercise may sound odd to some), we take three minutes for each person and then we end by taking a final three minutes to listen for what the New Year may have in store for our family.
Last year was crazy! We all had our own journals, and we wrote down what we sensed before we shared it out loud. Pascaline, 10 years old at the time, had the word “go” and saw our family on an adventure in a foreign land. Blaze, 7 years old at the time, also wrote down the word “go” and saw a globe spinning. Brian had the word “go” too and saw our family looking over a world map. And you guessed it, I had the word “go” and saw us crossing oceans. This had never happened to us before, and we were sure that 2012 was going to be a year of expansive travel for us as a family. Oddly enough, it was the first time in four years that we didn’t go abroad at all. But all last year, the desire to go to Egypt was growing in our hearts, visiting our dreams, coming up in homeschool and conversations over the dinner table.
About four months ago, Brian and I both started to feel a stronger pull toward Egypt. We had no idea why. But if you remember in my first post The Risks and Rewards of Being an Artist, I wrote “There is a knocking that comes to your door, a sense that you feel in your spirit. Do you listen and follow the trail? Do you risk shaking up all that is known and familiar to follow a gut feeling that gives no guarantees of where it will lead?” The knocking to head to Egypt was there — louder than ever. We know better than to ignore it.
But by the fall, every time you turned on the news there was coverage on the civil unrest, turmoil, chaos in Egypt. I asked Brian if he thought it was even safe to go. By looking at the news it looked like it was the last place we should take our kids. Even the U.S. State Department website has flagged Egypt, recommending tourists to not go. Fortunately, we have a friend who works with a company that is often commissioned by the CIA and various governments from countries around the world. The company goes in to potentially vulnerable countries and sees if it’s safe for government officials to visit, despite what the news is saying. We called in a favor with him to see if he could find out for us the true status of being a tourist in Egypt. A week later, his thorough reports came back with what we had expected — the news was blowing things out of proportion. Of course, you want to stay away from a few specific areas (just like I can suggest a few areas in most big cities to stay away from). But most of all, Egypt as a country, was suffering tremendously because of the decline in tourism.
We have seen the dramatic impact bad press can have on a country’s tourism economy with all our trips to Southeast Asia. I have been in the Bangkok airport watching the news tell me about bombings happening in the airport when nothing is really happening at all, but it is a political move – manipulation — to try and control the economy, all the while the locals suffer from it.
Our family is also not new to travel, we have experienced the good and dark side of traveling abroad. For four years, we’ve rented a house in the jungles of Thailand for four to six weeks at a time.
Blaze learned to swim in the Andaman Sea off the Bay of Bengal. The kids learned to use slingshots because that was the only way to defend ourselves against the monkeys who ransacked our house every day. But one year, me and the kids were bit by mosquitoes carrying Dengue Fever. I have never felt so scared and been in so much pain all at once. And yet, it was through this experience that my daughter was surrounded by apes as they heard her screaming from pain. The Gibbon apes encircled our house in the jungle, and began to sing to her — comforting her in a way I couldn’t.
But still, others have asked me: “Why not take a vacation to Hawaii or the Grand Canyon?” I love that question because the answer is simple: My heart has not yet heard the knocking to go there. When the knocking comes, the nudge within, to follow a sense, an instinct, I know that there is much ahead — that this trip will not just be about vacationing as a family, but has a deeper meaning. If nothing else, I want to continue to nurture in my children a sense of global consciousness. But I know it doesn’t end there.
Right now, I’m working with Babble to see how we can bring as much positive press as possible to Egypt. The country’s two-year anniversary of their revolution is on January 25th. Being there during this anniversary was one of my biggest fears. Ideally, I wanted our trip to be over and us out of the country by then. But things have not unfolded that way. To take all safety precautions, we have made sure that during the anniversary our tour is nowhere near the demonstrations. But we will still be in the country, and I’m sure the world will be reporting. Could it be possible that in a world of press that seems to feed off fear, our small family could share a different view through what we experience, write, photograph and film? And that this could have a positive impact on their tourism? This has become our family’s heart’s desire.
Do you ever have those moments when you know you are exactly where you should be? You couldn’t feel more confident in your choices and next steps … and yet the familiar voice of fear is ever present, ever there, whispering worst case scenarios to you? That voice can taunt me with colorful scenarios all day long, getting louder and louder as we near our departure date; What about rumors of tourists being kidnapped or taken hostage? What about the violence you see on TV? What kind of mom would risk putting her kids in these scenarios? Didn’t the Dengue Fever teach you to NOT make your family vulnerable to the unknown?” The unknown. The space that exists in the dark, that is also where the heart of creativity begins. The unknown … the starting point of all that is impossible having a chance to become possible. Yet, the voice of fear is ever present, nasty, condemning, and pulls up all the stops. I used to envision a day when that voice would no longer taunt me because my courage had grown to such proportions. Now I have learned that courage is moving forward whether the voice of fear is there or not.
We leave in less than a week. We will be there for almost a month. We have found an incredible tour company, Egypt Uncovered, to work with that has helped us become more aware of whether or not those fearful voices in my head are founded. They have also helped us hammer out an itinerary that is engaging for the kids, me and Brian, and also helps us capture specific scenes we envision for filming and photography — like the pyramids at sunset by camel or camping in the desert with a Bedouin tribe or experiencing one of the Nile cruises. We will have an Egyptologist guide with us the whole time and hope to visit some of the orphanages like we did in Cambodia. Our kids have been reading every book they can find at the library on Egypt. We’ve been watching documentaries for homeschool. There has been camera equipment to figure out and just answering the sheer question of “How do you pack a family for a trip like this when the desert can drop to 0 Celsius / 32 degrees Fahrenheit at night?” Great question, right?! I’m excited to share all the answers we’ve been finding in our preparations.
We welcome your prayers, well wishes, and support. I would even love to hear your questions or maybe your own fears of what would hold you back from taking your family to Egypt. Whatever those fears are, you are in good company. I hope to share answers to as many questions as possible throughout our trip. We believe there is a beautiful purpose to us going, a timeliness, that can’t be known on this side of the journey but will surely unfold as we step into the unknown.
Me Ra Koh loves cameras, kids, and parents, and spends her life bringing them together. See her new show Capture Your Story with Me Ra Koh on Disney Junior. Her book Your Baby in Pictures is a national bestseller. She is honored to be one of SONY’s Artisans of Imagery. Me Ra and her team of certified teachers lead CONFIDENCE photography workshops for women nationwide. She has been featured in The New York Times, Parenting, American Baby, Popular Photography, and her photography has been on exhibit from San Fransisco to New York. You can find her at merakoh.com.