This is dedicated to my grandpa. A man whose actions speak louder than words, and whose words could write a library full of books.
Born Egyptian but raised in Canada for almost 20 years, I decided to return to Egypt, in search of something, something I could not quite put my hands around. While seeking help from others, some suggested that my search was for belonging, while others predicted that I was merely bored, looking for a change. Suffering from depression and anxiety for some time, I finally came to a conclusion, I needed to find my Dose of Happyness. So in March of 2015, I quit my job, packed my bags and flew off to Egypt.
Considering I grew up with only my parents and siblings, I thought spending six months with extended family would provide me the opportunity to learn more about them, hear their stories, and discover my roots.
I booked a round trip with a return ticket in six months and two weeks, thinking that would be more than enough time to find whatever it was I was searching for.
Over the excruciating twelve-hour plane ride, all I could anticipate was everyone’s excitement for me, disregarding how I felt about them.
Roughly two months into the trip, I decided to start applying for jobs. After landing a few interviews, I was told that I would be considered a candidate for the positions, however, I must complete some paperwork that provides citizens permission to work in Egypt among other necessities. Thinking nothing of it, I began what I thought would be a straightforward and effortless procedure.
Months had passed since I started the paperwork, and still no sign of progress. Meanwhile, my experience with my family was also not going as expected. Our different languages and lifestyles made it problematic for us to connect on a personal level. I was convinced that they were the ones not putting in enough effort. Unfortunately, expecting everyone to unrealistically put their life on hold for me and my six-month stay caused a severe amount of frustration and resentment towards my family, and eventually the country as a whole.
I began to loathe my stay more and more after each unavailing and hopeless day, nearly regretting the fact that I came. I decided I had put my life on hold long enough; this trip was no longer a search for happiness, but rather a toll on my life. I needed to get back to Canada.
I called the airline company in an attempt to reschedule for an earlier return date. Customer support explains how the penalty would be roughly three times the original cost of the flight, but even worse, the earliest ticket would be only two weeks sooner. Considering I had already been there five months, two weeks seemed tolerable.
The unsuited attempt to return home only added to the anger. However I felt a sense of relief, but at the time I was unmindful to this strange comfort.
Desperately, I hang in there for the last six weeks, eagerly anticipating the good life awaiting me back home. I cowardly persuaded myself that whatever it was I traveled overseas to look for, this ‘purpose’ people speak of was bogus.
Finally, I am back at the airport and headed home. While checking in my luggage, I was worried the clerk would make me leave items behind because my bags were overweight. Nevertheless, having to abandon a few things I wanted to bring back barely phased me, I was going home. Gratefully, I check-in my luggage without any problems and give my uncle on the other side of the gates a big thumbs up. Home sweet home is all I had on my mind as I walked through that airport.
I approached customs, barely paying attention as the officer goes through standard flight procedure. While reaching over to return my stamped passport, he suddenly pulled it back and asked for the same paper that stopped me from getting a full-time job and settling down.
I am directed to the Customs and Immigration office for further investigation. It was only then, I found out that because I am a dual citizen and had spent more than six months in Egypt, I also needed that paper to leave the country.
My heart sank, face went blank, muscles ached.
While I waited another two hours for my luggage to be returned from the airplane, I furiously walked around the airport while others easily made their way through customs.
I finally get my luggage, find my family, and stubbornly demand that we do something about these damn papers.
They tried their best to calm me down, attempted to convince me that it would be more suited to come back the following day, but their reasonable lectures were powerless. I had to do something right then and there. And of course, considering it was 3 am, when we got there we were sent home and told to return the following day.
Like an eager child, I awoke at 7 am the following morning to deal with the situation. I was informed that it was just a matter of time before my papers would clear and all I could do was wait. But I could not wait, I head to the Canadian Embassy expecting them to help. Unfortunately, due to my Egyptian citizenship, they refused to interfere with Egyptian law.
The next three days I fell back into a deep depression, feeling even worse than before I had arrived in Egypt. Not leaving my room, barely eating, thinking my life was over.
I started catastrophizing; I had no business coming back. I built so much resentment towards everything around me; Egypt, Canada, and even my family members.
If I don’t have a purpose here nor there, where do I go?
Finally, it hit me; the answer I have been looking for, the purpose of this trip. My answer was neither here nor there. Not a place, person, or thing will make you feel complete. No relationship, car, or amount of money will ever bring you happiness. It must first come from within.
When you work from the inside-out in life, you understand your what, you understand your how, and you understand your why. -Inky Johnson
I spewed through emotions, feeling ecstatic yet puzzled. Was this peaceful realization an illusion, or could this really be the key to happiness.
I wanted to confirm the reality of this current and sudden observation. Thus, I experimented with one of Seneca’s lessons, Letter 18 – On Festivals and Fasting, to determine the validity of my epiphany.
Set aside a certain number of days, during which you shall be content with the scantiest and cheapest fare, with coarse and rough dress, saying to yourself the while: “Is this the condition that I feared?” –Seneca, Letter 18
So I head to Alexandria on my own, bringing nothing but the clothes on my back, The Alchemist, and my journal; I even left my phone behind. Each day, I ate nothing but two loaves of bread and a tangerine, and slept on the floor. Living life to its simplest form.
Since my diet was limited, I would try pitas from different bakeries, and even though I was eating the same type of bread from each shop, it was easy to focus on enjoying the unique distinctions. Happiness and joy are simple; it is our greed that makes life difficult.
For though water, barley-meal, and crusts of barley-bread, are not a cheerful diet, yet it is the highest kind of pleasure to be able to derive pleasure from this sort of food, and to have reduced one’s needs to that modicum which no unfairness of Fortune can snatch away. –Seneca, Letter 18
One of the most mesmerizing moments of the trip was when I went to buy a single tangerine from a local fruit stand. I went in assuming the man would rip me off, considering I was making a purchase of only one fruit and somewhat looked like a tourist. But when I tried to pay, the man pitifully looked at me and said, “It’s okay son.”
My world came to a sudden halt.
The man not only gave me a free tangerine, he gave me something money couldn’t afford. I finally grasped the essence of the saying ‘Happiness comes from within.’ Words could not describe how surreal and beautiful that experience was. I finally got to meet myself, and it was as if I had never met this person before.
For months, I had criticized an entire country solely based on the petty fact that things were not going as I wanted. In that austere moment, I recognized how my thoughts and perceptions of this country, my family, and everything else had been completely distorted.
Happiness has to come from within because you can’t change the world around you. If there is anything that needs to be changed, it is most likely ourselves. Life is all about perspective. There is the good and the bad everywhere, and which you choose to see is what you will receive. Your inner world creates your outer world.
It is the expectations that disappoint us, not the actual situations. From the time I landed until then I was not satisfied with the way my family treated me, only because I expected more. Looking back I realized how much they did give up for me, but it was I that was not appreciative nor grateful for their efforts.
Similar to how I would often disregard my grandfather’s advice, which I mistook as judgmental rather than constructive criticism. However, my big ego couldn’t help but shut him out. The man knew a lot about a lot, and all he wanted was for me to prosper. Being mindful of other peoples’ perspective can really go a long way.
Before I even landed I was selfish enough to assume the world revolved around me. Yes, my family should be excited to see me, however, I should have been thinking about them, and how excited I was to see them and all I was going to do to express my love towards my family.
When I had gone to the Canadian embassy, they told me that their website specifically states how being a dual citizen and spending more than six months in Egypt would require paperwork to be completed. Which at the time only increased my resentment, but looking back now with a different perspective I see how it was my fault. That if I had done my part this entire situation could have been avoided.
Nonetheless, had I succeeded in switching my flight back just two weeks earlier I would not have had any issues with customs. That ironic relief I mentioned earlier after the failed attempt to change my flight ticket made sense. I would have left with the same negative mindset and no progress in my search for happiness.
See people say life is not fair, and I completely agree, life isn’t fair. Life is too generous. Whatever you put in is what you will get out.
1+1 = 2. You can’t get anything more than you put in on the left side of the equation because there is a big equal sign in the middle. The left side of the equation is up to you, how much you put in is up to you. -Ashley Zahabian
It is much easier to point the finger everywhere but ourselves and say, “I am not responsible,” because if we say “I am responsible” we might also have to say “I am irresponsible.”
Anytime we think the problem is out there, that thought is the problem. -Stephen R. Covey
It is important to accept the reality of the present. We are constantly pushing greatness to later and becoming discouraged when things don’t go as planned. Giving up before even starting.
I kept pushing my greatness off until I got back to Canada; Because it was Egypt that was stopping me, the same Egypt that I went searching for my purpose in. My whole life there was always something, or someone holding me back, and the future always seemed more promising, or so we tell ourselves. It’s always later or tomorrow or New Years, but what is stopping you right now? Why not today?
We must do what we can, with where we are, and with what we have; and have faith that everything will be alright.
“You can’t connect the dots looking forward. You can only connect them looking backward. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. Because believing that the dots will connect down the road, will give you the confidence to follow your heart, even when it leads you off the well-worn path. And that will make all the difference.” -Steve Jobs