I’ll never forget the first time the camera clicked on.
I had been laying on my bed for over an hour, messaging back and forth with a man in Egypt. It wasn’t our first chat. OK, it was our first extended chat. The actual first time we’d written to each other had been a short message off a pen pal website and then an email exchange with all the normal pleasantries that occur between two people who are beginning to become friends.
I have to admit that the first email I received had me a bit nervous. I was already leery because I’d met some shady people, and not just men mind you, on the pen pal site.
There had been the lady who claimed to be from New York City but once she emailed it was your run of the mill “Please help me, I’m in Nigeria and need help getting my late father’s money from his obscure American bank account” type thing. She assured me though that God had brought us together on the internet for a reason and she just knew I’d help her out like a good friend.
Then there had been the guy from California who appeared at first to be just an elderly gentleman looking for an outlet to get some things off his chest before dying.
(I know; I know…how awful of me to think that way but seriously that’s just how my brain works.)
Turns out he wanted to tell me all about his sexual adventures from the ripe old age of 13 up until now. Some of his stories would make a sailor blush. I quickly cut off communication with him because that was just not comfortable for me and that’s saying a lot.
I’d also received messages from plenty of other men and women from around the globe but none ever returned emails after the first response and so yes; I was pleasantly surprised and hesitant at the same time when he actually kept responding to me.
I need to explain something before I get too far. As petty as it sounds, as judgmental as you may think me, his overall use of the English language and spelling made my gut twist at first. Reminding myself that English is not his first language was very important.
(I’ve typed and deleted the next sentence several times in an attempt to explain myself and try to justify my reaction but I just can’t. You’re just going to have to believe me when I say I am no longer judge anymore when it comes to corresponding with him. He’s actually very easy to speak with. His English is better than most Americans!)
We quickly moved to Google’s chat platform “Hangouts” and our friendship took off from there. We spent the next several days messaging back and forth. Often missing each other because there’s a seven-hour time difference between Texas and Egypt. So when it’s 8am here, it’s 3pm there and that can get tricky as you cross over the midnight hours because then it’s a whole other day and well, you get the point.
(Hey friend! If you’re reading this I hope you’re having a great day at work! Or sleeping? I don’t know what you’ll be doing when you read this actually. Surely you won’t be sleeping and reading. Now I’ve just confused myself.)
There comes a time though when you’ve spoken to someone for a while via just words and you can’t just pick up a phone and that gets worrisome. At least for me. Sure you can just continue to write but I have this issue with people not being legit. I’m the type of person that I have to see you eventually and pictures here and there are just not enough. Yeah, I know. Here I go again judging but you have to know how many times I’ve been fooled and not just by people from another country.
So we’ve got Skype amirite? Hell yeah we do, so why not Skype? “Hangouts” even has a feature just like Skype that enables video calling. Hey, we’re already messaging on Skype so why not just call me? Huh?
And he did.
The first thing I remember is hearing so many sounds that my brain was all over the place trying to figure them out. There were horns honking, people chattering in the background and music playing. Initially the only picture that showed up was mine. Now don’t lie and say you haven’t done this. Preened into the camera, turned your face this way and that to get the right angle. It was 2 am and I was exhausted but I was about to get my first glimpse of Egypt first hand and I wasn’t hanging up because of sleep!
Then his voice came over the phone:
“Can you hear me? Hello?”
My heart skipped a beat. There was crackling on the other end.
“Yes! I can hear you! Hello?”
Then the picture came through at the top of the screen and my breath caught in my throat. Daylight and noises amplified dramatically as the connection became more clear and suddenly I was looking at street shops, then the ground and back to the sky! I almost got motion sickness but finally the camera landed on a building and it was my first peek at Egypt.
(I can hear you groaning. Stahp it. It truly was amazing you guys.)
The next forty-something minutes were a blur of excitement for me. He showed me the bustling city sidewalks and the people of his country walking to and from work and school. The cars honking their way down the crowded streets. There were men in shorts, pants, suits and women in their hijab’s and women with shorts on as well and it was this amazing collection of human life and I felt so…so small. So insignificant all of a sudden but not in a bad way.
Imagine for a moment if you will: I’m lying in my bed in the early morning hours in Texas. Lubbock, Texas, where nobody really walks anywhere. It’s certainly not that crowded and as loud as what I was experiencing and everyone in New York City or Los Angeles or other big cities that read this may say, “Well hell, I live that every day,” but I don’t and it was magical.
Add to that the fact that here I was talking to someone on a completely different continent and I immediately realized that this world is so much more than just me.
It’s so much more than just Lubbock, Texas, America, and North America. I was being given the opportunity to explore that from my bed. Nobody else was experiencing what I was at that moment and that meant so much to me. I don’t even know if I will ever be able to explain exactly how it felt. It’s something that you just have to experience yourself. One of those feelings.
Thinking back now on that first video call, I laugh a little bit. Even to my own ears I sounded a little silly. Sing song-ing my affirmations when he’d ask, “Can you see that? Is it clear?” Even now, several video calls later from both of our ends, I still feel that rush of excitement except now the more of his city I get to explore with him, the more I feel like I know where I am. For lack of a better description it feels like I’m calling home to say hello to family.
I can barely grocery shop alone here at home but I get to go in Egypt…
I’ve sat in a park with him and watched the people go by…
We’ve stood on the platform of the underground metro together…
Have you ever been to the dentist in the middle of the night…I have…
I’ve explored. I’ve learned and I’ve never felt more alive.
There’s a whole world out there beyond just us you guys. It’s so much more than just what we see in the movies and on TV and what the media shows us. I’m getting to see the real thing and in real time. The more I get to do that, the more I realize that exploring that world in person is something I desperately want to do before I die.
I want to hear the call to prayer in real life, not just over the phone when it blasts from the loudspeakers outside of his windows. It’s exciting to think about popping downstairs to buy fruit and vegetables from the vendor who rides by on his bike, hawking his goods from a bullhorn.
I find myself saying to the world, “Wait for me! I’m here and I’m coming! Please don’t leave me behind!”
Most importantly though I want to thank my friend for showing me that there is more to life when we choose to look past ourselves and our own borders. There are other people out there that live amazing lives every day and if we can just see past the cultural and religious differences and throw the stereotypes to the wind for even just a minute…
Well…you just wait world. Wait for me because I really am coming and boy do I have a lot to share.