After 7 years of working with young people and coordinating volunteers, and after almost giving up completely on myself being able to volunteer, I was put in a place of professional dissatisfaction, which gave me the due kick in the ass to do my European Voluntary Service.
Being the oldest volunteer among my peers, I was able to decide better what I want to do with my time, how to deal with situations where I am not comfortable, how to prioritize tasks, when to party and when to rest. These are a few of the perks of volunteering at 31. I often picture myself coming to do my EVS right after university. I would have had a completely different experience, I reckon, due to the different nature of the challenges I would have faced.
The strongest undercurrent of my volunteership is studying Spanish. Once a wise ex-volunteer told me: “You will study and talk, and study and talk, and one day you will wake up to find out that you have been dreaming in Spanish the night before”. It gave me Goosebumps. I could not picture myself dreaming in any language other than Arabic, occasionally with English subtitles. That was only 6 months ago! Now I do not only dream in Spanish, I have already made lifelong friendships with people who neither speak English nor Arabic, and my commitment to better my Spanish is part of my commitment to those friendships. I do not like ‘making new friends’, and I am usually disturbed by people who like that. I only make friends when I am captivated by certain qualities that I find in people, and to make such strong friendships in such a short time is very unusual. However, I go through it with a great deal of excitement.
Two of the things I love the most about the people here are their ease of living and creativity. In whatever dark place life will take you, you will meet someone who tells you ‘No pasa nada’, or nothing is the matter. People like to live, and they often talk about growing old and envision their lives-to-be. These topics have become a subject for taboo and cynicism in Egypt, and it is occasionally refreshing to indulge in such conversations here. The other thing I love about people is that every person you run into, at work, on the street or in the park, either sings, plays an instrument, dances, writes or practices photography or painting, or does a combination of some/all those things. You can start a party, concert, show or exhibition very easily without worrying about the potential you have. Well and of course, you always get to sit back and enjoy the creativity the people have to offer you.
As I write this blog post, I am coming to realize that volunteering at such a relatively advanced age offered me a lot more than an intercultural experience. I no longer want to travel primarily to see new places and get the feel of things. I want to enjoy a walk on the beach or a hike in the mountains only to breathe some fresh air and express myself with the decorum I would like to have. I want to stop thinking about all the barriers that erect between my freedom and me, and stop weeping over the lost hope or stressing over the pains of walking down the street in Egypt, where I come from. It has become essential for me to experience such a different reality, and to call it mine, not to lose my mind, and in order to let all what happened in the past wash through, and drip away.
I sent my EVS application only a few days before my 31st birthday, and I am glad I did. I felt crazy doing this, crazy enough to lose my sense of self for a while and dwell on existential questions. Now I am so grateful to the madness that took me over, because most people do not get such chances to relive the moments they lost to war, revolution and loss, not even momentarily, and I was offered nine months, which I am making the best out of, and will continue to do so.