Discovering India for the First Time: The Feelings of a Franco-Egyptian Girl

Posted by Laura Mansour • Monday, July 25. 2011 • Category: People and Places
At first glance one could say that there is no point in comparing Egypt and India, but when I came here I noticed that there were quite some similarities between these two countries. When I first arrived at the Indira Gandhi International Airport in Delhi I had this strange feeling of familiarity. Facing me there were hundreds of Indians staring at me but it didn’t disturb me, the same thing occurs in Egypt, so I am quite used to it. I only realized that I was in India on the way to my flat, when I tried to explain to my taxi driver who didn’t speak a word of English how to get there. From that moment I understood that in India things could quickly get more complicated and that I had to sweat it out. A challenging programme was waiting for me; will I be able to measure up to it?

The first days I decided to gather my courage and discover my neighbourhood. I made this leap to have a glimpse of India’s living conditions and culture and I quickly realized that I was not in an environment that was completely foreign to me. I was walking along the main market of Malviya Nagar when I had this strange feeling: it was a mixture of a dream and a flashback from my time in Egypt.

The panorama that stood in front of me, the city of Delhi with its crowded streets, noises and smells, reassured me somewhat. I found here the same hawkers shouting their slogans, the same sweltering atmosphere of the days of extreme heat and also the same frame of mind: bargaining. Nothing better than going to shop in a local market or to launch into the traffic jam to feel fully immersed. Crossing a busy intersection involved similar risks! However, it reminds me of how my cousins in Egypt who used to take my hand to help me cross the street – now I can proudly say “I can cross the street on my own!”

It is true that when when many people think about these two countries, one word comes first in their minds: poverty. Children, the unemployed and handicapped are the most affected by poverty and it is a fact that one often comes across beggars, touts and children who are trying to sell roses. Nevertheless, you have to go beyond that kind of stereotype if you really want to appreciate the splendour of these countries. Simple people, always welcoming, with a sense of mutual support, that is what I found here, not to mention the gorgeous sceneries which are classified among the Seven Wonders of the World.

Some scenes particularly struck me. Just look at these pictures and try to tell which country it is:

(c) by Laura Mansour

(c) by Laura Mansour

(c) by Laura Mansour

(c) by Paul Simpson
[http://www.flickr.com/photos/paulsimpson1976/4278041801/]

(c) by Meena Kadri
[http://www.flickr.com/photos/meanestindian/2179992612/]

(c) by Glen MacLarty
[http://www.flickr.com/photos/glenmaclarty/2188366803/]


(The first three photos were taken in Egypt and latter three in India.)

However many similarities India and Egypt might have, as many differences you will find as well. Indeed Egyptians and Indians dealt with poverty in a very different way. Egyptians tried to create an “integrated society” where each individual with its rights and responsibilities has an active role to play. The goal was to encourage people to start their own businesses through a series of governmental subsidies. Unfortunately it didn’t work out and led to the current situation we all know about, the Egyptian revolution. For the earlier Egyptian model to function, this would have required the implementation of fundamental human rights and freedoms, cultural and religious diversity, the protection of minority groups and so on; but in order to cope with these challenges another problem has to be solved as well: illiteracy.

So to alleviate poverty and to lead the country to a sustainable economical growth one has to think about how to empower people to help themselves. Basically the poor have only their own labour as a source of wealth. Therefore, we need to strengthen their human, social, financial and physical capital to help them step by step achieve a certain social mobility and acquire the required skills to be able to improve their living conditions. It may take years but there is hope. Both Egypt and India are facing huge upheavals, whether in terms of their economical, social or political situation.

With the Egyptian revolution citizens realized that they had to take charge of themselves and assert their rights. Men and women, Muslims and Christians were protesting hand in hand; it was as if discrimination had suddenly disappeared. However the hardest stage is yet to come, Egyptians have to stay united and show their will to develop the country and move forward with concrete actions. The next elections will determine much of the country’s future. At the same time, India is increasingly attracting foreign investors, it has developed sectors such as services or information technology and with its highly educated workforce it is now increasingly able to compete with other rapidly developing countries like China.

Experiencing India all by myself enabled me deeply immerse myself and really enjoy even the simplest of things, such as playing with the children on the street, in spite of all language barriers. But for my experience to be really complete I would love to come back in ten years and see the evolution of this “incredible” country.


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  1. A nice, thought evoking article, i believe that people from India would have similar experiences on their first trip to Egypt. The images that highlight the similarities between the 2 countries have been selected with care and can fool you. Cheers!

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