For quite some time, I have always wanted to open up to someone, not just write down thoughts in my journal. I have always feared being judged by the people I know if I told them my darkest secrets. I wrote more, but it didn’t make me even slightly better. I wanted to sit down with a complete stranger and just open up to them; it was the only way.
I started thinking about everyone who is in my place. I then stumbled upon a picture from Europe and my mind seemed to light up. I didn’t think twice before grabbing that cardboard and jotting down the statement “You can talk to me about anything and I will listen to you” in huge letters. I headed to Zamalek, one of the high-class areas of the eternally busy C-town, and sat down and waited. I chose Zamalek because I was scared to go anywhere else on my own since I wasn’t sure if people would even accept me. Surprisingly, I was warmly welcomed and embraced. I just wanted to help people and be there for whoever needs someone to talk to. All I wanted was to be there. I encountered many people from different social classes, ages and nationalities. At first, the sign was only written in English. The next day many people from the working class approached me and asked me to translate what was written to them. So, on the third day, I added the Arabic translation to the other side of the sign to make it easier for people to approach me.
I met the nicest people and established many friendships with those who talked to me. Sometimes people didn’t come to talk, yet they made sure to read the cardboard text and smile at me.
One of the sincerest people I have met is a girl from the Netherlands, who bumped into me during her last few days in Egypt. She talked to me about her boyfriend, her job and I sensed that she was having some trouble opening up to me. I gave her a hug and that’s when things got emotional and then we had a long talk over coffee. She made sure to meet up with me before she left and thanked me for making her last days in Egypt worthwhile.
I can never forget to mention ‘am Mostafa, a man who sells books on the side walk and ’am Ibrahim who works at a flower shop at the other side of the sidewalk. They became a constant in my day, and they always welcomed me with a cup of tea. ’am Ibrahim talked to me every day about how life is too harsh on him because he can’t read and write well, so I made sure to ask ’am Mostafa to let me borrow some newspapers and books from him to read to ’am Ibrahim. I felt empowered as I became aware of more ways to help people.
Lately, I met a poor old lady who told me a sentence that changed my whole view of life. She said: “Nobody sleeps without dinner; God would never let anyone sleep without dinner. God is fair”. I felt ashamed because I have been complaining about needing someone to talk to while some other people are thankful when they have so little. Yet, I don’t think I will ever forget this sentence; it is like a motto.
This experience taught me a lot. It was hard sometimes to listen, but I would never regret it; I realised that helping others can really be a way to help yourself. It can be an easy way to make peace with your soul, even though these talks are just small gestures. It doesn’t have to be anything tangible or valuable because the streets taught me how a kind word or genuine smile can be the best gifts you can offer.
Reem Khorshed is a sophomore at the Faculty of Engineering, Cairo University.