Sunday, August 25, 2013

Ten Historical Figures Assasinated by Their Own People

As an admirer of the past, I've decided to try and incorporate some historical pieces in this blog.

In this first history related post I'll be counting off a list of some of the most notable figures of times gone by who were assassinated by their own people. To clarify, the figures in question had to have been influential political or social leaders and had to have been killed by individuals or groups belonging to their same ethnicity, religion and or nationality.

(10) Julius Caesar (July 100 BC - March 44 BC)


The oldest person on the list, Caesar has gone down in history as arguably the most famous Roman ruler. A master politician, soldier and propagandist, Caesar triumphed over his rivals in a brutal civil and set about reforming the incredibly corrupt and decaying Roman Republic in his own image. Declaring himself dictator for life, Caesar's ambitions alienated a number of Roman senators and leaders who worried that their Republic would soon be replaced with a monarchy. A conspiracy was hatched by a group of influential Romans, led by Brutus and Cassius, who confronted Caesar in the Senate hall in Rome before stabbing him to death with daggers hidden under their cloaks. Accounts report he was stabbed about sixty times. Most of the assassins were killed by Caesar's successors Mark Antony and Octavian. Octavian would go on to abolish the Republic forever as the first Roman Emperor Augustus.

(9) Ali Ibn Abu Talib (September 601 - January 661)


The fourth caliph, or successor, of Muhammad, Ali was the companion, cousin and son in law of Islam's founding prophet. A divisive and respected figure in his time, Ali was regarded by the small but vocal Shia faction as the only true leader of the Muslim community based on his blood relation to Muhammad. However, a majority of early Muslims, called Sunnis, believed that any respected and devout Muslim could lead if popularly chosen. Since Muhammad himself left no clear method of succession, the dispute began to divide Islam even as the new religion spread by conquest across the Middle East and North Africa. To save the Muslim community from strife Ali accepted the rule of three other caliphs, Abu Bakr, Umar and Uthman. When Uthman was assassinated, Ali was narrowly chosen to succeed him. However, soon after his ascension two separate rebellions broke out against his rule. The first, in Arabia, was led by Muhammad's widow Aisha (who had frequently feuded with Ali and his wife in the past). The second was spearheaded in Syria by Mu'awiya, another companion of the deceased prophet. After crushing Aisha's army in an engagement known as the Battle of the Camels, Ali marched to Syria to confront Mu'awiya. In the end, Ali decided to make a negotiated settlement with Mu'awiya to stop further bloodshed. His arbitration with Mu'awiya, caused a small faction of Ali's followers to split from his camp. Called the Kharijites, they labeled Ali an apostate for legitimizing Mu'awiya's and defying God's will by not recognizing his own absolute authority. This faction stabbed him to death in his tent after negotiations with Mu'awiya had ended.

(8) Abraham Lincoln (February 12, 1809 – April 15, 1865)

The fifteenth president of the United States, Lincoln is most remembered for leading his country through a brutal civil war, abolishing slavery in America with the Emancipation Proclamation and the Thirteenth Amendment, and for insisting on fair and equal treatment for reconquered Southern States that had tried to break away. A farm boy from Illinois who studied law while working as a grocery clerk, Lincoln is widely regarded by many as one of the best if not the best American president of all time. He is also remembered more tragically for his death. As the war wound down, Lincoln took a break from planning the reconstruction of the ravaged South to attended a play at Ford's Theater in Washington with his wife Mary. While sitting in a booth above the stage, a stage actor and Southern sympathizer John Wilkes Booth snuck in from the back. He put a pistol to the President's head and after shooting him at point blank range Booth escaped the theater and made his way to Virginia. Union soldier soon trapped in a barn and after a brief standoff, shot him dead. Lincoln passed away several hours after being shot, leaving the reconstruction of the South to his vice president Andrew Johnson.

(7) Czar Alexander II (April 29, 1818 - March 13, 1881)

One of the last Emperors of Russia, this late 19th century monarch was also a great liberator in his time. Despite his patrician upbringing, this Czar's most notable accomplishment was his freeing of Russia's peasant underclass, the serfs, from bondage to noble landowners. Special committees were established to address the concerns of the peasants while a program was launched to modernize Russia's infrastructure and reform it's armed forces. Despite these progressive changes, Alexander was targeted frequently by far left anarchist groups in Russia, who regarded him as a tyrant standing in the way of Revolution. After surviving several attempts on his life Alexander finally met his end in 1881 after completing plans for a new parliament that would allow Russians to choose representative officials for the first time in history. As he was riding through the streets of Saint Petersburg, in a bomb proof carriage, a member of the Russian anarchist group Narodnaya Volya, hurled a bomb at the convoy. Though the Czar survived this blast in his carriage, he made the mistake of stepping outside to assist a wounded soldier. Exposed, he was confronted by a second member of Narodnaya Volya who threw another explosive at his feet. The blast ripped several of the Czar's limbs off and he was carried back to his palace where he died of his wounds. The assassination triggered a repressive backlash by Alexander's successor who rolled back many of the late emperor's reforms and curbed many newly gained civil liberties. 

(6) Pancho Villa ( June 5, 1878 – July 20, 1923)

A farmer turned bandit, turned revolutionary, turned rebel, Pancho Villa is one of Mexico's most enigmatic figures. Making a name for himself in Mexico's 1910 Revolution, the charismatic Villa would challenge numerous Mexican governments and even the United States army as he tried to fight for Mexico's peasant class from his stronghold near the US border. Villa was famous for confiscating property from Mexican landowners and redistributing them to poor farmers. That said, he and his compatriots were no angels either and were accused of committing atrocities of their own including a raid on the town of Columbus in New Mexico. After gradually losing men, resources and his northern stronghold to a US army expedition, Villa negotiated a peace settlement with the Mexican government which allowed him to retire to a small hacienda with the hundred or so men he still commanded. In 1923, Villa drove his small dodge car to the town of Parral to do some errands. As he was driving through town a man ran up to his car shouting his name, at which point several gunmen ran in front of the vehicle and opened fire. Villa died instantly from the barrage which struck his chest and head. While the hands behind his assassination have never been discovered the most likely theory is that his death was ordered by members of Mexico's political elite who wanted to stop him from running for President in the next election.

(5) (Mahatma) Mohandas K Gandhi (October 2, 1869 – January 30, 1948)

 Lawyer, pacifist and civil resistor, Mahatma Gandhi's death by an assassin's bullet is particularly tragic given how much this Indian independence leader opposed the use of violence. Born in India and educated in England, Gandhi got his first taste of racism and civil disobedience in South Africa, where he helped lead a campaign of protest against British policies that discriminated against South Asians in that country. Returning to British ruled India in 1915, Gandhi became heavily involved in the Indian National Congress' campaign to achieve self rule in the British colonial possession. His campaign of peaceful non-cooperation, in which thousands of Indians refused to work for British employers and use British products eventually led to Indian independence in 1947 in which the colony was divided into a Hindu and Muslim majority state (India and Pakistan respectively). Millions of people died during the partition as Hindus and Muslims on the wrong side of the line left or were driven out of their homes and into their respective new states. As the fighting raged, Gandhi's pleas for peace to all sides helped stem much bloodshed. However, extreme Hindu groups accused him of siding with Muslims who were killing innocent Hindus across the country. In 1948, the rhetoric against Gandhi from members of his own religion prompted a group of men to conspire to assassinate him. On January 30th, one of the conspirators, Nathuram Godse, entered the Mahatma's compound in New Delhi as he was preparing for evening prayers. Godse shot Gandhi three times in the chest killing him immediately. Godse and his fellow conspirators were hanged for their crimes, while Gandhi was given a state funeral. The Indian leader's legacy lives on through his many teachings, writings and the work of the historical chroniclers. 

(4) John F. Kennedy (May 29, 1917 – November 22, 1963)

The first Irish-American Catholic President, John F Kennedy was another iconic US leader, whose time in the White House is referred to nostalgically as 'Camelot'. Born into a wealthy Boston family, Kennedy's dashing looks, personal charm, youth and charisma cleared his way to the oval office. Famous for his handling of the Cuban Missile Crisis, early forays into Vietnam, pushing the US space program and his numerous extramarital affairs, Kennedy was immensely popular during his time. However, after only three years in office he was gunned down in Dallas Texas as his motorcade passed through the city. His killer, Lee Harvey Oswald, was a former US marine who had defected to the Soviet Union before returning to the US. While many theories exist as to whether Oswald acted alone or as part of a wider conspiracy, most evidence seems to indicate that he acted alone. However, doubts persist to the present day.

(3) Malcolm X (May 19, 1925 – February 21, 1965)

Another charismatic man of 1960s America, Malcolm X was an outspoken voice for African American rights who was also accused of inciting violence and racism at different times throughout his life. Born Malcolm Little, he experienced racial discrimination as a black man in the 1940s. Jailed for breaking and entering in 1942, he was introduced in prison to the Nation of Islam, a new age religious movement that incorporates Islamic teaching and doctrines with African American social, political and spiritual themes. After converting to the new religion and taking on the surname X (a metaphor for the African name he could never know thanks to the legacy of slavery), Malcolm quickly rose through the organization's ranks after being released from prison. Frequently speaking out against American military conflicts abroad, like Korea and Vietnam, X's endorsement of violence as a legitimate means of black resistance against white oppression led to his surveillance by various police departments and government agencies. X also advocated for black supremacy and for complete separation from white society. These views softened slightly after a pilgrimage to Mecca exposed him to the wide racial and ethnic makeup of Muslims all over the world. Eventually, Malcolm X split from the Nation of Islam, converted to Sunni Islam and formed his own group, leading to tension between the two organizations. These tensions boiled over in 1965, when Malcolm X was gunned down by three members of the Nation of Islam while addressing his supporters.

(2) Anwar Sadat (December 25, 1918 – October 6, 1981)

Egypt's second president, Anwar Sadat succeeded the charismatic Gamal Abdul Nasser as president in 1970. Assuming power in the aftermath of the humiliating Six Day War, in which Egypt lost the Sinai Peninsula in a crushing Israeli victory, Sadat crafted a surprise attack in 1973 which took the Israeli military by surprise. Though unable to take back the lost territory, Sadat took advantage of the Israeli loss of face to push for peace terms that would give the Sinai back to him. Under the supervision of US President Jimmy Carter, Sadat and his Israeli counterpart, Menachim Begin, signed the Camp David Accords which paved the way for a peace treaty between the two countries and prompted Egypt to recognize Israel's right to exist. Though gaining back the Sinai was a political victory for Sadat, his decision to make peace with Israel cost him support in the Arab world, including among his own countrymen. Radical Egyptian Islamist groups, like Gamal Islamiyya, began to plot against Sadat and his government. Enraged by his peace deal with the 'Zionists' these factions called for the President's overthrow and the establishment of an Islamic State. Despite a massive crackdown against religious militants in Egypt, an army based jihadist cell, led by Lieutenant Khalid Islambouli went undetected. In 1981, Islambouli and his unit put a plan into action and joined a military parade in Cairo commemorating Sadat's surprise attack on the Israeli army. As their truck passed by the stage where the President, his advisers and foreign delegates stood, Islambouli and his men climbed out and walked to the stage. After exchanging a salute with Sadat, the Lieutenant hurled three grenades at the stands while his men opened fire with their Kalashnikov assault rifles. Sadat and eleven others were killed, including a Cuban ambassador, an Omani general, and a Christian bishop. Islambouli and his conspirators were captured and later executed while vice president Hosni Mubarak succeeded as president. The new President would continue to crackdown on Islamist militant groups until his overthrow in 2011.

(1) Yitzakh Rabin  (March 4, 1922 – November 4, 1995)

A Middle East peace-maker, nobel laureate and career military man like Sadat, Rabin was Israel's first native born prime minister and the first Israeli leader to reach any sort of negotiated settlement with the Palestinians. Born in Jerusalem in 1922, Rabin made a name for himself as a military leader serving in the first and second Arab Israeli wars. As a general he was most notable for capturing East Jerusalem and the Wailing Wall from Jordan in 1967. During his second term as prime minister in the 1990s, Rabin signed the Oslo Accords with then Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. The Accords, which granted the Palestinian authority partial control over the West Bank and Gaza, angered certain Jewish parties on the far right in Israel. Yigal Amir, a devout Israeli Jew who sympathized with Jewish settlers in the West Bank, felt that Rabin's deal would deny Jews their “biblical heritage which they had reclaimed by establishing settlements.” At a rally in Tel Aviv in support of the Oslo Accords, Amir shot Yitzhak Rabin in the chest two times as the Prime Minister walked towards his. The former general died within the hour. Vigils were held in his honor across Israel while his funeral was attended by Western and Arab leaders.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Things I Can and Can't Say About the Bloody Events in Egypt

As I watched events unfold at the Fateh Mosque in Cairo yesterday, I felt a need to comment on things in Egypt. 

This is a very difficult post to write, for several reasons. 

First, I'm not in Egypt. I haven't been in Egypt since last December. I can't provide the first hand perspective I was able to give while I was living in Cairo. 

Second, Egypt's Revolution and its aftermath are issues that are very close to my heart. After witnessing the uprising in 2011 and knowing so many people who participated in those events, I've struggled, off and on, with trying to maintain a position of neutrality when trying to discuss and decipher an insanely complicated era of change and upheaval in a country that isn't my own. 

Third, news-sources, both foreign and local, have had a tendency to be extremely biased and demonizing towards one side or another throughout this latest crisis. This makes it very hard to figure out what exactly is going on in the country from an outside perspective. 

Still, I can't help but put my thoughts for whatever they may be worth. 

Following the overthrow of Mohamed Morsi in June, I was tepidly optimistic that Egypt's turbulent experience with democracy was going to make a turnaround. There's no doubt the Muslim Brotherhood, who dominated Egypt's first openly parliament and who ultimately took the Presidency in a fair election, were incompetent rulers. They were just as equally determined to ignore the voices of other Egyptians who didn't agree with their Islamist ideology. When the army overthrew Morsi's government two months ago, it was preceded by days of protest against his rule in which hundreds of the thousands of people participated. 

Yet after the events of last week, I can say that these hopes have dissipated. 

The Egyptian Security Services violent clearing of two pro-Morsi sit ins in Cairo, which had been held peacefully for close to two weeks, led to over 600 deaths according to the latest figures. This was followed by Pro-Morsi, Pro-Muslim Brotherhood and Anti-coup supporters burning churches, schools government buildings, police stations and offices across the country. 

Streets I had known living in Cairo, which had never seen any violence while I was there, were now home to running street battles between pro and anti Morsi supporters. 

The bloodshed I've seen over the past few days has been shocking. It's been shocking to many people and governments around the world, who I think have struggled to understand who and what has been responsible for the ongoing violence. This has been especially difficult because of blatantly biased positions of so many writers, bloggers and media outlets inside and outside of Egypt who've tried to manipulate events to support one position or the other. 

I've been absorbed in this confusion as well. I've read dozens of articles about events in Egypt. Many blaming the government and the army for using excessive force in dispersing their rivals. Many blaming the Brotherhood and it's supporters for allowing armed men in their protests and trying to manipulate international media into portraying them as victims when their supporters are attacking churches and government buildings. Many blaming the US government for supposedly supporting either the Brotherhood or the army or both.

I've seen videos of body armor clad policemen and soldiers firing live rounds at unarmed demonstrators. I've seen images of armed men walking alongside demonstrators protesting for Morsi's reinstatement. I've seen pictures of bodies lying in mosques and in streets. I've heard defiant and utterly vitriolic statements by those supporting the demonstrators and those who despise them. These voices demonize the other side and praise their own. To me, it's as if I'm hearing two children pointing fingers at each other after a fight claiming the other 'started it!'. 

I've had Egyptian friends (Christians and Muslims, people, I love and trust) telling me how much they hate the Brotherhood and want the military to wipe them out. 

This horrible deluge of hatred and bigotry by so many factions and outlets in Egypt is painful for me to digest. But there are a few conclusion I can draw. These are things I can and can't say about current events in Egypt. 

First, I can say, that every political player in Egypt (The military, the interim government, the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist the liberals and the secularists) has failed Egypt and its people miserably. None of these players, so far, has shown any willingness to deal with the opposing force insisting that the blood on their hands isn't there when pointing at the stained hands of their opponents. The Brotherhood could have come to the table earlier and could have changed its rhetoric to be more inclusive with factions it disagreed with, the army didn't have to clear the protesters from the square with the kind of force they used. The liberals and secularists betrayed a commitment to democracy by hiding behind the tanks of the generals. 

The state and private media in Egypt also failed, demonizing the Brotherhood as terrorists without showing any regard for their demands.

Second, I can say that the army's current heavy handed approach to the Brotherhood will not open Egypt to democracy or bring long term stability. These Islamists and other politically active Islamic movements in Egypt, may not represent the majority of Egyptians but they represent a significant portion of the population. The army won't be able to shoot them all or lock them all away. They won't make them go away by forcing them underground either. The Brotherhood and the Islamists need to be a part of Egyptian society. That means they and their opponents need to take a long hard look at themselves and decide what they need to change to make themselves better able to address Egypt's many needs. 

Third, I can say without any hesitancy, that Egypt deserves better than what either the army, the secular parties or the Brotherhood has been able to give it. Egyptians went to the streets in 2011 for a better future, a future void of corruption, and economic disparity. They deserve the best for their sacrifices. They deserve far more. 

Fourth, I can say that all these parties will continue failing their country for years to come. The hatred and bigotry in Egypt is so strong that I doubt the pro and anti Brotherhood blocks that have emerged will come together any time soon. 

Lastly, here are the things I can't say: I can't say whether the Revolution has failed or succeeded. Time is ultimately the only way to tell. The Revolution was never going to be a short term transition. My guess is twenty years from now, scholars and media outlets will still be debating the full repercussions of what happened on January 25th 2011. 

I also can't say whether the Brotherhood will triumph in the long run. Islamist organizations have endured a lot throughout the last few decades. They may very well whether this storm in Egypt, or they may be swept away by another ideological movement as Arab Socialism was in the 1970s. 

In the end, the final thing I can't predict, is whether Egypt will spiral into civil war or submit to military rule and it's road map. Regardless, the blood shed today will not be the last drops spilled in this country.

Think, hope and pray for Egypt, according to your inclinations.


Monday, August 12, 2013

Lincoln, Buddha and Ramses

I've been meaning to write this piece for quite a while; actually since the beginning of the year. Sadly, a seven month purgatory in the US stagnated most of my creative juices. That was followed by a few months in which I shifted continents, moved back to my hometown in Thailand after six years, and started a new job teaching rowdy Thai first graders English.

The few, mildly chaotic weeks, have replenished me as a writer though and I feel inspired enough to attempt the article I've decided to call: Lincoln, Buddha and Ramses.

I've been to 19 countries throughout my life, and set foot on five continents. However, there are three countries that I've been more intimate with than others.

The United States: My country of birth, the country of my parents' birth, and my country of citizenship.

Thailand: The country I was raised in and spent most of my childhood and teenage years.

And Egypt: The country where I experienced life fresh out of college and was exposed to the trials of being a single adult in the wider world...trials that were further exacerbated by the hope, upheaval, pain and passion of the Egyptian Revolution and it's aftermath.

In December of 2012, four months after I returned to the US from Egypt, my family and I took a vacation to all three of these countries. Within the span of around two weeks, I visited the three places that were the most formative in my life so far. I saw the beauty of three cultures that I've spent a lot of time thinking about over the years.

These countries are like a family to me. I've loved them, I've fought with them, I've cried over them, I've drifted away and ignored them only to come back again when I needed them.

While it's impossible to summarize each of these incredibly complex places in their entirety and while I'm sure I may misunderstand and inevitably misrepresent them in certain aspects, I want to try my best to share the perspectives I gained on that brief but insightful trip during Christmas of last year.

Origins: The US

The first stage of our family vacation began in Ohio. It was the US state I was born in and where my parents were born in. It's where the bulk of my extended family lives today. My memories of life in this Midwestern US state go back as far as the fourth grade. A saying associated with Ohio is, 'the Middle of It All'. This isn't really a reference to the State's geography but rather to its demographics. It has a fairly even number of rural, suburban and urban communities, Conservative and Liberal leaning communities and a fair number of minority communities. In a sense, it represents the very wide spectrum of American life, and as such, Ohio is often a highly contested State in US presidential elections.

I can't say I was aware of any of this when I lived here as a ten and eleven year old. I can say though, I began to think of this last Christmas as I took a van with my mother, father, two sisters from my grandmother's house on a rainy night from her small suburban Cuyahoga Falls house to the Cleveland airport. We passed row, after row of identical homes with symmetrical lawns. Yet soon passed onto stretches of highways that run past rural grain farms which inevitably expanded into a network of concrete streams in the city of Cleveland.

The US is a large and very diverse country and depending on which state, town, city and street you were raised in, you will undoubtedly have certain outlooks, customs and values that may be completely different from your next door neighbor.

While Thailand and Egypt are diverse as well, you won't find nearly the same same range of social, religious, ethnic and political identities you find in the US. While this variety is a great strength of the US, it makes it hard to understand exactly what US traditions, customs and culture really are.

“It depends” is sometimes the best answer I can give non-Americans when asked what a majority of people in the US believe about one issue or another.

An example of this diversity struck me as we loaded our checked baggage at the Cleveland Airport. A large group of young US navy men and women were standing by several self-check in kiosks a few meters away. They wore the same uniform, spoke the same language and in many ways undoubtedly shared many common values. Yet not a single face or skin tone was quite identical to the other and if one took the time to talk to them individually, I have no doubt you would find a spectrum of hometowns, parents, sexuality politics etc.

While I don't really think of the US as my home (for reasons that will be elaborated on in the next section), and while diversity in the US has and will bring great pains and conflicts, I appreciate my country of origin for what it is: ---A place where you never exactly who will be around the corner or at your door and where your sure to get a montage of opinions in just about every place you go.

Growing Pains: Thailand

When my family and I left the Cleveland airport at around 3:00 in the morning for our grueling flight across the the country and the Pacific, we already knew what we were in for. As kids, my sisters and I had spent a decent portion of our lives on planes making the 16-24 hour journey from one side of the world to the other as we moved continents between Thailand and the US.

That said, the trip was a particularly special one for us. It was the first time we had visited Thailand as a family in nearly six years.

I had heard a lot of things about Thailand and Chiang Mai, the city I grew up in, in the time I had been gone.

Malls and condominiums were popping up everywhere. The school I had gone too as a kid was expanding and possibly moving to a new location. The traffic in my hometown was reaching extraordinary levels once confined to the capital, Bangkok.

I had missed Thailand a lot since graduating from high school in 2006 and moving stateside for college. Still, for most of the six years I was away I had very little desire to go back. Part of this was because I was keen on seeing other parts of the world, especially the Middle East. Yet I was also aware that the small northern city I had known growing up was now going through a growth spurt of its own. I wondered how many of the places and faces I had known as a teenager would be swept away by the inescapable reach of time and development.

As our week passed in Thailand my fears would prove right and wrong at the same time.

My relationship with this Southeast Asian country began four months after my birth in 1988 when my parents moved back to the country to continue their work. My most coherent memories of the country through start from around the age of 11. This was the first time I clearly remember moving continents and it was the first time my entire family had settled down in the northern city of Chiang Mai.

While I can't say my childhood in Thailand was without its ups and downs, I definitely feel as if I had one of the best upbringings imaginable. I went to a good International School, where my teachers, friends and peers came from countries far and near. I had access to a wide palate of food and entertainment options. And finally, through my parents' mission work, I was made very aware at early age about the deep and pervasive suffering many people (refugees, trafficked women, the impoverished and those struggling with stigmatized diseases like HIV) live with around the world.

By many standards, I wasn't as absorbed in Thai culture as other ex-pats or ex-pat children were. I was never very good at Thai, though I can speak it moderately well depending on the situation.

Still, I was readily exposed to a culture that was not strictly speaking my own and inevitably I came to embrace and love Thailand as my true home.

While it's sometimes difficult for other Americans to understand, the US, for most of my young life, was a very distant figure like an estranged parent I was aware of but really didn't know as a father or mother.

Thailand raised me and, after touching down in Bangkok in December I felt as if I was truly coming back to a familial place.

After spending a night in Bangkok we went south to the small town of Bang Sang. After laying around the coast of the Gulf of Thailand we drove back to Bangkok and flew north to our old city.

The changes I had been wary of seeing first hand showed themselves almost immediately. Heavy traffic, construction sites covered with metal and concrete skeletons that would grow in time into large office buildings or malls. It seemed as if every corner of the city had gained a new shopping center, fast-food chain restaurant or upscale cafe.

In six years Chiang Mai had become a boom town and the boom had brought prosperity, but also other kinds of businesses.

The number of go go bars and strip clubs had increased spreading to streets close to my old neighborhood.

These surface changes were all very evident in the first few days. It was a very different city. My sister, Erin, made the comment of how surreal it felt “to be a tourist in one's hometown.”

Yet for the obvious increase in wealth, prosperity and urban sprawl Chiang Mai, and Thailand at its heart remained very much as I remembered.

The people were still as sweet as ever. Though Thai hospitality can be a bit idealized, it's still one of the best aspects of life here. Whether it was the hotel staff, our van drivers, waiters or old friends of our family, it was impossible not to feel welcome. The willingness to open one's self and serve a stranger in any way possible is a great trait for any culture. The philosophies of Jai yen yen (Roughly: Super cool cool) and Mai pen rai (Roughly: No problem), are alive and well making it easy to feel free, safe and comfortable as an outsider.

I had missed this openness and gentle demeanor in the US, where speaking your mind and being opinionated, even if you don't have something valuable to contribute, is very prized. I don't view this aspect of American life as a flaw (necessarily) but it was nice to be back in an environment where people are willing to be more cautious when sharing their feelings and opinions and where pleasing others and ensuring they are not offended is very valued.

I've carried these values with me throughout my adult life and after being gone for so long it was a relief to be around people who appreciated them.

Much had changed on the surface, yet Thailand is still Thailand and while there are many things about life in this country that are undoubtedly negative, it's a place that always has an open door to walk through and where life's pace seems resembles a lengthy stroll and not and an intense, competitive marathon as in the US.

After spending a few days beating around our old stomping grounds, meeting friends from the old days of high school, and sampling old albeit slightly altered tastes and smells, it was hard to get on a plane and fly to the third and last continent of the journey.

A New World: Egypt

Anyone who has read some of my Facebook posts and my novel 'The Struggler' knows that I've written a lot about Egypt over the last three years.

While my relationship with the US and Thailand is best defined as a parental one, Egypt is a different but no less intimate category.

Egypt, was for a time, like a love of my life. It may be a bit of an odd term to use, but at one point I would have gladly given up everything to stay with the country, in essence, marry it.

Like many infatuations between the ages of 22 and 25 though, this was a relationship that sadly didn't work out as planned.

There is and will always be a piece of me that belongs to the country, and more and more I am committing myself to going back for short visits.

Yet, I doubt I can ever live there again, at least not under the work and social conditions I was under.

As uneasy as I had been at times about going back to Thailand, I was more nervous about returning to Egypt.

My first experience with the country was as a college student in 2009. I had had a long standing fascination with the Middle East, Muslims and Arab cultures, stretching as far back as late high-school.
My first time being the region only served to wet my appetite.

As soon as I was done with college in 2010, I moved back to Cairo. I soon rented my first apartment in a middle class Cairo neighborhood and started my first professional job as a English copy writer/editor at a graphic design company.

Like so many people around my age in the US, I was starting my life as an independent adult, trying to navigate a world away from a University campus. I was also starting it in a new country who's language I hadn't mastered, which I had only experienced for a few months and was working in a field I hadn't really trained for.

Needless to say, I had a few rough months in the beginning. I felt overworked, unsure of what I was doing and unable to feel like I was truly fitting into my new office.

Thankfully, with good friends, colleagues and an Arabic course I began to carve a niche in the massive urban center of Cairo.

About six months after I had arrived for a two year stay, I was feeling confident about my decision to pursue my dream of living in the Middle East. I was loving the culture, developing friendships, and seeing if I could pursue further studies in a part of the world I had been intrigued by for so long.

Egypt was beginning to feel like home. Then, on January 25th 2011, the country I was just getting used to turned upside down.

I had read about the protests of course, but like most Egyptians, I thought very little of it until the streets burst at the seems with people.

Within a span of a few weeks I saw Egyptian friends and colleagues transform into activists and protesters, rushing down to the central square in Cairo to protest against their authoritarian president of 30 years.

When he resigned and his government fell, I like so many people in Egypt and around the world cheered and cried. It was a miraculous event to see firsthand. Hundreds of thousands of people from across the social spectrum, marching peacefully, united in a common cause and seeming to succeed against all the predictions of doom and gloom.

After the 11th of February, Egypt went from being a place of interest to a place I truly fell in love with it.

I followed the upheavals, twists and turns passionately, defending it through dark times as the transition period became messier and bloodier. I wrote over a hundred facebook notes, published articles and went to close to a dozen protests. I came close on several occasions to fighting between police and demonstrators but I kept going, believing through each horrendous new street battle or massacre that the Revolution would prevail and Egypt would get the government they deserved.

Sadly, I soon found I had burned myself out and disillusioned. The chaos, the ongoing bloodshed, estrangement from friends, problems with a girl I loved and growing discontent with my job sent me into a spiral that I can say nearly destroyed me.

Towards the beginning of the summer of 2012, I left my job, Cairo and my social circle and moved to an isolated Coptic retreat center along the desert highway between Alexandria and Cairo. I spent three months at this gorgeous place, writing the bulk of my next novel, teaching English to the staff and performing various chores that included, lifting bricks, chasing donkeys, gutting raw chickens and climbing trees to harvest mangoes.

It was a very great time for me. A time that ultimately came to an end when visa issues convinced me to leave the country and return Stateside.

It was decision I took with a lot of guilt and one which was still haunting me as our Etihad Airlines flight glided over the dust stained brick buildings of greater Cairo.

It was as if I were returning to a lover I had split with and was bringing my family along for the awkward ride.

Our time there, though, was far more therapeutic than I could have hoped for.

We would spend the bulk of out time on the Red Sea and at the Anafora Retreat Center I had volunteered at during my last few weeks in the country.

Being in all these places quickly immersed me in the things I loved so much about Egypt. Unlike Thailand, where emotion is often tucked away or repressed behind courteous smiles, Egyptians have no qualms about expressing their energy. In fact, it's often expected.

While Thai hospitality is submissive and distant, Egyptian hospitality is embracing and in your face. Rather than opening a door and inviting you in, you're often dragged in (sometimes against your will) with loud and bombastic voice ringing in your ear.

The energy of Egyptians is infectious as is there desire for a hearty laugh and a joke.

It's a complicated country as well, filled with contradictions. A passionate endorsement by an Egyptian for a politician one moment can be followed by a tirade that a day later for his opponent. To Western eyes, this every shifting interest and energy may seem hypocritical. Perhaps, it is. But my experience has taught me that Egyptians are a people of passion. When they are angry they are truly angry. Happy, truly happy, sad truly despondent. Passion infuses everything they do...except perhaps, if it's adhereing to a strict timetable or work schedule.

The code of Inshallah (God Willing) and Malesh (No problem) are very similar to the Thai creeds of Jai yen yen and Mai pen rai.

History, is also ever present. No matter where you go, whether the log jammed streets of Cairo, the deserts around Hurghada or the quiet breezy paths in rural Anafora, the sense of history (made and in the making) is all around you. Posters supporting or decrying Mohamed Morsi are plastered on the surfaces of hundred year old buildings in Downtown Cairo. The Pyramids of Giza stand vigilant over the urban super sprawl of the capital city that threatens to swallow it up.

My family and I thoroughly enjoyed being there, even though it was impossible not to me reminded of the political crisis at certain times.

For all the shortcomings and violence Egypt's Revolution and aftermath has brought, a part of me will always remain in love with her, she is what she is beautiful, chaotic and timeless.

Full Circle: America Again

After departing Cairo just after the new year, our family had a long and delayed filled journey returning to the US. A later arrival for our flight in Amman forced us to miss our Chicago flight to Cleveland. We spent a rainy night in a motel by the airport before heading out for another flight the next morning.

This flight was delayed as well because of a technical failure, forcing us to arrive even later at a snow drenched Cleveland Hopkins Airport.

As we took the van back to my grandmother's place, I reflected that we had, literally, come full circle. We had circled the world in just under two weeks flying from the US to Asia, to Africa and Middle East again.

Seeing all three of these places in such a short period of time reminded me of how close each was to me and how much they have taught me about life and brought me where I am today.

They all have their flaws, as all countries and the people who make them up do. Yet I appreciate each in their own right and look forward to discovering more about them and other places around the globe in the years to come.