The last few weeks have been a wonderful reminder of the difference between being a tourist and being a traveller. Moving across the ancient and sacred land of Egypt, I have been a traveller. Travelling is not really in seeing and doing, but instead in being, and as such a rare opportunity that requires the right people to come together at the right time. To truly be a traveller, one must be ready in body and in mind, willing to open up to the land, its people and its experiences; and then the land and its people must open their hearts to you. It’s a strange chemical reaction, a spiritual drama that allows for an unpredictable story. The Ecoversities Gathering and the Yatra (travel) afterwards has been such a story.
The Ecoversities Gathering brings together each year some of the most daring and imaginative educators from around the world. Educators who are attempting to redefine the very word I have just used to refer to us; trying with all our might, and with a smile, to imagine a new society and ecology that has a chance to survive the neoliberal onslaught. For the six days of the gathering we live in such a society of shared values of liberation and love. It is not inundated in meaningless speeches and dress codes and business cards, but rather engages through a sharing of stories, practices and emotions. Life is slow, and the learning is fast. There is not enough time, and yet there is always more time. The 2022 Gathering hosted by Sara, Samy, Yousef and the HajMoulein Farm Community in the deserts of Siwa has been an experience that is very hard to talk about or write about. It is a lived experience, and I can only do a poor job of using words to express them. I apologize in advance.
The Gathering received educators and learners (both embodied in all of us) from all over Asia, Africa, the Americas and parts of Europe. Many languages were spoken, many translations happened. The principle at heart is inclusion, and not simply as a checkbox that corporations have to use, but as an intent that we share together. The responsibility of the gathering was shared by all the gatherers, and this includes the cooking, doing dishes, cleaning toilets, organising the space, taking care of the animals and making the environment that we wish to share with ourselves and others. Volunteers were called to sign up for tasks each morning and many times, I saw more hands than the requirement. How amazing this is! A counterculture of the economic world where we usually dislike doing things for others or even for common good. This little world in the desert was different, and did not carry the burdens of the transactional world.
Anyone is welcome to tell a story or host a session. Want to be buried in the sand? Want to discuss feminism? Want to understand your anger? Sure! All kinds of explorations were possible and happened. We heard war stories, love stories, stories of death, of birth and rebirth of a new world emerging slowly under the sands of time. There’s hugs if you need them. Or a Namaste if you do not like touch. A pat on your back if you have always wanted one. There’s honour and respect, not for the position you hold or the work you do, but for the sacredness of the humanity that resides within you. There is love for your presence and appreciation for your thoughts. There is space for all, the young, the old, the child, and however you imagine your outer and inner beings to be.
After a soulful and emotional six days of the gathering, and the tremendous beauty that Siwa has to offer through its hot springs, salt lakes, old temples and structures, we started off the Learning Journey or Yatra. Aptly named El-Rehla (the Journey), 22 of us started traversing the country. We of course had big plans of things to see and do, and projects to visit. But we were also committed to ensure space and time for ourselves to slowly connect with each other (and sometimes disconnect with our usual realities back home). In Marsa Matrouh, our first stop, we shared stories in pairs walking along the Ageeba Beach that eases into the Mediterranean Sea with bright turquoise waters. We moved on then to the busy Corniche of Alexandria staying in a very old and charming Greek apartment overlooking the shores. The sunset at the El-Max village is something out of a dream. The colossal library is hard to miss. The city is really fast, but we were on a different timezone altogether. After Alexandria we stopped in Cairo, visiting Ci-las, a wonderful project started by my newfound brother and friend Karim. It is heartening to see the role of liberal studies in liberation and the on-going struggle as a human society. The final part of the Yatra took us to Fayoum where we stayed in the astonishing Tunis Village (again, a place made of dreams). A swim in the lake in the middle of the desert was the perfect ending to the Yatra. The fact that the lake cannot be seen unless you really get close was the summary message of our journey in Egypt. In order to get a glimpse of the country, you must really get close. And is it not true for every place, and every person we meet?
I have told you the places. It is impossible to recount or describe the conversations. I don’t think I even remember everything. Memory, in the conventional sense, I think, was not the most important aspect of this journey. We must look at memory differently, maybe in the way the sands look at time – in infiniteness and abundance. The conversations, the visits and the interactions, you may not remember them, but they certainly change you. They affect you in the smallest and yet the biggest ways, in part and as a whole. I return physically tired, but mentally recharged, with a myriad of connections not defined by transactional partnerships but instead bound in the fine and strong strings of love.
If you are reading this, and are feeling that you missed out something, you really don’t have to worry. Yatras happen many times in a year, and many local gatherings too. May not be the same place, or the same people, but I can assure you that it will be magic. Gift yourself a learning journey the next time you see one, and keep an eye on the Indian Multiversities Alliance and the Ecoversities Alliance pages