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Commentary: Ignorance Is Bliss vs. Knowledge Is Power

By Rawlins Gilliland, KERA 90.1 Commentator

Dallas, TX –

I've always craved adventure, and after college began tramping around the globe, even stowing away on airplanes in joyous pursuit of ongoing excitement; sleeping in the Parthenon, climbing Diamond Head volcano on impulse. My Mother said on her deathbed, "It isn't cancer that killed me. It was your twenties!"

Growing up, geography class meant North America and Europe. Then I went to South America, and like that George Gershwin song, wondered, "How Long Has This Been Going On?". I'd been taught that we're the world's "melting pot" of immigrants. But most of South America is similar; Irish, Italian, German, Asian, Middle Eastern and African ancestry - no less than we. New South American friends had names like Steinbeck, Fuenmayor, Patino. It's called Colombia for a reason. As in Christopher.

Ah, travel; where knowledge is power' replaces ignorance is bliss'.

Then as now, I sensed occasional suggestions that patriotism was somehow uniquely American. "Don't you feel overwhelming joy when you're flying home to the United States?" "Absolutely", I said. "But I'm sure I would also if I was a Brazilian flying back to Rio". This was no snide snipe at the stars and stripes, but rather, an alternative reality check from a world observer.

Then there are the armchair adventurer acquaintances. People who tell me they want to join me, for instance, hiking in the forest. Who then ask, "Are there any snakes? What about poison ivy? Is it muddy?" I get it. They want the forest to be is a park, not a forest. They tell themselves they're up for exotic allure. But they want those mountains to come to Mohamed. They want adventure without risk. Impossible.

And so it was before I recently flew to Cairo to see the sole remainder of the once seven wonders of the ancient world, the pyramids. When Egypt gave more than expected, as the world always does to those who are open to inconvenience, confusing food, abandonment of routine comforts, jet lag, packing/unpacking, language issues. It's exhausting work, but the Nile is the ultimate adult adventurer poet writer philosopher historian's Disneyland. Where pyramids, tombs and temples were already thousands of years old when Cleopatra showed them to Caesar.

But the Arab Republic of Egypt is more than an ongoing museum. This longtime ally is also predominantly Muslim, a religion about which we learned nothing pre 9/11. Don't shoot the messenger but I felt safer walking Saturday night in Cairo than in my own country, perhaps because drugs are unthinkable, alcohol is shunned and guns are illegal. Bottom line; violence and theft are rare. Where valuables are left on unlocked open window car seats. Imagine.

Frankly, it was downright refreshing to revisit a time where sexual predator hysteria isn't rampant. One night, adjusting my money belt, I unbuttoned my pants just as a mother with two daughters rounded a corner. My first thought was abject fear, because here, today, that mother might probably call the police and scream "sex offender". The Egyptian woman ignored everything and moved on. Enormously relieved, it dawned on me; in the United States, we're so free and protected, we're scared to death.

Rawlins Gilliland is a writer from Dallas.

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