The idea of taking a group of US citizens from Trump’s America on a cultural exchange trip to Cairo Egypt sounds like either the craziest pipe dream or somebody’s idea of a bad practical joke. However, Free Trip To Egypt, documents how Tarek Mounib, an Arab/Canadian now living and working in Switzerland, came up with the idea and implemented it.
Co-produced by Mounib and directed by American/Romanian Ingrid Serban Free Trip To Egypt traces the steps Mounib took to find people willing to leave their preconceptions and baggage behind in order to fling themselves into the unknown. More than that, they would have to overcome decades of misconceptions they’ve been fed about the Arab world through their media and politicians.
Not surprisingly the offer of an all expenses paid trip to Egypt doesn’t seem to enthral that many people. However, Mounib is nothing if not an optimist and he persists. He’s interviewed on radio shows, has rapper Adam Saleh stand on the streets of New York City holding up a sign advertising Free Trip To Egypt, and goes into the heartland of the supposed enemy by attending a Trump rally in his attempts to find people willing to make this leap.
It’s through the Trump rally he finds four of the seven people who eventually join him for the adventure. Mounib meets ex-marine corporal Brian Kopilec at the Trump rally in Louisville Kentucky, who in turn introduced him to friends Jason Reynolds and Jenna Day. The latter two are both born again Christians and Day is also a former Miss Kentucky.
At the same Trump rally where he me Kopilec, Mounib also meets African American police officer Marc Spaulding. He too likes the idea. The final three people who make up the group are husband and wife Ellen and Terry Decker and another ex-Marine, single mom Katie Appledorn.
Ellen Decker describes herself as an ex-radical who protested the Vietnam war in the 1960s, but after 9/11 became afraid. She was astounded by how racist she has become and is determined to find her way out of that maze. Appledorn is originally from Nebraska – the Bible belt as she calls it – and talks about how her family were scared she’d be beheaded or sold into sex slavery if she went on the trip.
To ensure total immersion in the culture each of the American participants are teamed up with hosts in Cairo. These range from modern young people to an orthodox religious family. They spend their days with the hosts and their families, touring museums, going to their homes, and seeing parts of Cairo probably not normally seen by tourists.
Watching the interactions between them we see the initial nervousness on both sides start to wear off. Kopilec, who is paired up with modern dancer/choreographer Salma Salem, laughs when he talks about how they have being under fire in common. Salem had been shot at when she participated in the Arab Spring protests. While not all of them have that unique experience in common, they all make connections with their hosts.
How much of an impact did this trip have on the individuals involved? We don’t see any follow up with the Egyptian participants, but for each of the Americans it does appear to open their eyes to the fact the world isn’t as black and white as they’ve been led to believe. These so-called enemies, Muslims and Arabs, have as much in common with them as anybody else.
In fact when shortly after they return to the US from the trip Terry Decker died suddenly, Ellen asked Mounib to arrange for her and her son to travel to Egypt to scatter his ashes in the desert. For a man whose own son had described as somewhat xenophobic to travel so far in his ability to accept other people his wife wanted him interred in a foreign country is a sign of incredible hope.
Free Trip To Egypt isn’t going to suddenly change the world, but that’s not what it aims to do. It wants people to start talking to each other, and to really listen to each other’s answers. To that end Mounib has set up a special screening of the movie across American on June 12 2019. #Pledge To Listen, Day of Unity, will feature not only the movie, but a live panel discussion broadcast streamed into the theatre to discuss how to promote the understanding sought in the film.
Free Trip To Egypt is a wonderful movie about a brave experiment in overcoming people’s pre-conceptions and prejudices to help find common ground. Seven brave people and their hosts reached out their hands to bridge a seemingly an unbridgeable gap – it’s an example for the rest of us.
To find out where and when to see Free Trip To Egypt go to the film’s website for more information. It will encourage you to open your heart and mind to what is new and different.