Tuesday, April 21, 2015

trip to the states

Pictured above: the weather was beautiful in Cairo on the day I left for the states. Traffic was nonexistent--I left on Spring Day(also known as Sham al-Nessim), which is a national holiday marking the first day of Spring. Many families spend the day picnicking in shared green spaces. I didn't get a picture of it, but there were chairs arranged along bridges with gathered groups drinking tea or taking selfies(the sheer amount of people taking pictures of themselves at arm's length is kind of incredible). It was an ideal day to say farewell to the city for a while.

The Cairo airport is always a little chaotic, so I powered through the crowded entrance and metal detectors to get to the flight desk and then to my gate. The best part about the hour wait at the gate: when two women in hijabs started blasting DJ Snake/Lil Jon's "Turn Down for What." Not just once, but three times in a row(mostly the chorus, which is really all you need).

In contrast, the Doha airport was a bit like a quick trip in outer space.

I flew Qatar Airways this time, which meant flying farther east before heading west. This made the middle flight a bit longer than usual(usually the long flight is 7-8 hours; this time it was 13.5). Flying Qatar is so nice. I had a really great experience(including vegan dinner & breakfast thanks to my thoughtful husband). And, since the bulk of the flight was overnight, my jet lag wasn't bad at all. It's the little things.

And now a list of things. 

Things I've noticed as an ex-pat, about myself and the U.S.:

- drinking water from the tap has never, ever felt this wonderful and/or decadent. 

- same for driving/the act of traveling from point A to point B. After experiencing Cairo as both passenger and pedestrian, stop lights appear like little meditations. And boy do Americans like painting lines on their roads.

- I went to the grocery store and spent an absurd amount of time in the produce section(as predicted). I've been enjoying lots of fresh spinach and ripe avocados.

- my niece and nephew chose to grow like weeds in my absence...how are they so big after only a few months away?! I've been enjoying the heck outta my family on this trip.

- I pay a lot more attention to customer service interactions. I think this is because I have to really focus on them in Egypt(since Arabic isn't my first language). Or maybe it feels like a luxury to have extended exchanges in English with strangers. All of it is really motivating me to increase my studies and get better at using Arabic(inshallah).

- thunderstorms, the smell of grass being mowed, making my sister laugh. I knew I missed these things, but I didn't realize how much they lift my heart until I moved away from them.

- I was reunited with my bike. Oh how I've missed that beautiful beast.

- television news in the US is a joke. An incredibly nonsensical, fluff-filled, cringe-worthy joke. Does that sound harsh? Maybe. But my word. It's embarrassing.

- I miss hearing the call to prayer.

- wide open green spaces. Be still my heart.

- Target welcomed me back with open arms. I've gone three times in one week.

- I wasn't prepared for the amount of guilt I would feel for being here while J is back in Egypt working. Any first world thing I get to take delight in, I want to immediately share with him. It's extra tough being in our hometown without him. Once I moved to Cairo, the frustrations that went along with doing everything long distance melted away...and now on this trip they return, and I am reminded of how hard we've worked, how fortunate we are. 

More soon.

Monday, April 13, 2015

before departure

I'm leaving for the states this evening and my traveling anxiety is starting to rear its head. Going from Egypt to the US requires a solid day of walking/flying/waiting, as well as a little prayer to the jet lag gods to be easy on me once I get to my destination. It's a minefield situation for someone with migraines, so I stock up on snacks, water, something soft and familiar, and go through to get through while hoping for the best. Traveling such a distance is a process, and I'll get through it.

Last night before bed I realized I was going to miss Egypt during my time away. I'm kind of surprised by this. And then surprised about being surprised. Why wouldn't I miss Egypt? This is where I live, my current home. Sometimes I see myself resisting my environment and I do not recognize me in the action at all.

There can be no more resistance. I am here, and this is my home. It is not about what will be my home, or what once was.

The past year of my life has been full of change--the kind of full that ignores all brims and pours on the floor, floods the room, joins forces with other existing flowing bodies to form a brand new ocean. Yes, that kind of full. The brain and the heart are still catching up to my physical location. So resisting another new place makes sense, especially when the length of my stay is unclear. But I have spent an irrational amount of time trying to wrap my head around why this place frustrates me and not nearly enough moments enjoying the adventure of being here. The unfamiliar outweighs it all, and focusing on that has made me unfamiliar to myself. Life here feels like a truly living thing--nothing ever the same way twice with some of those most mundane things becoming the most complicated. It is noisy, complex, pulsating.

I am so excited to see my family, to send time with my niece and nephew...to ride my bike(oh how I've missed that wonderful beast)...to eat all the mexican food and stare at large swatches of green grass and farmland. I will soak every minute of it in, believe me. But I am already excited to return to Cairo as well. To jump back in with both feet and really find my place. To venture repeatedly outside the bubble of my comfort. I'm looking forward to enrolling in language classes and exploring more parts of the city. To not be a stranger, but rather the resident that I am. To truly being here.

Monday, April 6, 2015

to be heard.

There is a sparrow that lands on strand wire hanging just outside our balcony door. He lands there often, often enough for me to notice. Yesterday I was sitting on the floor slightly breathless after a yoga pose and looked up, noticed him. He had a snarl of dried branch in his beak, on his way to continue building something. Kendrick Lamar echoed around me in the flat("when shit hit the fan/is you still a fan?") and my heart so low felt lifted watching this little thing on his way to building. A home for new life. Blue sky behind him. The moment loud and clear.

I've had an intense couple days. Two days ago I heard my first bombs here in Cairo. They've happened since my arrival, but I never heard them until now. "when shit hit the fan/is you still a fan?" I used to be so worried that I wouldn't know the difference between a firework and explosion...the truth is there's a big difference, and I knew what it was immediately. I was laying in bed, only half awake. Because stuff doesn't wait til you're ready for it to happen. Hearing the second one made me blink harder in the half-light, take stock of where my contacts were so I could pop them in quick and leave if need be. I waited for J to call. The phone didn't ring and I drifted back to sleep. The explosions occurred across the Nile, no casualties.

Later that day I found out a friend passed away unexpectedly. I corresponded with a few people online, all of us in a similar state of disbelief. Consumed with thoughts of him all afternoon and evening. The loss struck hard. Loss always strikes hard. Living is a fragile thing. I am quite far away and in moments like this the distance drags my heart. The instinct is to be there. Reality is I'm not.

Then came yesterday. Cradling a bowl of cereal in my lap on the couch, waiting for the coffee press to finish its magic. And that sound again. A deep boom, far enough but close enough. J called me immediately. The conversation:

J: Where are you? [using his work voice--blunt, hard-edged, a just-the-facts type of tone]
Me: In the flat.
J: Okay stay there. Don't go out. There was another explosion near the office. We're okay, everything's okay just stay in for now.
Me: Okay.

Shortly after I hung up the phone I called a friend that I had plans with. Did you hear that?
I pulled my body through a few motions of yoga to calm myself and then there I was with Kendrick and the sparrow and the blue sky. That moment. Overwhelmed by my own heart thumping. An hour after that I got dressed and left, continuing with my plans for the day. Saw no reason not to. I did not want fear to hold me in place, to distract me from living my life. I made the most of my afternoon and evening and I felt better by the end of it.

when shit hit the fan/is you still a fan?

Last night J and I were laying in bed and we had the following conversation:

Me: I know this will sound weird but I have to ask you something.
J: Okay.
Me: Let's say I'm on my way to the gym tomorrow or I'm inside the gym and I hear another one. I should just go back to the flat, right?
J: Yes. Go right back home.
Me: Calmly, right? Don't run?
J: Yeah just make your way back home. If you realize you're blocked from getting there just come straight to my work.
Me: Okay. That's what I figured. Just checking.

This is a real discussion--one worth having when living in a turbulent environment. This is a part of my story right now. The part many people don't want to hear, or don't know what to do with. I don't need a single person to "know" what to say. I simply want to be heard. Trying to talk about something like hearing your first bomb is not a conversation I ever gave much thought to having. But here I am. It's difficult, especially when relaying the information to loved ones/friends back home. You don't want people close to worry, but you don't want to come off as flippant. It feels ridiculous to not mention it at all, especially when the experience is so new and surreal. I don't want to ignore my reality for other people. I want a conversation--there are things to get off my chest, to wonder about out loud with other minds. Minds that I have grown with, that I respect, that I reach out for. Isn't it instinct to reach for the familiar when outnumbered by the strange? Then what? You look at your support system and weigh your trust. Who will understand? Who might shrug me off and reason "I chose to be here?" Who can handle the dialogue? Who shifts the subject smooth and never circles back? Is the distance simply too great for anyone's attention span?

when shit hit the fan/is you still a fan?

Thursday, April 2, 2015

It is Thursday night, which is the start of the weekend here in Egypt. Things are generally more noisier than usual--heavier traffic which means more honking and music blasting from cabs, revving of motorbikes, rise and fall of voices on the street. The wind is blowing so I can hear music from the fallucas on the Nile, as well as the pop and fizzle of fireworks from multiple locations. If I'm not out in it, I like to stand on the balcony and listen to the commotion--the air sounds like one big party just out of view. Senses have adapted--I am undoubtedly used to it. There are days when this place drives me to tears. But there are many times, like tonight, when my big ol heart is booming right out of my chest, completely in love with where I am.

Lately I haven't been feeling all that well physically--headaches that creep around the edges until they bloom midday or evening. I'm not sleeping that well, which isn't helping the head situation. These two things darken my mood. Trying to shake it. I hurt my knee running so I've been trying to be gentle with it--ellipticals, the stationary, lifting weights. The sun is starting to feel stronger here--today J and I walked all the way to Mohandessin, about 3 miles, to replace the coffee press I shattered while doing a batch of dishes. Life in Zamalek becomes a bit of a bubble, so it was nice to walk through an unfamiliar neighborhood. We walked past the Qatar embassy, heavily guarded by cops in riot gear. Life continued around them. The day felt truly warm for the first time in a while.

I am visiting the states in 10 days--my first visit since moving here. My nerves are starting to build, especially when I take a quick mental tally of all the things I will have to readjust to. I'm sure being in a car will be an unfamiliar calmness, eerie even, with stoplights and turn lanes and little to no honking. I will be able to drink water from the tap. It might feel a little scandalous at first but honestly I cannot wait to wear a tank top outdoors, in public. I've already warned my dad that I might go to Target and just wonder around for a few hours. Or CVS. Oh the things you never think you'll miss until they aren't there. I have a little list of things to do and stock up on, items in the mail to bring back with me. I'm looking forward to riding my bike and getting a peek at Ohio spring. Most of all I'm looking forward to soaking up every minute I can with my family.

Also! I love the month of April for a multitude of reasons, one being that it's National Poetry Month. I've been writing quite a bit and look forward to sharing some of it here. A pile of work is slowly shaping itself into something, and while it's a little early to know what that something is, it's definitely motivating me to keep the fire lit. No matter what the endeavor, I hope you're out there staying motivated too.

And now, because it's kitten season here on the streets of Cairo, I leave you with two buds in a planter...

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

beliefs (3)

The new leaves
must be hauntless
they arrive
without comment
and I below digging shallow homes
for that loose change regret

--all things heavy and spilled
must be

Saturday, March 28, 2015

dahab (part 2)

One of my favorite things about Dahab(and there are many): color.

In contrast the city of Cairo is so full of dust and the eyes get used to that--colors are subdued, mute, reduced to little flashes of window displays and busted Fiats. The color is there, it's just kind of quiet.

The birds kept us entertained during breakfast and lunch. Often we would sit outside and watch them time a swoop-dive through the restaurant's door just as it was closing. The ground's stone was smooth, causing their little feet to slide and splay whenever they scurried too fast. They landed on unattended bread baskets and accepted gifts of sandwich crumbs and occasional french fry. On our last morning, one little bird flew right into the back of my head.

In the late afternoon I would go to the gym and run on a treadmill facing the Red Sea. I was elevated enough to see the beach below, but my eyes barely left the body of water. The wind made her extra choppy, creating bursts of white foam at the top of each slight wave.

When I finished my run, I would take the long way back to our room. The air would hit my sweat and turn me into a walking pile of goosebumps. My mouth was a giant blissed out smile. Seriously, my grin was all kinds of ridiculous, but ever inch of it genuine. I'd stop now and then and take a photo as the light slowly slipped behind the mountains.

As with every trip to Dahab, I found myself wishing we could stay longer. I kept telling J that if it was time to check out and he couldn't find me, not to worry. I joked about various cupboards I might be able to hide in...maybe I could make a home for myself in the abandoned building down the beach, the one with the giant elephant.

photo by JG

(Hopes for that particular plan were dashed when J noticed that someone was already squatting there.)

By the time we were at the airport, Dahab felt like a dream. I had the post-vacation blues once we arrived in Cairo, but my blues were quickly dashed by something incredibly yellow:

On the way to pick us up, our driver had stopped and bought himself a baby chick! J and I let him chirp and stomp around on us for the duration of the drive back to our flat. I fed him crumbled bits of oat from my granola and he crapped on my scarf. Time stuck in traffic was barely noticed as we coo'd over this little fella. What a wonderful way to return to the city.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

a few days in dahab (part 1)

Last Tuesday, J and I said farewell to the city for a few days. We successfully escaped to one of our favorite places in Dahab. It was a much needed break from the hazy sepia'd rush of Cairo.

Dahab is a small bedouin town on the coast of the southern Sinai Peninsula. This area is world-renowned for windsurfing, as well as diving. It's a fairly quiet area--the town along the coast is laid back with little shops and various food options. For the locals, the majority of their money comes from tourism, so everyone wants you to eat at their restaurant or buy something at their shop. You get used to the hustle(and, as I learned, you don't have to stop and listen/negotiate with every single person calling to you). My experiences in town have always been positive and wonderful(and delicious).

The flight from here to Sharm el-Sheikh is under one hour--a quick up-down in the sky and to the ground. The airport still boasted remnants from the Egypt's Economic Development Conference that ended just days prior(a conference aimed at boosting Egypt's economy). This gathering included government leaders/businessmen from over 100 different countries. The conference's tagline, "Egypt The Future," were still on display throughout the terminal. There was an evident sprucing up around us--roads and signs repainted, new sculptures erected, and tiny Egyptian flags hung from every solar powered streetlight along the way. If important people are coming and potentially investing in you, then you better look good right? Right.

Sharm el-Sheikh's airport roof looks like a circus tent

For the first time, our 40ish minute drive from the airport to Dahab included a police escort. Part of it may have been left over security precautions from the conference. Most of it I'm sure is because of all the trouble in the Northern Sinai.

what most if not all of the scenery looks like from Sharm to Dahab

I love the drive to Dahab. Every single time I'm on that road I feel my heart swell ten times its size. The mountains are overwhelmingly beautiful. I am endlessly humbled by nature. Quietly I tried to take in the mountains, the desert terrain, the random batch of camels chilling below sparse power line. A small handful of buildings, wherein someone must live and experience this sight every single day. At some point I looked at J and shook my head, saying "the earth is incredible." They were the only words I could muster.

This was our view out of the back door. Before dinner, we sat here on the porch and read quietly as the wind died down for the day. Our bungalow was in a row a little ways back from the shore, offering a bit more privacy:

The water is incredible here. Unreal shades of blue. The darker parts are mostly reef, and it is a federal offense to destroy, damage, or remove any of it. The shoreline itself is very rocky, so it's pretty tough to enter the water from anywhere but the dock(giving the reef a little extra protection).