Saturday, June 27, 2015

ohio'ing

I'm currently sitting in one of my favorite little coffee shops, congested as all hell but finally over the last bit of jet lag. The 'lag is never that bad coming to the states, thankfully. It just means I wake up with the sun for a few.

Immediately upon arriving I found a routine and have been sticking to it. Get up early, eat breakfast, go to gym. Catching a cold was not a part of the plan(obviously) but I'm working through it. I haven't had a proper cold in a long time, and I found myself surprised by how much a sore throat and runny nose truly sucks. I guess I forgot? I also realized that I take effortless breathing for granted on the regular. Oh sweet, uninhibited inhales.

I'm enjoying this much needed break from the middle east. Today in Cairo there was a sandstorm AND an earthquake, oof. I've been spending a lot of time with the family, as well as a lot of time driving. I love taking the back roads with the window down, cornfields on either side. I've missed all this green space. Two nights ago I stood in the yard and watched lightning bugs morse code the darkness. There have been a pile of thunderstorms since my arrival as well. The first growl rumbling across the sky gave me goosebumps. It feels like a little miracle, watching all of that water fall from above.





My niece and nephew continue to grow like weeds, and spending time with them triples the volume of my heart. A few days ago at the amusement park, my nephew declared, "the back of my chin is sweaty." It took us a few seconds but we figured out he was referring to his neck. One evening I was sitting next to him on the couch, leaning forward, and he put a hand on my back and patted it gently. "I've missed you Aunt Nikki," he said. My niece has her hair cut just above her shoulders and it makes her look so much older than her eight years. She's obsessed with Mad Libs and it still blows my mind to listen to her read. To think I knew this little person before she could walk or form sentences, and here she is reading to me like an old pro. I love them both so much.

My father and I are back into our roommate routine. We take walks around the neighborhood or ride our bikes up the street to get ice cream. We have great conversations nowadays. Being near my sister is a bit like being reunited with a part of myself. I'm so thankful for all of my moments with them. And the true icing on this trip is that J was able to come to the states for a quick visit as well(we thought work would keep him in Cairo initially). He will be here until the 8th of July. I will return on the 24th. In a few weeks I'll make a quick trip to Pittsburgh to see as many friends as I can. I'm feeling pretty good lately. A bit more peaceful. I'm staying busy, but remaining mindful. I'm trying not to think too much about how "this will pass," and instead focusing on how it is here, right now in this moment.

I also received news of 4 poems being accepted for publication, which was a wonderful surprise. All of the poems were new pieces and that is always encouraging. Writing has really been on my mind lately. Projects are taking shape, but I am taking my time with all of it. I am learning to nurture my work, to approach it with more love and less resentment. More on that soon.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015



Ramadan starts tomorrow. Egyptians have been preparing for weeks now--the markets are extra crazy, and lanterns are being lit and presented at the entrances of shops and homes. It's an interesting time to be here. As I've mentioned in this space before, even if you aren't muslim, you do end up participating in various ways. No drinking, eating, or smoking in public/on the street, adjusting to changed hours at various places(like the gym), and many are stocking up on "supplies"(mainly beer from the delivery service). This time I will miss nearly all of it, as I am leaving for a trip to the states on Friday.


Ramadan display at local market

A trip home at this time was in our plan, but I am also needing a break from here. I've been quiet, focusing on each day and adjusting to my medication. The night sweats have returned, so I know the medicine is back in my system. I'm also much less foggy and my mind isn't racing as much as it was, thank goodness. I'm glad that I sought help when I realized I needed it. The past few months have been quite difficult. Now I am much, much more motivated to do something with my days as opposed to wanting to sleep the hours away or stare blankly and cry. Things in general feel much more doable. Still, a trip to see the family and a chance to really clear my head is welcomed.

Right now I am sitting in the hotel bar near our flat, having lunch and listening to an Egyptian and African discuss the current political climate here. This is somewhat of a Wednesday routine for me. I take my time at the gym and then come here to write, eat, catch up on emails.

I have mixed feelings about visiting the states. With each trip, the swirl of it gets bigger and bigger. Of course I will miss J, as well as my daily routines here and things I've grown accustomed to like call to prayer and the steady noise of honking cars and people in the street. But I am also anxious to revisit the sounds of summer in Ohio--crickets and train whistles and fireflies speckling the open fields. When I am outside of the states, I find it easier to read proper news--stories about things that are happening elsewhere, the brutal/beautiful truth of it. In the states one has to sift through layer upon layer of fluff to find out what is really going on. I always feel uneasy and slightly bewildered by how easy it is to slip back into my old life in the first world. Granted, not a lot of time has slipped by between my visits, so the ease isn't completely unbelievable.

It still isn't clear how much longer we will remain in Cairo, but I do feel the end of our time here approaching. I am doing my best to enjoy all the little details of here while I can.











Sunday, May 31, 2015

thirty-four.

Happy birthday to me. Today I am 34 years old.

Here is where I pause and roll that figure around and around in my head. Thirty-four.

My birthdays are always important to me. I think they've gained importance with age, as opposed to becoming something I shrug at or dread. I've said it before and I'll say it again: it is my new year. A few days ago someone raised the point to me that every day is somebody's new year. Very true, I said.

Today feels a little surreal right now. I woke up and told myself: today is my birthday and I should do what I want. I made coffee. I worked out despite telling myself I would take the day off from sweating. It is something I take pleasure in, I told myself, so I might as well do it. I made lunch and talked to my dad, who texted me birthday wishes as soon as he woke up. J brought me flowers yesterday and today they look exceptionally beautiful. I've done a fair amount of staring at my face in the mirror, counting freckles that weren't there a year ago, noting hair that is steadily becoming more grey than not. Later we have dinner plans with a few others. I have also cried today, which isn't something I had listed under "things I like to do." Also not on that list: dealing with nausea and dizziness and stomach pain from adjusting to an antidepressant again. But that is part of the process.

I went to a doctor last night who listened to my situation and agreed that I'm experiencing a relapse with my depression. As of last night I'm back on my meds, and I know there is an adjustment period and I intend on being as patient as I can.
Last night I also spoke with a close friend and, for the first time other than on my blog & with family, talked about how I've been struggling. I had difficult expressing the toughness of this place. Unless I can pull a stunt like the main character in the movie Powder, I don't expect anyone to fully get it unless they are here, in the same scenario. You get tired of explaining third world country frustrations.

Even now I pause often in typing this entry out. I'm still wading my way through the dark and writing about it feels like a chore. How many ways can the heavy be described? I go to one of my most favorite places, the thesaurus, and find: desolation, bummer, abjection, blue funk, bleakness. I first sounded out the last word as "blee-knees," which I actually kind of like. "Oh, I just have a case of the blee knees. Ice and elevation. Don't mind me."

On birthdays I usually like to reflect on things, but today my mind is tired. Many times in my life I've wished that our heads could be safely detachable--especially during bad migraines or when I'm feeling exceptionally blue. As if I could simply take her off for a bit and shoo her out the door, tell her to go play til the streetlights pop on. But our bodies do not work this way. As much as I may pine for the detachable cabeza, I am also determined to fight the urge to disconnect. The thing that is going to get me through this is myself. I refuse to let go of that. Hold on with one hand and search for light with the other.

I don't know. I guess this year my birthday is turning out to be much less about reflection and thought, and more about allowing myself to simply be. Here, now, this.

That sounds good. I think I'll stop writing now and go be for a while.


Tuesday, May 26, 2015

this isn't really a disclaimer...but i wasn't 100% sure about making this post public until I realized that May is Mental Health Awareness month. I'm tired of being so oddly protective of my depression, as if not talking about struggling makes it less real. If you don't like that sort of thing or only come here for the pictures then stop reading.

Last week my brain broke.

This is a term I've used very rarely: my brain broke. It seems to be the only way to describe how depression can disintegrate my emotions, my thoughts, how the outside is processed internally. Think tumbleweed of short fuses and broken apart cookie.

The last time this happened: fall of 2009. I was sitting at my work desk mid-week. Each day leading up to that one presented a steeper pitch, a descent picking up speed. The evening before I saw my therapist--he was a nice enough person, encouraging me to say to myself "I am a lovable person; I am a valuable person" each time I walked through a doorway. This was something I honestly had trouble doing--I wouldn't allow myself to believe it. That evening he gently suggested I get an emergency evaluation if I wasn't feeling better. I don't remember much else about that session, other than crying a lot.

The next day I was sitting at work trying to read a paragraph on my computer screen, and I couldn't get past the first sentence. My brain couldn't make sense of it, or at least my brain didn't see any point in making sense of it. I felt panicked and broken at the end of the day, and instead of going home I walked myself up the hill to get an emergency evaluation at Western Psych. I didn't feel that I needed to be hospitalized, but I needed the broken feeling to stop. I was afraid that it wouldn't. I wanted to be told that what I was feeling wasn't okay, but that I would be alright. I met with a few doctors. My visit lasted nearly five hours. I went home. Plans were made for extensive therapy, and I was put on a new antidepressant.

I was on my antidepressant for five years, and happily so. The medicine took the layer of dark away and reintroduced me to my ability to function. I was okay. I still had to work on casting away negative thought and loving myself. It was not a cure or some magic thing but I was able to make sense of how I felt through clear glass instead of some muddy, distorted view. It leveled my light and dark. I did things. I worked and played hard. I fell in love. I traveled.

At the end of April 2014 I started tapering off my med. I did this on my own, weeks before going to see my doctor to let him know. He raised his eyebrows when I told him. He knew I was moving away, eventually to Egypt. He told me he didn't think I should go off the meds, but supported my decision. It was mine to make. And now, looking back, I see train wreck in my logic. My logic then was: you are losing your insurance, and you are moving to a place where this medicine might not be available. I didn't want the prescription to become a headache. I thought I was extinguishing a potential problem before it started. My intentions were good, but poorly timed: I left a place I knew as home for 13 years, moved back to my hometown for 7 months, then I moved to Egypt. All while bidding farewell to a medication that worked.

It took a while for me to taper my meds down to nothing, but I did it. And that feeling of hopelessness was waiting in the wings. Steadily, the dark layer came back and everything I built ended up submerged beneath it. And now it's here, and we are back to: my brain broke last week. It is that rare, other level type of wrong. Since then I've felt...two dimensional. Half here. Lost. I don't have the words. All this to say I am having a hard time again.

I tend to stay sort of private about these things, but right now I don't feel like it's best for me to keep quiet. I am hurting.
Life in Egypt has been incredible, but also difficult. It is a truly challenging place to be.I talk with my family often. I send email updates and pictures to friends, but when you're this far away it's hard to know what people truly want to hear from you. I can take pictures and describe certain quirks of Cairo, but when do I talk about feeling lost, displaced, forgotten? Dare I even mention it? How fortunate I am to experience this part of the world...I know this. I know this. I don't want to take this part of my life for granted.

But depression doesn't care where I am, and I believe it would've returned regardless of my place on a map. Being here just makes it a bit more inconvenient. I would love to say that I can do this without medicinal help, but maybe I can't. And that's okay. Now is not the time to be stubborn about what works. I recognize the dark and I feel the balance tipping. I know I need help. I have an appointment to see a doctor this weekend. While it's a bit daunting to be starting this process again, I realize I'm doing the right thing. It's self-care now or never. Despite the challenges right now, I am hopeful. I hope you are too.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

a love letter of details (3 - ode to felucca)

I've been teasing J about it since my arrival: I must buy a felucca. I will own a felucca and then all my problems will be solved. I will stay in Cairo with my boat, charge for rides on the Nile and blast my favorite music. I will only dock on the island for koshary or a lemon mint with friends. I could sleep on the boat in the shade of the bridges(like I spied one fellow doing). A felucca's life is the life for me.

A felucca is a traditional wooden sailing boat used on the Nile. You will find them docked up and down the river. A ride around the island costs 200 Egyptian pounds(approx. 28 dollars...and that was for 2 of us). Feluccas vary in ownership and decor--some boast neon lights around the edges that glow and flash at night, blasting music that echoes off the buildings along the riverside. Some feluccas are small and may hold 5--10 people, while others might hold a bit more. If you are new to Zamalek, it's a great way to introduce yourself to the island. Pro tip: try to pick a felucca with a "roof" that covers some(if not most of) the sitting area. Sometimes people like to spit from bridges.



J and I took a felucca ride on Friday. His first, my second. Now that I'm here, it's a rarity for me to show him something since he started living here first. We walk the island all the time, but everyone can benefit from a change in perspective.







There are so many beautiful sights you can only truly see from the water. There are many waterside cafes and gardens hidden from the street by various gates and partitions.









I'm not buying a felucca any time soon, unfortunately, but a gal can dream. A gal can dream.

a love letter of details (part 2 - visuals of a neighborhood)

J and I often take walks in Zamalek. The island is a beautiful mess of streets both busy and quiet. Sometimes I have to walk a street five or six times before I learn to recognize it--from one end to the other I will see something different for each time I walk it. A new friend for every stroll.


like this little guy


or this one


note the plate on the left of the sign is upside down

There are times when we are walking a street that can only be described as a clogged artery, or hot mess--a tangle of traffic and parked cars and trucks making deliveries. Right when the madness of car horns and voices and exhaust reaches mindcrushing crescendo, we will make a left and find ourselves on a peaceful, near empty block. No traffic, only bird song and the occasional delivery bike making a shortcut. A lone worker finding a moment of rest in building's shade.




the wind took this sign down months ago. I pass it on my way to the gym.


you might call this a local bulletin board. Renting a flat can be kind of tricky here--I don't even completely understand the process myself.


pledges of love. the full thing reads: "Dolphin loves Farah & he wants to marry her"


sometimes you find a parking space and never let it go...I see this type of thing often enough to be baffled by it. J and I agree that owning a car on the island would be incredibly difficult. Yesterday we were walking past a parked car just as a branch loosened itself from the tree above and bonked it on the hood. Some cars are parked so long that you will see where the road has been paved around their spot. And when it comes to traffic, you're much better of walking it(or, if necessary, grabbing a cab). I feel like I revert back to talking about transportation in this space often, but it's pretty fascinating...especially coming from the states, where roads are meticulously lined and people throw fits over a scratch on their bumper. One night, J and I were walking and we passed a pristine Maserati, and we both immediately started laughing. Good luck with that, buddy.