Saturday, July 12, 2014

six hours forward (1)

I was homesick before the plane took off. I started sobbing when I clicked the seat belt in place and held my small travel pillow to my mouth as J tried his best to comfort me while trying not to get offended as I hiccuped out I want to go home I don't want to be here. I am infamously terrible with departures, big and small--to the grocery store or to another country. They leave me wading in sadness and worry. I fret leaving, I fret returning. I am not sure where this comes from but I've struggled with departure all my life, and there I was thirty-three and imploding on a plane still grounded.

We entered the sky without incident. I grew calm under a cloud of gin and tonic, eventually letting go and finding fitful sleep.

It was a long, long time of traveling. Direct flight from Cincinnati to Paris. We found pockets of sleep, watched movies when we couldn't. In Paris we took the RER into the city, and I stood beneath the Eiffel Tower in a cool 53 degrees. We were there early, before the tourists arrived. I was surprised at the size of it, the color of the girders. J and I had Americanos nearby as the downpour began. I was soon covered in flaky bits from the complementary croissants on our table. We eavesdropped on the older American couple nearby struggling to order what sounded like one of everything on the menu. Their voices were pure Long Island.

The rain and fatigue hustled us back to Charles De Galle early. I was so tired I could barely see, despite the coffee. On the train we leaned into each other. I kept glancing at other passengers, thinking about how most of them were in the midst of their daily routine, how that morning might be another blank one in the bucket, easily forgotten. And we were there on a new adventure, how that day to us would be significant and remembered. We're basically ghosts, I said to J. I spent a long time staring out the window, trying to memorize the graffiti, the trash, the emergence and descent of the train's path, the way we swayed in place and passed stop after stop of bored passengers, beautiful women and perfectly tailored suits.

Our plane to Cairo was quite full, four hours in length. Try as I might I couldn't sleep. I dozed and woke up to turbulence, which brought the tears again. I choked down the in-flight pasta and drank coffee I could not taste nor feel the effects of.

And then we landed. We had fifty degrees in Paris, but in Egypt the air screamed 100. Like walking into a hair dryer. Multiple flights landed at once, stretching the passport lines to their limit. A sweet little girl named Sofia danced around in front of us with a bag of chocolate, terrorizing her mother every time she grabbed her Chanel bag with melted fingertips. We watched a policeman in his summer whites bring juice boxes to people in line as call to prayer announced the sun setting and the end of the day's fasting(it's Ramadan). I nudged J to point out the man's dark polka dotted briefs, easily seen through his uniform white pants. It was a brief chaos finding our bags, getting shoved aside as I tried to keep up with J through the crowd. Our driver greeted us with a smile and scooped our bags from us. Our drive home was quite quick due to lack of traffic. Most people were busy eating at home or pulled over to the side of the road for communal feasts.

After a shower I slept for 17 hours, my longest stretch of shut-eye yet. I woke up with a headache and spent the remaining seven on the couch with a wet wash cloth.

Today I managed to get up shortly after J left for work. I even worked out, showered, and made it to the coffee shop. After yesterday's nonexistenence, this feels like quite a victory.

The streets are mostly quiet during the day here. Most Egyptians are at home laying low, sleeping. They come back to life once they break fast, after sundown. There are specific tv shows(some like soap operas) that play during Ramadan--some only air late in the night when most people are still awake. It's an interesting time to be here. Since I do not observe Ramadan, I am staying as respectful as possible. This means no eating or drinking outside during daylight hours. Places are still open--I can have a coffee inside the Coffee Bean(as I am doing now) as long as I drink it inside.

A lot of people back home have asked me questions about being here--mainly regarding what I can or cannot do as a female foreigner. I'm still learning myself, as this is only my second visit. As an American, there are situations where I might get preferential treatment--during my last visit, for example, J and I watched a taxi pass up an Egyptian businessman to scoop us first. Some drivers try the old "meter's broken" trick to try and get a larger fare but this is usually thwarted by J once he starts speaking Arabic to them.

If I am with J, most likely I will not be addressed--he will be spoken to first. To be honest this put me off a bit during my first visit, but it isn't too big of a deal. His landlord, for instance, would not look at me directly when J introduced us. And by directly I mean at all. Have you ever been introduced to someone, face to face, and have them not look at you? It made me feel all kinds of awkward. J explained that it was because I was a female with her head uncovered. It wasn't so much of a head scratcher once I was told the reason, though still a little strange.

Which brings me to what people back home tend to ask me the most. Do I, as a female, have to be covered? The answer is yes and no. I do not have to keep my head covered here in Zamalek. In other parts of the country, yes I might have to. It depends where you are. I keep a long scarf with me at all times, just in case. I do have to keep my legs covered. I also keep my tattoos covered--I don't have to, but it is respectful to do so, and it prevents any unnecessary trouble or unwanted questions/attention. I don't mind--most of my ink is on my back and upper arms, so I stay well stocked in long scarves. This is my first experience with summer in the desert, so I'm trying to be creative with my attire in effort to stay cool. In two days here I've already learned: it ain't easy, and there's a point where you just have to grin, bear it, and let the sweat beads down the back roll. Today I'm in a long dress and gauze scarf. I bobby pinned the scarf to the front of my dress so I won't risk unnecessary exposure. I left the flat with wet hair, which helped. The sun is also incredibly intense so sunglasses are a must.

We are going to a resort in Dhahab in a few days, and while I'm there I can wear a bikini and shorts(a nice reprieve). There are a few club/hotel pools here in Cairo that I can go to and wear a bikini as well.

The heat is indeed intense. I'm being as careful as I can with it, because of my migraines, but you can only avoid so much of it. J has air conditioning in the living room and bedroom of his flat, but the hallway and kitchen are hot hot hot, and the power will go out at least once a day. You get through it though. It isn't impossible. If the power goes out and it becomes unbearable, I can seek refuge in the Hotel Flamenco across the street.

I'm still quite tired, but happy. It is a reward, being here. Long distance relationships are no joke, especially when the distance involves 7 time zones. And one is naïve to think that all problems are solved once in person. After 3+ months apart, I found myself feeling awkward around my own partner. It's a little disorienting to go from loving someone far away to being face to face--to go from no one in your personal space to someone being there. It takes a bit of relearning. There is an emerging shyness I thought was long gone. But love, the real thing, remains familiar and present--with or without the mileage. It is nice to once again finish some sentences with facial expressions alone instead of relying on the limitations of emails or brief Skype sessions. No matter how advanced technology gets, it will never replace a heartbeat under palm. The in-person energy cannot be replicated. Simply put, it means a lot to be here. I hope I can do my experiences here justice with my words in the coming weeks.

1 comment: