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).

Monday, March 16, 2015


Off to the Red Sea for a few days(a much needed break from the city). Will post when I return.

life lately

I had a very successful trip to the Egypt Ikea located in New Cairo City. AKA the desert.

Love is pain. My reignited passion for running is wreaking havoc on my feet. Busted toes, blisters. Aloe Vera gel is so wonderful for all of its soothing powers.

As the weather warms up, the power goes out more often. This is me reading in the dark by flashlight. By the way, The Night of the Gun by David Carr is so damn good.

An ad I do not understand.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

life in progress

Today I went to the Coffee Bean and was delighted when they already knew my order and had it ready by the time I paid at the register. My first real moment as a "regular!" Such a small thing, but it made my heart leap. It's always the little glories.

I've stacked up a handful of unfinished blog post drafts over the past few weeks. I start out strong but end up wordless...I'm so full of desire to express and describe my life right now but I worry that words won't do my feelings justice. As a writer it feels a bit foolish to say that. My e-mails to loved ones back home are unhinged, sprawling things. As I wrote to a friend earlier, I'm never sure what people want to hear. It is a delicate balance between the quirky/light and the heavy.

I haven't been here that long but Egypt is already the most exciting, challenging, beautiful, frustrating thing I have ever experienced. I feel extraordinarily lost yet more found within myself than I have in a long long time. This is the duality I am struggling with. Being completely in the unfamiliar has helped me find some inner peace, and I wasn't expecting that to happen. Perhaps that is the balancing act, the self's way of finding equilibrium.

I've grown used to things...like the lack of stoplights and stop signs, the constant dialogue of car horns. I am so accustomed to the music of Arabic that now it is the English language that sounds like a strange tune to me. Sometimes when I overhear English it takes me a beat or two for my brain to say oh yeah I know that one. Getting dressed every day feels less like a math problem and more like simply getting dressed. Keep your legs and tattoos covered, done and done. When I go to the gym I feel super exposed in a tank top and shorts. It's amazing what we get used to if we are given the time to be there.

There is still a struggle within me for comfort. I think I desire a level of comfort that I will never obtain as a foreigner here. When I lived in the states, I seldom thought about the privilege of living in the first world country I was born in. As an American I had the luxury of not having to consider it. I feel a bit of shame in admitting this, that I didn't really understand it until I was gone. It stuns me to think about all that I took for granted, without even realizing it because that was my life. I'm thankful to experience life outside of all that I've known, to add/change my perspective as a whole.

[Power just came on after interrupting things/this post for an hour]

The other day I was walking back to the flat after getting some coffee and a thought flashed on in my head, clear as day: I will be writing about this experience for the rest of my life. I assume this will be both true and untrue--as a writer it is rare for me to write about one thing only once. There is an importance to being able to view things from many angles, not just one...most moments, whether victorious or tragic(or both) call for more than one statement, one stanza, one swing of the butterfly net. There are many things I have turned over and over in my hands, attempting to access new routes to the gut. My time here in Egypt will certainly be no different. But I know life will go onto the next adventures, and those too will deserve my attention.

my favorite collection of directional signs in Zamalek

The funny thing about being incredibly out of your known element is that it forces you to be much more mindful. My time here thus far is very much about mindfulness. There is much more attention paid to what I wear, how I communicate, how I process my surroundings(such as walking constantly uneven terrain or recognizing a place as safe/unsafe). Traveling has taught me to be much more sharp. I can already see that changing parts of me. I still have days when I crave the old familiar so much that it hurts. Random seeming things, things that aren't here, like good mexican food, bowling alleys, unexpected run-ins with friends on the street. Even the act of missing brings forth the mindful. Be fortunate for your moments, even the seemingly small ones. Be thankful for even the repetitive, routes we know on the back of our hands. Love fiercely and listen more than you speak. Live your story because it is yours, even on boring or hard days. In one of the most complicated places, I am relearning some of the most basic things. Life's funny that way sometimes.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

beliefs (2)

That the hum we hear is all the broken chorusing lament
and my horizon left on the same plane that split her in two
we grow our arms strong to let go
and then we let go

Sunday, March 1, 2015

the challenging

I had a bad day last week. Bad days here, in a third world country, are a bit trickier than a bad day back in the states. I hesitated to write about it here--there are so many wonderful and interesting things that I'd rather write about. But bad days have their place, and carry just as much weight/value as the good stuff.

The tone of my bad day was set by not sleeping well the night before. I woke up wide awake at 3am and didn't get back to sleep until 7:30am. I managed to scrounge together another three hours before cutting my losses and getting on with my day. In the afternoon J arrived home from work and we decided to grab a cab and take a long walk downtown. We've been taking lots of walks on the island and needed a change of scenery.

arriving at Tahrir Square, photo by JG

Traffic was terrible once we crossed the bridge, so we paid our driver and hopped out to walk the rest of the way. We took our time to find coffee, never once walking a straight line--walking here is a game of zig and zag, move or get run into. We ducked into a side street and had some turkish coffee, tiny powerful things with an inch of pure sludge at the bottom. A coffee you can feel in your teeth. Two turkish coffees plus a large bottle of water came to a total of 11 egyptian pounds, just over a dollar in american currency.

Here are a few more photos from our stroll:

we stopped at the Windsor for a lemonade. This is part of the interior--dimly lit and so cozy with thin curtains yellowed by smoke and wood floors that creak beneath feet. There are shelves thick with books and plenty of photographs to look at--it feels very much like you're visiting someone in their private study.

this is the interior of the Cairo Metro station. The beauty is unreal.

A slow dark thing was moving within me by the time we made it to the metro station. Part of it was simply fatigue, I'm sure. Internally I felt like a level, a brim, was being reached--each little thing around me increasing the chances of spilling over. Many times crossing streets in Egypt feels like a frightening game of Frogger. If you wait for a perfect pause to cross then you'll be standing there forever. I am much more accustomed to this now than ever before, but on that particular day downtown, every street I crossed made my heart race a little more. The chaos of crossing streets, horns blaring, people shouting. I found myself very, very overwhelmed.

Rush hour struck again and we could not get a cab to take us back to Zamalek(J stopped three different ones to ask and none of them would). We decided to walk it. By this point I wasn't really talking to J anymore, and because I was in a mood he was in a mood. Communicating felt impossible, other than wanting to communicate how overwhelmed I felt by it all--how badly I wanted to stop walking, curl up in a ball and magically be somewhere easy and quiet and not Cairo. We kept going. We walked through the sun set, through call to prayer. Just outside the market in Zamalek, I took J's hand.

Since then, I have tried to pinpoint what it was that made me shut down in such a severe way. I don't really have an answer, other than what a friend here said to me when I reached out to her: this place isn't easy. It's a very tough place, and there will be tough days. If I am honest, I know that I have been extra hard on myself in regards to getting used to things. I expect it to happen soon, damn near immediately. Because of the absurdly high expectations, the reality of things hit a bit harder.

When I have a bad day here, it feels much more consuming than a bad day in the states. A bad day in Cairo makes me feel like I've failed somehow--failed at adapting, at being tolerant, etc. I know it is foolish to assume that any/all situations will flow like water. There are so many challenges here and I want to rise to meet them...to not only rise but to excel. This is a beautiful, complicated place. Above everything else I want to be respectful. The hardest lesson for me has been understanding that a bad day here is not being disrespectful. That it isn't malicious of me to desire a red light/walk signal now and again. That it's alright to feel overwhelmed by the simple navigation of a new place or another language. Some days will be smooth and others will be full of running into walls. There will be days ahead that are much more tough. My bad day could've easily been much, much worse. Never once was I unsafe or harassed. I was simply overstimulated and incredibly overwhelmed. Such is life when living in another country.

I struggle with uncertainty here, but being brave has certainly helped. Little by little, one foot in front of the other. Where once it seemed impossible to walk down the street and get coffee, now it is a familiar and welcoming task. When I first arrived, I barely felt comfortable leaving my block. Nowadays the island is much less of a mystery to me. I don't just exist, but I live here. This week, one of J's coworkers was in town visiting from another country--I caught myself talking to him about life here in Cairo so naturally and the ease of it surprised me. And immediately I am surprised by being surprised(ha)--of course there is an ease to it because Cairo is my home.