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 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.

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