How do I write this post? How do I put into words the horrors of the past week? I will try.

On Wednesday, April 27, 2011, I found out a friend of mine had committed suicide. I was shaken, but went to class, where I gave a presentation. I walked home and decided that a nap would be the best way to clear my head. Bad weather was predicted for later in the day and the tornado sirens were blaring in the distance, but that isn't unusual for spring in the south. So I went home and went to bed.

Around 4pm I heard Sam run up the stairs, and groggily looked up. "You need to come downstairs. Now. It's coming." I had heard this so many times before that I lazed around in bed until he came up to get me a second time. I got up.

We found ourselves out on the balcony of our house, and that's when we saw it- huge swirling clouds half a mile wide. Heading straight for our house. Clutching our kitten to my chest, we ran downstairs, into the closet beneath the staircase. I called my mom and told her we were bracing for the worst. I heard a crash, and, chest pumping, decided if I was about to die, I did not want my mom to hear it. I hurriedly told her I loved her and got off the phone. The radio, which we had put on to hear updates on the storm, blurred to static. The power went off. The noise of a freight train began to pound all around us, and all I could think was, we're about to die. I clutched Prime to my chest with one hand and held Sam's with the other. I kissed him, and told him I loved him over and over again. For several heart-pounding minutes, we waited. The crushing noise of the tornado passed, and we left the closet to find the world completely changed.

It would not be until hours later that we could finally access the internet on our phones and see a video of the tornado that literally shows it jumping right over our house and continuing its path of destruction, where it would ultimately take dozens of lives and leave thousands homeless. We didn't understand the scope of the destruction then, just that we were very lucky to be alive.

Entire neighborhoods of Tuscaloosa were wiped out. Over 100 tornadoes were confirmed making ground in Alabama alone that day. The University of Alabama went largely unscathed, but at least 5 UA students lost their lives. Every single house we had considered living in, other than the one we ultimately decided on and took cover in, is gone. If we had chosen differently, we would surely be dead. Tuscaloosa is unrecognizable. The tragedy is unfathomable.

That night, gunshots sounded around our house as looters took advantage of the power outage which would last for nearly a week. Terrified, we crouched in our bedroom with a large steak knife and waited. There was nowhere else to go, no other options. Nowhere was safe. We were truly all alone in the world.

In the darkness we left our home to drive to a different town to find gas for our car, in case we decided to leave town, which we ultimately did. As we pulled out of our pitch black neighborhood, we saw Bryant Denny, UA's football stadium and Tuscaloosa's main landmark, lit up against the night, the only light for miles. And in that moment, I had hope. In the terror and tragedy of that day, there was Bryant Denny, proclaiming in the darkness, we are still here. Tuscaloosa is still here. We will go on.

Please send your thoughts to Tuscaloosa and all of Alabama as we recover from our loss. Over 30 were killed in Tuscaloosa alone and hundreds are still missing or unaccounted for. Donate to the Red Cross. Send items for those who lost everything. I am very, very lucky to be alive, but so many others were not as fortunate. Please give, so that we may rebuild and recover.
Today it finally happened.

Since I came back from Egypt in early November, I've felt like my heart has been enduring a long winter. Where I used to feel vital, infinite, limitless, I felt only doubt, worry, and the slow withering drain of depression. It should have been the happiest time in my life- I had just gotten engaged to the love of my life and we were beginning our lives together in the town where it all began. But I was lonely, bitter, and painfully insecure. I've spent the past several months wrapped inside this cloak of insecurities and fear- of what, I'm not sure. Fear of the assault that brought me home, and all of its repercussions. Fear of losing the most precious thing I have in my life, my darling sweet fiance. Fear of coming back to the place that broke my heart- Tuscaloosa, with all its hierarchy, antiquated ideologies and deep-seated hate. Fear of losing the beautiful person that I felt I had become in Egypt. Ironically, all of this fear and anxiety robbed me of just that. The carefree, open spirit I posessed in Cairo became little more than a memory to me, a shadow of a girl who had now become tethered down by responsibilities and realities far beyond her maturity level or emotional threshhold. I worried every day that Sam would realize I was no longer the girl he had asked to marry him and leave me, disillusioned with the sad, solitary person I had become.

But today, it happened.

A week ago today I quit smoking and started running. I started eating healthier and cut sodas and energy drinks almost completely out of my diet. I felt like I was opening a door to let a little light into my dreary world. And then today, as I was driving in the afternoon sunlight by the flowering Tuscaloosa wisteria, I felt a slow bloom in my soul. I felt a surge of pride as I took the University of Alabama exit on the interstate- a surprising feeling. I glanced in the rearview mirror of my new BMW and saw the simple American University in Cairo decal, and instead of feeling a desperate longing, I felt a slow, glowing nostalgia. Shafts of sunlight danced through the car as I pulled up to Academy Sports and treated myself to a new running outfit. I walked out of the store and into the light and I felt like I was walking into a bright new place. My heart was blossoming, opening itself again to the beauty of life and the world and yes, even Tuscaloosa. For the first time in months, I felt full and innocent and integral- like I was worth of the love Sam showers on me, like I deserved to be happy and healthy, like everything was going to be alright again. This long-absent sensation literally feels like someone injected pure light into my veins. I feel like I have things to look forward to and strive for again. I feel confident that Sam and I are going to have a long, happy life together. I feel healthier than I have in two years. I'm starting to feel comfortable in my own skin after spending much of the past year hiding behind extra pounds in a desperate attempt to be invisible and unoffensive. I feel like nothing's missing. And I feel like life is starting over for me- in a new, exciting way. I think I've finally learned that I can be as excited and passionate about life as I was when I was constantly gallivanting around the globe, simply by finding adventure in the simplicity of life in this funny little town.

I'm so excited to start over.

I'm so excited that the longest winter is finally over. The snows are melting, and the world is springing back to life. And I'm ready.

Why am I marrying him?

In a huff of frustration, as the hands on the clock ticked past 3am and I carried the big, soft comforter to the guest bedroom across the hall from the one I share with Sam, I asked myself, why am I marrying him?  Like clockwork, reliable as the minutes ticking past one at a time, never ceasing despite the ebb and flow of humanity, he stalked into the room where I had settled in to the partially deflated, queen size air mattress, kneeled at the side of the bed, nothing visible but his figure silhouetted by the light from the streetlamp streaming in through the window behind him. He refused to leave, he asserted, until I came back to bed with him. To our bed. I prickled. This is my bed now, I growl, even as I turn over in my mind that this bed is uncomfortable. I want to go back to my big, comfy bed and melt into the down comforter and sleep and forget all of this. But I can't. It's my pride, my damn pride, that has exiled me into the guest bedroom. My feelings have been hurt, and, damn you, this will not stand. He eases his hand into mine, somehow finding it in the dark quiet of the early morning hours, his thumb instinctively caressing the ring on my left hand. I snatch the hand away, roll over, will him to leave, and then, pray he does the opposite of what I've willed him to. To stay here, in the dark and the quiet and the angry and to stay with me. To fight for me, and to love me despite my damn pride. So the question remains, why am I marrying him?

Daytime. The same bed. He's flopped down, cycling kit half stripped off after an invigorating, exhausting afternoon ride. I've come and laid down, perpendicular to him, stroking the disarray of thinning hair as he draws in heavy, satisfied breaths. He rolls over onto his stomach, his face squished between the air mattress and the weight of his shoulder. Golden soft afternoon sun streams in the windows and the quiet is light and effortless. Quiet but for the soft scrape of three day old stubble on the vinyl of the mattress, until suddenly he shifts, extends his arm, slowly intertwines his fingers with mine, kisses my fingertips. "I'm going to spend the rest of my life with you." He says, his eyes locked on mine, gentle but serious as sin. His earnesty disarms me. As I lay on this mattress, in our first house together, half sick with the flu, hair ratty and face pale and plain without makeup, the first thought that springs to his head is I'm going to spend the rest of my life with you? This, I think, this is why I'm marrying him.

Home, let me go Home

This is both the hardest and easiest thing I've ever had to write.

About a month ago, I decided that I was going to leave Egypt for good in December and transfer back to the University of Alabama. I wasn't waking up excited about being here anymore. I wanted to be near my family. My newborn nephew was having health issues, and I wanted to meet him and be there for him. I didn't want to miss my entire engagement to the man who will be my husband in less than two years. The list goes on and on..

Most of you know that last Thursday I was sexually assaulted in Dokki. Suddenly I felt as if the world was constantly in danger of falling apart around me. Walking down the street became a Herculean task. There were panic attacks. A lot of them. I found myself sobbing in class on several occasions for no apparent reason. I could not focus in class because all of my strength was used as I willed myself not to fall apart completely. This Thursday was my breaking point. I was nauseous with stress and anxiety all day. Finally, on the bus home from school, I found myself vomiting into a plastic bag, lacking even the energy to be embarrassed about it. My emotional distress had reached a level where I was no longer able to keep food down. Something had to give.

I had been willing myself to be just a little stronger, just strong enough to make it to December. I was not strong enough.

I was up until 4am last night sobbing to Sam. Honey, help me, please. I felt like I was drowning, struggling to keep my head above water.

In the three years since we've met, I've never asked for help with anything. I've always thought it was a sign of weakness. Last night, I was weak, defenseless, defeated. After a week of putting on a brave face, I had no energy left to muster. And in my weakness, he was strong. Sweetheart, I'll handle this. I'll get you home. Don't worry.

He called my parents. And, like they always do, they swooped in to save the day- no questions asked. My mom is flying in on Monday to help me tie up loose ends. On November 9, we're leaving Egypt. I'm going home. Home, to a family that loves me. Home, to a nephew I've yet to meet. Home, to a man who would move mountains for me. Home, to parents who make me feel safe.

I am not writing this to garner sympathy. I am writing this for two reasons: to tell my friends in the easiest way I know how that I am leaving them, and to break the silence about sexual abuse. In Egypt, in America, everywhere. I am done being quiet, and I am done being a victim. Sexual assault is not shameful. It was not my fault. I did nothing to deserve it. NOBODY deserves it. I refuse to be ashamed; I refuse to be embarrassed. Today, I am choosing to be empowered.

I am not going home with my tail between my legs. I am going home proud of what I've done in the past 3 semesters, of the friendships I made and the life I created. I'm going home excited to start the next phase with the man I love. I'm going home full of love and gratitude knowing that I have a family that will help me carry a heavy burden when I've no strength left to do it myself. I'm going home knowing that I have not failed, but rather succeeded in the most glorious way possible: something terrible has happened to me and I have survived; but more than that, I have taken the steps that were necessary to begin to heal. I will never be the same- I will be better, stronger. I can promise you that.

Mom and Dad, Sam, Dana, Samantha, and everyone else who has helped me survive the past week:
Thank you for standing in the center of the fire with me and not flinching. Your strength and love have been all that has kept me going. Thank you for being my shoulders to cry on, my voices of reason, my calm in the storm. I love you all more than you will ever know.

How could anyone ever understand these mascara scars?

It's in the dark of the night that the monsters come out. My best friend Dana is snoring softly next to me; she's spent most of the weekend here subtly making sure that I'll be okay. I lay in bed and stare up at the ceiling. I cannot sleep. Like two mismatched reels of film, the fresh scene plays in my head, but soon gives way to a deeper hurt, a fuzzy, stilted slideshow that is best not remembered. I roll over, face the wall, try not to wake Dana as I sob quietly into my pillow.

On Thursday, I was attacked by a group of street kids on my way to the bus stop. I say kids because none of these boys were older than fifteen. And I say attacked because this was sexual harassment taken to the extreme. Every day, I am confronted with cat calls, inappropriate remarks, men grabbing my ass, taxi drivers showing me porn, and strange phone calls from Egyptian men whispering disgusting words to me in Arabic at 3am. These occurrences, though annoying, have never actually caused me much distress; there's never any intention behind any of it- it's all talk and posturing. On Thursday, however, there was intent, and it was unmistakable. The evidence is in my torn clothes. I am still reeling.

I usually try not to post negative things about Egypt. I love Egypt, and I love Egyptians. I would never want to give anyone a bad impression of the place I love. But writing is how I deal with things. So obviously, I'm dealing with it. Or trying to. Stand by.

Meet the three most important people in my life

Today, I am spending some time thinking about how truly lucky I am. I live in a country I love, studying the thing I'm most passionate about, living a life of adventure and unpredictability. I have a family who loves me and supports me unconditionally. My quasi-fiancee (it won't be official until he sees fit to give me a ring! Hint, hint, Sam) accepts me for who I am, and loves me despite my myriad of flaws.  I am surrounded by brilliant, talented, beautiful friends, and there are more who are just as fabulous on the other side of the world. I have a lot to be thankful for. But today, I want to introduce you to the three people who keep me going, day after day, month after month.  I do the things I do to make life better for me and for them, to make them proud of me.

This precious little man is my new nephew, Sawyer. I've never even met him in person, but I already love him more than I could ever possibly put into words.

This is Parker, Sawyer's big brother and my oldest nephew. Sometimes the only thing that gets me through the day is the thought that one day, before they hit puberty and decide I'm old and uncool, my nephews will brag to their friends that their Aunt Dan lived in Egypt for three years and has all sorts of awesome stories and rode camels. Hearing Parker say "I love you, Aunt Dan" warms my heart like nothing else and never fails to bring a tear to my eye. He's already becoming the most incredible little person.

I am in awe of my future husband Sam every day for so many reasons- not the least of which being that he is willing- nay, eager- to spend every day of the rest of his life with me. He is hardworking, honest, loyal to a fault, adventurous, spontaneous, caring, and- let's face it- sexy as hell. I have no idea how I was lucky enough to find my perfect man my first semester of college, and how I was silly enough to let him slip through my fingers once before. The one thing I'm sure of is that it will never happen again. This month marks three years since we met, and every day since I have been becoming a better person simply because I have him in my life.

These are just three of the people who inspire me to live a life that I am passionate about, and who encourage me, each in their own way, to be more.  I am so incredibly thankful.

The Crossroad

I'll wrestle with these shadows alone
Try to illuminate some long-neglected
light within myself to cast them out
In spite of that naive organ
Haphazardly thumping away
ensconced within the birdcage
that I've been battering, clubbing
with all the strength I've left.
And yet, moment after moment
It beats out the rhythm to song
You've never heard, cannot sing
Because it was written in a tongue
that escapes you, that you cannot
decipher through the static hiss
of crossed wires, missed connections,
fuzzy reception, mixed messages.

I do not want to go back to that place
because it is somewhere you cannot follow
Though I know you'll try.
I know that path leads back in time
to a place I fled from in fear
that the warm complacency
would consume me and extinguish
forever that desperate ember.
And yet I amble on, mesmerized
by the thumping, flitting thing inside-
my very own pied piper,
my very own double agent
leading me back to the beginning.
You're calling to me, I know
but you've been drowned out by the din
the cacophonous echoing of that
hard, hollow, terrifying thing.

And then out of the dark thunder
the white noise of your mind overwhelms
my ears and I lose the sound of
that ill-fated caravan, fading beat by beat
into the oblivion of missed opportunities,
of could've, should've,
Yet now there is no next time, there is
no next step, nowhere to go.
For there's nothing in this forgotten place
except a signpost with two crooked little arrows
"to the end", "to the beginning"
pointing toward opposite horizons.
..........I can't decide.

So with crossed legs, I sit there
in the growing evening shadow beneath
two crooked little arrows, one of which
will be my fate, the other my regret.
So here I sit, to wait, until I can
decipher the answer, slowly repeated
by that curious little creature, whispering,
crouching in its cage, in a language
that I used to understand.
I'll keep listening if you keep talking.
Ka-thump, ka-thump, ka-thump.

Walk Like an Egyptian

Isn't it funny how in the most mundane of moments you realize that you are changed?

The other day I was walking with Andrew to the bus stop in front of the National Research Center here in Dokki. We were walking, as many people here do, shoulder to shoulder in the middle of a tiny, dusty alleyway lined with piles of rotting garbage and rain puddles that are dubious in the fact that it has not rained here since January. As we were walking and talking, from behind us there came a car horn. Like Pavlov's dogs, we immediately veered to the far left side of the road in single file, hugging the parked cars as we went, never breaking stride or looking back at the approaching car. The tiny Fiat rumbled by, casually bumping my hip as it did so. I did not flinch.

A few seconds later I realized what had happened, realized I had not even been conscious of the honk, the move, the bump.

Car horns have become my proverbial ringing bell.

PS..Y'all have been waiting for over a year for a post with this title. Eat it up.

Throwing stones at the window with the light on

About a month ago, I adopted a Siamese kitten. I named her Optimus Prime. I call her Prime for short. My roommate, Andrew, just calls her "kitty" or "cat". He refuses to acknowledge either that she has a name or that she is female. But she is clean and loving and typically well-behaved so we both love her.

I bought Prime from a dubious little pet kiosk in the basement of Metro Towers. She was in a cage clearly not meant for a cat. She couldn't even stand up, and was having to use the bathroom on a piece of cardboard. It broke my heart.

In the past week, she has discovered the wonders of the window. I've been leaving the curtains and the windows open in the living room for her, and she sits on the sill, looking through the screen and the bars out into our bleak backyard, watching the world pass her by.

Today I sat watching her as she sat enthralled by a funny little bird perched on the limb of a fig tree which had been sawed off during Ramadan and has yet to be disposed of [thanks, Landlady].  Peering out at something new and exciting, I could almost feel her desire to be on the other side of those bars. It's the same way she looked at me when I saw her in the pet shop. Once we had her outside that tiny little cage, I couldn't bear to put her back in, seeing her big blue eyes widen at the world beyond.

I understand how she feels. In Alabama, I felt like I was in a tiny cage, a place where no one understood that I wanted something different. So I moved to Egypt, and, as much as I love it, as lucky as I know I am to be here, sometimes I feel like it's simply a bigger cage. There's something beyond it, I know, bigger and more extraordinary, and I find myself pacing in front of the bars, constantly looking out, waiting impatiently for the next big adventure.

So today, I will sit with Prime in front of the window and look out, in case some new life should alight just beyond the bars...

Life List Update

If you've been reading Salaam wa Hubb for a while, you've heard about the Life List. It's a list of things I want to do before I die. It's my daily reminder to live with passion- to live a life that is constantly challenging me, thrilling me, inspiring me to be more than what I am currently.  I thought I'd give you guys a picture update of the terribly few items I've checked off the list in the past year.

-See Petra, Jordan

-Float in the Dead Sea

-See Alabama win a National Championship.

That's it so far you guys..isn't that sad?  In my defense, it's a little difficult to find a place to take trapeze lessons in Cairo. But still, I need to get to it! Anyone have any ideas for a book?!

Care to share your life lists?

Home is Wherever I'm With You

I always find myself writing about this sense of otherness that came along with my move to the Middle East. I'm always waxing romantic about how different everything is; singing the praises of the alien, the unusual,  and the foreign. 

Today I'm going to do something different.

Today, I've revelling in the beauty of constant, unchanging sameness. Care to step out of my comfort zone with me? Yalla!

Growing up in an Army family where the conversational prelude of "We have something we need to tell you, dear" didn't lead into the typical 90's "We're getting a divorce" soulcrusher, but rather the devastating "We're moving. Again."talk, a framed cross-stitch always hung in the entryway of every house we occupied. Carefully stitched into the white cotton was a quant blue tudor overflowing with cardboard boxes. A moving truck was parked in front. The words "Home is where the Army sends us" were stitched across the top.

My parents raised my brothers and I with the phrase "home is where the heart is" etched into our brains. It was their way of combatting the post-PCS "I want to go home" tearfests. 

"But you are home," my mother would placate, "because you're with me, and your dad, and your brothers. Home is where the heart is, and I hope your heart is with us."

My heart has since been divvied up and dispersed to dozens of people in dozens of different countries over a period of many years. Ever now and then, a piece makes its way back.

If you've been reading for a while, you're probably familiar with Romani. He was my adorable Sudani Resident Director in the Zamalek dorms last Spring. In fact, one of the first nights I went out in Egypt, we stopped to wait for the bus back to campus in the dorms and saw his picture hanging on the Res Life bulletin board. I said, "I want to be his friend!". Call me a creep, but a few months later, he was one of my best friends. Most every night of last semester was spent clubbing, smoking shisha, or watching movies with Romani, his best friend Ahmed, and Becky and Megan.

Romani graduated in June, and, before I got a chance to say goodbye, moved back to Khartoum. I spent a lot of time this summer trying to come to terms with the fact that one of my best friends had gone somewhere I could not follow and I hadn't even gotten to say farewell. I had nearly accepted that I would never see him again.

Yesterday, I checked my cell phone upon waking up after a particularly blurry night on a felucca. At first I thought my eyes deceiving me- still too punchdrunk on sub-par Egyptian beer and the flashing neon lights of the boat to be trusted. I blinked once, twice, three times and the name was still flashing on the screen: Missed Call from Romani.

Emotions crashed over me in rapid succession. Elation. Disbelief. Confusion. It was his Egyptian number I had a missed call from, right? Right. Are you sure it's not his Sudanese number? Positive. Only fools are positive. Shit. No, he definitely called from Egypt. Why is he here? Is he staying?

I called him back. We made plans to meet up. I got ready, and bided my time at a house party until we were set to meet to go out. Suddenly, there he was. Lots of hugging ensued. Were it not for the four Stellas pumping through my system, I'm sure there would have been tears as well.

And then there we were, in Purple, a club we used to frequent with our old group of friends. Me, Ahmed, and Romani, sipping Belvedere-spiked Sprite, chainsmoking, and dancing to David Guetta. Romani is moving back to Cairo. I leaned my head on his shoulder to hear his voice over the throbbing techno. I laughed with he and Ahmed as we recounted the crazy nights we had shared before. We drank to the two members of our group who had moved on. And then it hit me.

Despite everything that had changed since we had last seen each other- the engagements, birthdays, graduations, ups and downs-everything suddenly felt the same again. Here we were, in a familiar place, with friends who had turned into family, watching yet another Cairene night segue into morning...together.

I'm a girl who likes things to be different, to be strange, to be new and exciting. But I welcomed that deep, comfortable familiarity that warmed my veins more thoroughly than the vodka ever could with open arms. I looked at my friends and smiled.  A piece of my heart has come back to Cairo.

And it feels like home.

Pieces of Me

Travel is revered as the Great Enricher; that endeavor of all endeavors which somehow makes you more of a person: more than what you were, more self-aware, culturally sensitive, worldly, empathetic, knowledgable. This is not to say that travel has not done these things for me: I would be a radically different person were it not for growing up all over the world, and spending most of the past few years in North Africa. It has made me more than that which I consisted of before, broadened my perspective, given me a much-needed dose of humility. At times it has left me breathless, speechless, in tears, embarrassed, confused- a multitude of emotions, some of which I have yet to pinpoint with an arbitrary name which would only detract from their complexity.

But sometimes travel does more than that. It opens your eyes to a world you had only dreamed about before. It absorbs you into itself, makes you a part of it, of the journey, of the heartbeat of a world beyond the scope of the world you knew only moments before. Therein lies the problem.

Africa- North Africa- has captured my heart in so powerful a manner that sometimes I feel as if my very soul has been split in two. A part of me knows that my home, however long I am away from it, is in America. I was raised to be a Southern belle, woman who stands behind her country, her family, her values, and her football team at every turn. One half of my soul will always belong to the haze of booze-imbued fraternity parties, of sundresses on Saturdays, of family dinners and vintage cigars on the back porch with my dad as we gaze out over the twinkling lights of the Tennessee valley below. But half of my soul has been led away to the barren corners of the world, sandy wastelands stretching as far as the eye can see, the suffocating crush of humanity as hijab-clad women and chainsmoking men hurry from here to there, a world where the language dances, lilting on the night air until I am left with a sing-song headache. I have chased the proverbial dragon here to live a life of adventure, of constant boundary-pushing, nerve-wracking, heart-wrenching discovery. It was been wonderful.

But sometimes, like Saturday night as I watched the grainy image of Trent Richardson streaking down a football field 5,000 miles away, I begin to wonder how much of myself I gave up for this adventure. It is a sacrifice than can never be undone. Whether I like it or not, I have given so much of myself, of my former self, to this region that it can never be reclaimed. When I am here, I miss the part of myself I left behind in America. When I am in America, I spend nights lying awake wishing for the clamor of street vendors and car horns and calls to prayer that never come. It seems to me now that I will always be missing half of myself, no matter where in the world I am. It is in these moments of introspection that I have to shake myself awake from the dreamlike possibility that I may never be whole again. Until it is possible for me to be in two places at once, to be two people at once, to wholly embrace two conlicting lifestyles at once, I may never be a complete version of myself.

And yet, looking at a rare patch of empty inky black sky, unmarred my the reflection of city lights, of airliners, of skyscrapers, as I walk down the dusty alleyway that leads to the front door of my house, I can't help but think that I would much rather be half a person, if that half a person can have the best of both worlds as I do. There is a man and a family waiting for me in a country far away, where Wal-Marts dot the highway and football dominates autumn headlines. There is a campus in the desert of one of the most ancient, historically rich civilizations in the world where I feel that anything is possible. Rather than make me more, travel has torn me into two halves of what was formerly a whole person. But each half is better than what it was when it were whole because of the places it has been and the things it has seen. And, if one day I can figure how to reconcile those two halves into one complete, capable adult...well, I'll be pretty damn cool.


When I was five, weekends were spent at the Carolina Lakes community pool. Countless hours were spent investigating what creatures had found their way into the filters, getting yelled at by lifeguards for tampering with said filters, learning to do back tucks off the diving boards, getting yelled at by the lifeguards for doing back tucks off the diving boards, wearing really embarrasing swimsuits (I'm talking color blocking in purple, orange, pink and yellow with cutout peekaboo holes for my belly button, you guys. Horror.), and trying to be cool like my older brothers. I never did figure out what those terrifying creatures with two claws and tiny round bodies that swam around in the deep end were.

My brother, at 16, would typically let me sit on his lap and "steer" the car on the way to the pool, until I nearly ran us into a ditch (My kids will never do this. But it was the 90s, and it was fun. I support his decision.). Anyway, the point of all of this rambling is that the pool rocked. It was very rarely a place where I was unhappy. In fact, the only bad memory I have from the pool has turned out to be a valuable lesson for me.

It was summer, and I was swimming around, inspecting filters, doing backflips, and flaunting my terrible color-blocked one-piece/bikini hybrid. I approached a group of girls and asked if I could play with them. Not only did they say no, they began taunting me, laughing if they would ever hang out with me. (In retrospect, I couldn't really blame them for laughing at my bathing suit. I know I'm harping, but that thing was awful.) Nothing like that had ever happened to me. I was inconsolable. But then...I was angry. I decided to get revenge.

I stormed out the gate and into the wooded playground area beyond the pool. I had a plan. Soon, I located what I had been looking for: a tiny cactus- small enough to fit in my hand like a baseball. Somewhere in my five year old mind, the best course of action was obviously to uproot this baby cactus with my bare hands and throw it at the offending group of girls. Yeah, that would show them.

So I wrenched the cactus out of the ground and began walking purposefully back to the pool. I hadn't made it far when I noticed blood streaming down my arm. I dropped the cactus, and realized my hand had become a pincushion- covered in tiny, nearly invisible yet incredibly painful spikes. I ran back to the pool area, and my mother drove me home. She spent the next five hours using a magnifying glass and tweezers, plucking every last spike from my tender little palm (Do you remember this, Mom?) while I sobbed that I hated those girls, that I would never forgive them and how could they do that to me? Somehow it was their fault that I had gotten hurt, never mind that I had intended to hurl a baby cactus at their sneering little faces.

The point of this absolutely ridiculous story jumped out at me while I was telling it to Sam this evening: whenever you carry hatred in your heart, it is always you that ends up being hurt by it. Hate, revenge, jealousy...all of these emotions do so much more to harm you than they do the objects of your negative feelings. And in a very literal way, this story from my childhood is a great illustration of that.

Case in point: I dated my First Love for a little under two years. We grew up together, we taught each other so much, and we were desperately in love. Eventually I left him for That Boy (see earlier posts) and our paths diverged. When the First Love started college, we tried to rekindle the relationship, but it didn't work out. Immediately afterward, he began dating a girl that I have absolutely loathed since I was 15. I was devastated- come on, I yelled at him over the phone, she sucks! You didn't want me, but you wanted her?!

I stopped talking to him.

I defriended him on Facebook.

I cut him out of my life completely.

There, that'll show him, I thought. I let my anger fester for two years. And you know what? He didn't give a damn. He went on happily living his life, dating that girl, never giving me a second thought. Rumor is they will be getting engaged soon. And because I harbored so much animosity towards him for so long, I was never able to properly move on. My hatred for him was ruining my life, not his. It was only this summer, when I finally let go of That Boy, that I also let go of my ill will towards the First Love. Who was I to resent him for being happy? All of those negative emotions were hurting me, making me miserable everytime I thought of him. So, I let it go. And it felt so good.

My point is this: I have been absolutely horrified reading the news lately- it seems to be filled with people hating each other. Everyone hates the gays, and the Muslims, and the Jews, and on and on and on. People don't realize that their own hatred turns them into monsters. Hate begets hate, but love begets love. I know, I know- I sound preach-y, and I'm sorry. But this simple concept has really changed the way that I interact with people, and it has made me so much happier. Today, decide to let go of the those festering grudges you hold. Given the choice to hold onto the cactus in your hand, bleeding you dry, or to let it go and let the healing begin, what would you choose? It's simple.

Embrace love.


Those terrifying little pool monsters are called Dytiscus beetles. Somehow, their "claws" don't look nearly as life-threatening now that I'm a grown woman. Imagine that.

Out for a Walk

I pull the front door closed behind me and amble out into Sharia' Musadak. It's dark except for the glittering multi-colored Ramadan lamps hanging in every doorway. A mother in a black abaya and niqab waddles past, a dirty child clinging to each of her hands. Her eyes crinkle, almost disappearing, and I can tell that under her veil she is smiling, content after having just eaten iftar, the meal eaten after sunset during Ramadan, the breaking of the daily fast. A shopkeeper has placed chairs in the middle of the sidewalk, where he and his friends sit lazily chewing kanafeh, chatting amicably about this and that. Two teenage boys make their way down the road, each laden with a flexible woven basket filled to overflowing with small fireworks for Ramadan. Every now and then, there is a soft bang! and a colorful spark shoots a few inches off the pavement, quickly replaced by a cloud of smoke. Passers-by smile good-naturedly and keep moving; there are places to go: errands to run now that the sun is down and the shops are open, friends to visit and to wish a happy Ramadan.

I've slept most of the day- an easy way to keep the fast in a city where so many eating establishments are closed until sunset- but despite the fact that I've only been awake for a few hours, I'm suddenly fatigued. Conversations is hurried Arabic buzz around me, assaulting my eardrums; my brain is too overwhelmed to translate today. For the past few days I have kept myself isolated in the oasis of my dusty house: a place where the internet sites I visit and the TV shows I watch are in my native tongue, and while I am in that cocoon I nearly forget the strain of constantly translating everything I hear twice over in my mind: Egyptian Arabic to formal Arabic, formal Arabic to English. When I reach the kiosk that is my destination, I meekly place my purchases on the counter atop the displays of Twinkies and Chipsies. I can offer nothing more to the owner than a crisp one hundred pound note and a weak smile. Through the fog of my ennui I can only manage a feeble "shukran" for him today. I start the two block walk back to my house, faster than before, eager to reenter my bubble of comfort. A rickety black taxi clips my swinging arm as it edges down the street crowded with double rows of parallel-parked Peugeots and Fiats on both sides. I barely notice. I keep my eyes straight ahead as an oversized SUV slows down and the two teenagers inside call out to me in broken English, telling me I am beautiful. I don't feel beautiful in my baggy green Phi Mu t-shirt and wrinkly jeans.

The smell of freshly-grilled corn and overripe fruit fills my nostrils, wafting over from the corner of Ansar Street, manned by two old hijabi women who invariably greet me with disapproving looks day in and day out. I carefully step around a pile of rotting garbage and another of black sludge. Another bang! followed by a pop and raucous laughter from a group of teenage boys perennially perched on the hood of a car parked conveniently in front of a convenience shop, just in case any gastronomical needs should arise during the course of their laborious catcalling and generally innocent-enough hoodlum-ry. Finally I pass through the ancient gate of my apartment building, down a brightly lit alleyway, and fit the key into my comically tiny door. I walk inside and am greeted by the smell of stale cigarette smoke and the sound of Sublime lamenting their inability to remember what they did the previous night. I sigh contentedly and collapse into my armchair.

Tonight, I am happy to be alone in the calm clutter of my house. Tonight I will take a break from cultural sensitivity. Tonight I will listen to music sung in English and laugh at websites detailing the stupid antics of college kids. Tonight I will order Hardees and drink Coca Cola. Tomorrow I will get back to the mental strain of constant translation, of appreciating the culture and the history of this country.

But tonight, I'm content to idle.


Today is a hard day for me to be living in the Middle East.

On August 16, my second nephew, Sawyer Reynolds Broome, was born in Tennessee. When his older brother Parker was born, I missed out on much of his infancy. Now, I'm on the other side of the world, and I will be missing out on much of Sawyer's as well. Today, Sawyer came home from the hospital and I met him for the first time via Skype. I did not think that I would have enough room in my heart to love another little boy, because Parker is the light of my life. But the second I saw his precious little face, I knew that in that instant, my life had changed. Now, two little boys take up the whole of my heart.

I love them both more than I ever thought possible.I would give anything to be able to hold that little person in my arms and tell him that I love him more than anything else in the world, that I miss him even though I have never met him. How lucky am I to have two such perfect nephews? My precious boys, I love you so much. You make me want to be successful and accomplish all that I can. You make me want to be the best person I can so that I can be a better aunt to you both.

This is an oh-so-flattering picture of me sobbing as I met my nephew for the first time. Oh Skype, thank you for existing so moments like these can happen.

Yin and Yang

Life, as I realize more and more everyday, is about balance. It is a constant ebb and flow, a give and take, about giving one thing up in the hopes that you will gain something even greater.

Right now, I'm learning to balance the things I want out of life. to change the image of myself I've created without leaving behind the passion I had for the image I used to have. It's something I've been learning to do ever since I left Alabama: there, I was a snobby, elitist princess in a prestigious Old Row sorority who filled nearly every night of the week with binge drinking, indiscriminant flirting, grinding on some random fraternity boy with too much of daddy's money at his disposal to the sounds of middle-aged rockers singing in a giant concrete garage of a fraternity house while wearing a dress that cost far too much money to have beer haphazardly spilled across it and shoes that would, by the end of the night, be covered in some unknown gooey black substance which seems to only reside on Bourbon Street and in fraternity band rooms. It was all incredibly excessive and unnecessary. But you know what? It was a shitload of fun. And even when I knew I had had enough of it, it was so hard to give up the carefree University of Alabama Greek life in which I was so comfortable, despite knowing that it was absolutely, 100% not for me, not who I was anymore. I felt like I was stagnating- even though there was a new boy every night, a new dress, a new hangover remedy, a new horror story of a date gone horribly wrong or a drunken encounter with a hobo, essentially I was just repeating the same day over and over, and it was no longer fun or exciting, it was exhausting. And expensive. And finally, by my sophomore year, it all just seemed completely stupid. So I gave it up, and took a giant leap of faith and moved to the Middle East.

In so many ways, it was the best thing I ever did for myself. I landed right in the middle of a giant city, with a new culture and a new language and a thousand sights and sounds to stimulate me out of my Natty Light haze of the previous two years. But even the greatest feat of balance has a few instabilities, a few unexpected this and thats which swing the scale back out of equilibrium and dangerously toward the mistakes of the past. Somehow, in a conservative Muslim country, after five months in Egypt, I found myself back in the same pattern I had fled halfway across the globe to escape, only this time the fraternity house was an upscale Cairo club, the open bar became hundreds of pounds worth of Stellas, and none of the many boys I filled my days and nights with spoke with a Southern drawl. And as happy as I was with my location geographically, I was not happy with where I was personally. I had gotten one piece of the puzzle right, but there were other scales that needed to be tipped, other sacrifices to be made in the pursuit of happiness.

Just as I gave up the football-imbued glory of Tuscaloosa for the grimey, smoggy cacophony of Cairo, I need to give up the thrill of the chase of a momentary conquest for the stability and enduring comfort of monogamy. This is a transition which both excites me to no end, but also makes me break out into a cold sweat. Monogamy takes work. It takes work when you are sleeping in the same bed with your partner every night. It takes even more work when you live 5,000 miles apart. Panic sequence initiated. Wandering eyes, booze-soaked inhibitions, instinct to run before anything can go wrong? Fully operational.

But this is where another balancing act comes into play.

I want adventure. I thrive on it- which probably explains why I moved to a new continent and began a new life in a place known for its unpredictability and dubious safety. But being adventurous is lonely. At the end of the day, I'm a woman. I'm a twenty-something woman whose heart is positively screaming for domesticity, whose bioilogical clock has been electrified into overdrive, whose body aches to have someone -not just any someone, the same someone, day in and day out- hold it as sleep laps around the periphery of my mind each night. I had always thought adventure and monogamy were mutually exclusive; to have one I would have to forsake the other. To satisfy my wanderlust, I would have to be alone with no deep-rooted love digging into the earth somewhere, tying me down and chaining me to another person, to a home, to a job, to a place I knew I could not belong because I don't belong anywhere...I don't belong to one place or house or country, I belong to the journey and the thrill of going somewhere...everywhere. Balancing my need to go with my need to be deeply loved and appreciated was something I aspired to ultimately, but never thought feasible.

The funny thing about life is that when you stop looking for something, it usually shows up on your doorstep. The great equalizing force of my balancing act showed up in my dorm room on the arm of my roommate when I was barely 18. I will gladly give up the unfulfilling pipedream that has been the Tuscaloosa/Cairo dating scene, the procession of men who fail to move my soul, to share my dreams, to chase that elusive I'm finally here feeling of my journey with me for the one who doesn't want to end my adventures, but rather to join me on them- to be a teammate, a partner, a co-pilot in my obsessive wandering. And somehow, in him, I have found the weight that counterbalances my journey to be loved with my love of the journey.

And balance is restored to the universe.

Important Calculations

My first class on Sundays for the Fall semester is at 11:30am.

That means I will be taking the 9:30am bus from Mohandiseen.

In order to be ready, I will have to wake up at approximately 8:30.

A significant portion of scheduled Alabama football games begin at 6:30pm Central Time.

Take into account the time difference, Ramadan time changes, and the obligatory postgame Skype calls, tears, and beverages, I will be lucky to be in bed by 6:30am Sunday mornings.

Which basically means...I'm screwed.

So, Tide players, I expect the same level of committment from you this season. I want another National Championship this year. ROLL TIDE!

43 days until I am sleep deprived once again.....

If I'm free it's because I'm always running

Caulk in the crevices quick as you can
Fetid water stands waiting, fill the dam
Cheap construction that could never last
The landfill lies empty so fill it fast
Substandard materials to decay within me
But I'd rather it was full of shit than f----ng empty
And somehow it keeps beating,
Thundering on despite me.


Sometimes I feel like a ghost, wandering through the places that meant something to me a lifetime ago, stopping in to visit old friends, my stays so brief they're often left wondering if I was ever really there. Like a shadow of my old self, a figment of humanity, I've spent the summer lingering in a world I've moved on from. It's been a strange two months, walking the line between my old self and my new self, wobbling on a tightrope, trying to keep them both intact, both a part of me- trying not to let one destroy the other.

My weekend in Tuscaloosa sent me rushing back in time, and with every familiar face I ran into, the hurts seemed fresh again, the memories like they had happened yesterday, the drama like it actually mattered.

I woke up this morning in a familiar bed, but as the $1 draft and Baby Bomb stupor of the night before began to evaporate, nothing looked the same as it had before the sun came up.

I am not that girl anymore.

Realizing that was a revelation; a relief.

However, with that epiphany comes a new a puzzle. That girl got lost somewhere along the way- perhaps on some trans-Atlantic flight, or in a blazing orange desert, or in the arms of a man from a faraway place; perhaps she disintegrated into the lingering laugh of brown-skinned teenagers carelessly hurling clumsy sexual advances in her direction in a crowded bazaar, or in the backseat of a rickety black cab streaking through narrow openings on an overflowing freeway. But if she and I are not the same person anymore, the disturbing question remains: who am I now?

I'll let you know when I figure it out.


So I’ll give you a piece of myself
That was never mine to give
One day someone will come calling for it;
Something that belonged more to him
Than ever it had to me
But it hasn’t happened yet
He’s not come, but here you are
So take it.

Hot and sticky, and too green
This is the world that I knew
But I don’t belong here
Not any more than I belonged on
That hardwood floor
Cold and bare though I was wrapped
In a strange embrace
That used to mean home.

Worry and doubt and suffocating fear
Consume me. But come sixteen
And I cant afford the luxury
Of fretfulness, sleepless nights
Only lights and sounds and
The crush of humanity
Where survival and smoke
Is the only answer.

He’s wrong but he’s there
Another needless tumble,
Another silent morning.
I could cry but rather
I just wrap myself around
this breathing thing; because in
the strangeness and the loneliness,
he’s wrong but he’s alive.