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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,
next-time-I'll-do-betters.
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.

Parable

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 hysterically...as 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.



P.S.

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.

Sawyer

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.

Spectre

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.

Two

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.

What would you do if you knew you could not fail?

It's one of those cliche quips that gets tossed around on people's Facebook profiles all the time- and yes, I'm speaking from experience. It's been on my favorite quotes since my freshman year of college. And every now and then, I sit down by myself, no distractions, and ask myself that question. I don't get up again until I've answered honestly. What do I want to do in life so badly that I get teary-eyed-excited just thinking about it? What do I want to do, but am too afraid to try? Why am I afraid? When you think about it, those are all scary questions, and, I've found, they get scarier as you get older. When you're 18, the answers tend to be simple: settle down, get a job, get married, have kids. But the longer I've been in college, on my own, learning, and growing, my answers have changed radically. Now I'm in my twenties and my answers get me excited, but they're also terrifying.

What would you do if you knew you could not fail?

I would finish my last two years at AUC, graduate with my degree in Middle East Studies and a minor in Rhetoric with an emphasis on nonfiction writing; join the Peace Corps, where I would serve others while being dirty, growing dreadlocks, earning my Masters in Peace and Conflict Resolution, and gathering tons of experiences to write about; I would really pursue travel writing as a career with no fallback plan, and eventually get my own show on the Travel Channel where I would travel around the Middle East and Africa and shed real light on the beautiful cultures there that are all too often misunderstood.

Sounds like a tall order, right? But WHY can't it happen? What makes me believe that I want more out of life than I actually deserve? Unforunately, I haven't figured out the answer to that last question yet. Because until I decide that I won't -that I CAN'T- fail, none of my dreams are going to come true. So I'm spending these last couple weeks in America at home in Huntsville and doing some soul searching; some "working on myself", if you will. Because other people believing in me isn't enough anymore. It's time I became my own biggest fan.

What about you, readers? What would YOU do if you knew you could not fail?

Just a Boy, Just an Ordinary Boy




That Boy. You know the one. We all have one. For me, That Boy is my high school sweetheart. I cheated on my first real boyfriend with That Boy and we have been on again-off again-will we-won't we-we're perfect for each other-we're totally wrong together ever since then: six years of a complicated, nearly indecipherable web spanning between Old Friends and Current Lovers. He's That Boy who I swore I would marry one day. He taught me, for better or worse, things about myself and about life that felt so good and hurt so badly I thought I would burst. He taught me how to lust, how to really love someone, how to be hurt and betrayed and how to sob into my knees for two weeks straight. He taught me how to move on and to forgive but never forget.




Winter 2005: Norfolk, VA

Every summer, That Boy and I somehow ignite again. I keep coming back to that spot in my life where we made sense, and we try the relationship on again, one year older, adults, different now. Things are always different. Last summer, after our relationship simmering into ash for so long, years of indifference and "what if"s spontaneously combusted and suddenly I realized we were in a healthy adult relationship.

Spring 2006: Norfolk, VA

In the summer, no matter how we've changed or grown apart in the previous year, we're somehow reduced to our high school selves: naive, impatient teenagers who were little else but crazy about each other. Last summer we made the difficult decision to not attempt to continue our relationship when I moved to Egypt, and parted ways.

Spring 2007: Virginia Beach, VA


Now here I am, back in my high school town, just back from a trip to DC with That Boy to see my friends from Egypt. But something has changed. Unlike every other summer, this summer I couldn't go back to who I was in high school. I couldn't make myself be that girl that he loved anymore. I don't know that girl anymore. I hardly remember her. I hardly remember anything before the sand and the noise and the endless deserts and blazing heat. I don't remember the girl who loved That Boy, either. She seems like a stranger to me. Because, for the first time in my life, looking at him, I don't feel lust or passion or an intense need to be near him and hold his hand and to love him and be loved by him. I only feel a smoldering, comfortable affection: he is an old friend who I used to be in love with- nothing more, nothing less.

Senior Prom 2007: Fort Monroe, VA


I don't understand him or his goals, and he doesn't understand me or my life or why I have made the decisions I have. With nothing in common but our shared history and a deep, newly-platonic love for one another, it is finally clear: it will never be just he and I. The future for the two of us is something we never could have anticipated, but it finally feels right. That Boy is like a relic from a past that doesn't seem like my own in its distance from my present.

Summer 2009: Atlanta, GA
As always, That Boy taught me something new this summer without even realizing it. He's shown me that sometimes letting go feels good, and falling out of love with someone isn't necessarily a bad thing- sometimes it's healthy and necessary. You can't move on until you know for sure that That One Person really isn't the one for you. I finally know....this boy isn't going to be The Boy. That Boy is finally just that...just a boy.
Summer 2010: Washington, DC

Ma Salaama, Masr

Tonight I leave CAI at 4:15am to fly back to Atlanta via Amsterdam.
I'll be in the States until July 28, and I get back to Cairo on July 30 [ughhh].

In the meantime, I'll be bouncing around all over the States.
I'll be between our two houses in Atlanta and Huntsville, and on June 18 my mom and I are flying to Las Vegas to celebrate my 21st birthday with 4 days [in the desert; cuz yall know how much I love it, haha] of alcohol, fun, and sun [mumkin gambling and a few hookers too? Just kidding, I think.].
Then I'll be heading to Virginia Beach the last week of June, and up to DC for an AUC reunion with Katie, Becky, Megan, Will, and Jake. After that, I'll go back to Virginia Beach for a few more days of fun with my best friends from high school/the high school sweetheart.
Finally, at some point in July Dooler and I will be meeting up and going down to New Orleans to see Frankie and Peter and hang out on Bourbon Street [legally!].

It's gonna be a great vacation, and I'm so excited to see my family and friends in America.

I'll be updating every now and then, but probably not as much as I do while I'm in Egypt. Of course, I'll catalog all the culture shock that comes with going back to such a liberal place from Egypt. But other than that, you can expect a lot of silence.

I'll see y'all in July, readers! Have a great summer!

History repeats itself

It's kitten season in Cairo.

Cairo is a city of 20 million people and 20 billion cats [I counted]. When I decided to get an apartment with a backyard, I unknowingly adopted a family of cats as well.

There is a humorous assortment of abandoned furniture in my backyard, and the other day I was sitting in my living room, smoking no doubt, when I heard frenzied mewing coming from outside. I rushed to my backyard, and discovered a litter of kittens milling about the base of an old dresser on unsteady little legs. Since then, I have been the vigilant protector of the kittens, most notably acting like a ridiculous white girl waving my arms and yelling to keep away the evil, gigantic, kitty-hungry crows who live in my backyard tree and frequently inch up to the kittens trying to look inconspicuous and un-hungry, much like a stranger in a car offering a 3rd grader candy.

Last night I decided the best way to send off my two best friends would be to have a small get-together at my apartment. After a few frenzied shopping trips, four of us arrived in Dokki piled down with beer, Kahlua, ID vodka, milk, and aluminum foil [or "silver paper"..Egyptians get straight to the point when they name things, don't they?] for my brand new shisha. As soon as we opened my apartment door, I heard an urgent mewing from the backyard. Called again to serve and protect, I grabbed Megan and sprinted to the backyard. But this kitten was not in the dresser, or anywhere around in it. After playing a bizarre interspecies game of Marco Polo, I was led to an old cardboard box on the opposite side of the yard from the dresser. Inside was a tiny white kitten, one of the adorable babies I have spent the past week protecting. In true Cairo alley-cat style, it was dirty beyond belief, so much so that its little eyes were crusted shut. Because I have little to no self control, I scooped the pathetic little thing up.

Upon further investigation, it seemed the [utterly negligent] mother cat and the other kittens had disappeared from the backyard completely.

So the little kitten set adrift in a tattered box came inside. We named him Moses.

After spending several hours musing over how he possibly could have gotten into the box by himself, trying to keep him warm, and Googling furiously, we realized we had no way to keep Moses alive. Kitten formula? Pshh. This is Cairo. Eyedropper? You might as well ask for a teleporter [which, coincidentally, I have asked for on several occasions since moving to this side of the world..] in this city. Tears sprang to my eyes as the realization dawned on me: Moses was a runt, and had been abandoned, and there was nothing I could do to help him. Sipping on my beer and taking a drag of shisha, I tried desperately to think of something we could do with him.

Just as all hope seemed lost, a scratching on my living room door alerted us to the reappearrance of Mother Cat, who will henceforth be known as Dina Lohan. Quickly, we raced outside with Moses and pushed him under the dresser, crossed our fingers, said a prayer that Dina Lohan would take him back, and went back to sipping our beer with our ears open should tiny Moses call us.

Two hours later, his tiny mews pulled me from my shisha stupor and all four of us bolted to the back door. There was Moses, toddling around by the dresser with his sister as Dina Lohan looked on from a few feet away. Relief flooded me, and I sent up a silent "thank you" to Bast [Google it; this is Egypt, people] and returned to the living room with my beer.

"Well, this was certainly not on par with our wild nights in Cairo..taking care of an orphaned kitten is hardly the appropriate sendoff, is it?" Said Megan as I hugged her goodbye for what turned out to be one of the last times as she picked up her things to go shortly thereafter.

Wiping away a tear and hugging the other two hard, holding on to the smell and the feel of them for as long as I could before they vanished into the dusty night, I looked at Megan and let out a tiny laugh, "It's the most appropriate ending there's ever been. Moses came to lead you out of Egypt."



It's very nice to just wander
The camel route to Iraq
It's oh so nice to just wander
But it's so much nicer, yes it's oh so nice, to wander back


Dooler, Frankie, Megan, and Becky, I love you all. Thank you for being such strong, inspiring women, each in your own way, and helping me to grow and learn so much this year. Know you always have a home in Cairo.




[Welcome to all of my new readers who found their way here via Yes and Yes!]

this may hurt a little, but it's something you'll get used to..

The Cairene night is warm and stagnant, the air so still that my cigarette smoke hangs lazily above my head, a cyanide halo. Suddenly I feel as if I am drowning in it, the smoke engulfing me until it mingles with the tears fogging my vision. What is this feeling?



Everything is about to change. The people who helped me to make Cairo home have all left, and I'm still here...still sitting in my backyard, listening to the dogs fighting in the distance, wondering about the Egypt I will come back to in July. I miss you all already. I miss Port Said, and Turkey, and everything in between.

And then, a breeze blows through the night and carries the smoke away, along with everything I have known about life here. Suddenly everything is new.

!...أخيرا

I just turned in my last paper for Advanced Scientific Thinking. This means...

Spring Semester 2010
=
Dunzo!


Reflections on my first year at AUC

I smoked too much.
I drank too much.
I didn't cry enough, even when I needed to.
I didn't find my Prince Charming- American, Egyptian, Mauritian, Honduran, Indian, or otherwise.
[...but really, who's looking?]
I didn't study enough.

But I did gallop an Arabian stallion fast as it could go through the desert, in the shadow of the pyramids at sunrise.
I held a lion cub.
I went to Dahab three times.
I went to Alexandria, Hurghada, Bahariyya, and Port Said.
I spent Thanksgiving in Jordan and Easter in Turkey.
I learned how to navigate my way through Cairo.
I camped in the desert.
I camped on my bedroom floor.
I mummified a chicken.
I caught swine flu from an ostrich.
I went spelunking in a pyramid that dates back to before Christ.
I saw my first Egyptian obelisk...in Istanbul.
I had my heart broken by someone I thought would be in my life forever.
I fell in love.
I fell out of love.
I missed home.
I stoped missing home.
I started missing home again.
..and then, Egypt became home.
I stayed out dancing until sunrise- alot.
I got alcohol poisoning.
I swam in the Red, Dead, and Med[iterranean] Seas.
I rode lots of camels, a stallion, a donkey..and a giant tortoise.
I met people who would give me the shirts off their backs.
I made friends who will be in my [proverbial] wedding.
I realized I'm stronger than I ever knew.
I learned a little about history, a little about literature, a lot about bureaucracy, and even more about myself.
I was changed.
I will never be the same.

Thanks, AUC. It's been an amazing, incredible, heartbreaking, eye-opening year.

Two more years of this? I think I can live with that.

So I guess this is growing up

I looked at her face flickering on my computer screen and laughed as I said,
"Are you crazy? There's no one I would rather go with than you."
And as the words escaped my lips, I realized that I actually meant them.

I say this with love, I swear.

To all of my 20-something friends who just can't seem to stop getting married/impregnated:

Guys, I love you, and I suppose I'm happy for you, and I will pretend that the rock on your finger/parasite growing in your uterus is the best thing ever, but to be honest...

....you're all really creeping me out.

Love,
Danielle

Maturity

Ok, I officially feel like a grownup.

Today, I negotiated and signed a lease in Arabic for my first grown-up apartment in Cairo. That's right- after a year of no booze and no boys allowed, I am finally moving into a real apartment!

I found a great place in Dokki: a groundfloor 2 bedroom/1 bath flat with a private entrance and a private backyard. It has brand new furniture, a brand new oven and washer, AC, and satellite TV. It also has a full dining room set, is pet friendly, and the master bedroom is huuuuge. It's also a two-minute walk from a Metro station which will take me to the AUC bus stop in Tahrir, or a fifteen-minute walk from the Dokki bus stop.

I feel so grown up, and so in awe that my parents trusted me to find and negotiate on an apartment halfway across the world. I am so blessed that they are so supportive of me, to the point of rushing around last-minute making sure the funds were in order for the downpayment from half a world away. I am absolutely dumbstruck that I was somehow lucky enough to be born into such an amazingly supportive family. Also, my friends Becky and Megan were great about going apartment hunting with me, and being my voices of reason when I got too swept up in the excitement of a new place.

My landlady doesnt speak much English, but I'm trying to see that as an added bonus: by having to communicate with her on a semi-regular basis, I will be improving my Arabic since I don't have room in my class schedule to take Arabic classes anymore.

Have I mentioned I did this all after not sleeping for 30+ hours? I hate to sing my own praises, but I'm really proud of myself.

Anyway, I move in tomorrow at 3pm and will probably spend the rest of the weekend getting settled. And if you were wondering, yes, this means I will be spending most of the summer in Cairo. At the end of May I will go home and stay for about 5 weeks [my mom is taking me to Vegas to celebrate my 21st birthday!] before I head back to the sandbox in the first half of July.

Phew! That's a lot of news! Yall take some time to digest that, readers, while I start packing up my dorm room [I might actually miss it a little] and then promptly pass out.

Pictures to come soon!

salaam wa hubb,

Danielle

ps- completely unrelated, but i officially must have these leggings.
http://www.veinticuatrodientes.com/mediaspalabras02.html

Here's to Pretending

So I'll pretend that I was made for you
while we're here.
I am so tangled.
And the sun will come up and
I will take the stairs instead.
Step into the street where
the sun brings all my mistakes
into blazing, brilliant clarity.
And I will swear to change, to be
different.
But I won't.
I will do it again next time-
Answer when I shouldn't; go when
I know better.
And slowly, slowly you will chip
away at me, until there is nothing
left to give, and nothing
left to say. But I'll
still answer,
still go;
Because what more is there to do?
I am so bored, and we are so tangled
Here, where there is nothing but
breath and dark and feigned affection.
You'll never give me what I need
But I'll take what you have.
My face is raw from scrubbing
the makeup from last night.
As if that erases things.
I know better, but I'll pretend.

Update

I'm back from Sinai and Turkey and it was amazing. Will try to get back to regular posting ASAP, but school is crazy right now, and the Cairo nightlife is constantly calling my name. In the meantime, hopefully this will tide you over:





An Apology

Sorry for not writing anything in a while, guys. Unfortunately, I've been very ill for the past few weeks with a parasitic infection [the joys of living in Africa?] that just won't clear up, no matter what I do. I won't go into the details, but it is unpleasant, to say the least.

Aside from that, I'm just finishing up some papers and other miscellaneous schoolwork before spring break starts on Thursday! If you're interested, here's the itinerary for the next two weeks:

March 25: Night bus to Dahab
March 26, 27, 28: Lay on beach, drink beer, get tan, be a hippie.
March 28: Night bus back to Cairo.
March 29: Rest all day. Evening flight to Istanbul.
March 29-April 4: Adventures in Istanbul, Bursa, Princes Islands, etc.
April 4: Fly back to Cairo.
April 6: Class resumes [boo].

I'll be sure to take lots of pictures!

سلام و حب

Neofeminism, in regard to relationships

DISCLAIMER: This really has nothing to do with Egypt. I know this is supposed to be a travel blog, but it's become much for than that since I started it in the summer of 2008. If you don't give a damn about my relationships, or my beliefs, or anything other than interesting facts about the pyramids and the state of affairs in the Middle East, feel free so skip this post.

In case you don't know me, or haven't talked to me for more than ten minutes, I'm something of a feminist. Not so much an "I hate men, don't shave my legs, think Hooters is degrading, and never want to get married" feminist...rather than pointing out negative aspects, I would rather take a more ambitious approach. Girls rule [I'm a child of the Spice Girls generation]! Men and women are equal, and I will fight for women's rights to prove it. If women can use their bodies to exploit men's weaknesses, whether in Playboy, or James Bond, or Hooters, and they feel okay about that, more power to them! But all of that has nothing to do with the thought that occurred to me on the bus tonight.

In light of a recent failed romantic endeavor, which I spent nearly six months laying groundwork for, constantly flirting, hinting, and overall enjoying the slow, torturous chase, I came to a conclusion: As much as I enjoy pursuing men, as much fun as it is, no relationship which began with me initiating the chase has ever gone much of anywhere, been healthy or fulfilling. The problem therein is that I've always felt as if me choosing a man I know I must chase will prevent me from becoming some sort of a prize; if a man chases a woman, once he succeeds, hasn't she merely become something that he has won, thanks to his persistence and charm? Watching entirely too much Aladdin as a child [which probably contributed to my love of the Arab world, distorted as the facts in that movie are] taught me that I as a woman am "not a prize to be won". So, what goes wrong when I engage in the chase? What makes things go awry? The answer is simple..much the same as a woman who has been pursued feels when she finally acquieses to the persistent male, a man who has been pursued feels as if he has done you a favor in giving you a chance, and when things do not work out, the pursuer often bears the blame.

I am not referring to any one incident, but rather my collective romantic experience. But which is preferable? Feeling as if you are a trophy, or being treated by a man as if he had done you a favor? I'm not entirely sure. But if you look at my personal history, all my great loves have been men that pursued me, and all of my biggest failures have resulted from me taking on the traditional role of a man- pursuing, initiating the chase. As much as I hate to admit it, maybe some of my forward-thinking ideas about women being able to assume men's roles do not, can not, apply to every aspect of life. I am not entirely comfortable with this idea. In fact, it is making my head spin. Perhaps it's just me. At any rate, we'll return to this subject when I've thought more on it.

The Burden of Knowledge, The Bliss of Relief

I wrote this a while ago, but I thought about it again today, and thought I would share it with you guys.





This morning, I got to talk to my friend Weaver. I’ve known him since I was 16; he worked at the Army recruiting station next to the tanning bed where I worked. He would come in and visit us at night, and sometimes I would whine enough and he would vacuum for me. I haven’t seen him since right after my 17th birthday. He’s in Iraq right now. This morning, I finally asked when he was coming home. When he said it was less than a month, I felt a feeling wash over me…something like….relief.

I grew up with what my dad calls the “burden of knowledge”. He was in the Army until I was 18, and in those 18 years, we moved well over a dozen times and I attended about as many schools. I always adjusted faster and fit in better at schools on post, where I was surrounded with others who shared the burden of knowledge. To this day, I have a hard time identifying with my peers who weren’t raised the way I was.

The burden of knowledge is that concept that most people choose to ignore; but that we couldn’t: the knowledge that there is pure evil in the world; the acknowledgement of those hovering on the periphery of humanity, the rim of sanity, who are constantly threatening our safety, our freedom. The “burden of knowledge” is found in those who grow up knowing this, coming face to face with it everyday, as we watch our neighbors, fathers, brothers don their ACUs and board Chinooks bound for the other side of the globe, unsure every time of whether or not they will come back. We grew up knowing that true peace is not necessarily a realistic concept, because men are inherently wicked, as evidenced each time that black government vehicle pulled up to a neighbor’s house, uniformed men handing an envelope over to a sobbing newly-widowed Army wife, a woman who, like any other, wanted nothing more than a happily ever after with the man of her dreams. I felt that reality every time I heard about a helicopter crash on the news growing up, felt the familiar clenching in my throat, the sinking in my stomach, hoping it wasn’t my father, but knowing that if it wasn’t my father, it was someone else’s. I know it every time I see my ex-boyfriend, and see the dog tags dangling from his neck, knowing that they’re little more than aids in death, one destined to become a toe tag, the other heading to his commander, and eventually to his parents. I know it every time my brother and I put joking wagers on who will be injured in the Middle East first; me, working in an embassy, or him, flying helicopters above the chaos. I know it because really, we aren’t joking.

I grew up on various forts, posts, and bases, surrounded by walls and fences, kept segregated from a society I didn’t understand, and who in turn didn’t understand me or the way I was raised. And I wish I could describe it to you and do it justice. It's amazing to me, to think that I grew up on a street surrounded by America's heroes. I could be surrounded by the biggest movie stars in the world and it wouldn't come close to the sheer GREATNESS that I was so blessed to be around every day of my life. I am so grateful for that. To lay your life on the line for people you don't even know--that is noble. To go into a war that you might not believe in or agree with but still be willing to die to do your duty....that is loyalty.

Because it's sick when Lindsay Lohan is on the front page of the newspaper...and a story about soldier deaths in Iraq is on the back page, at the bottom, in a teeny little box that no one will pay any attention to. Because once a certain amount of soldiers die, 2 or 3 more...so what? Right? WRONG. Because any one of those men could be my father. Or my brother, my ex-boyfriend, neighbor. Or someone I know. Someone my parents know. But does anyone care??? No. Why don't you care when these are the men who are keeping you free? You should care wholeheartedly. You should be GRATEFUL for that.

I can't describe what it was like when my dad retired. Looking around at that ceremony, at all those soldiers in their ACUs, and looking at the American flag, and thinking, this is what my father chose to do with his life, was one of the most amazing feelings in the world…and suddenly I found myself sobbing uncontrollably; I can’t imagine what it was like for him, the loss he must have felt leaving what has been his home since he was a teenager..I felt the loss, I felt the pride, I felt more things than I could keep track of. He has made a real difference in the world. Bono makes a ruckus about everything..but has he DONE anything??? NO. I'm so proud. I have been an Army daughter, sister, and girlfriend. The sad part is I don't think half of you could understand that. I have faith in this government. And I have faith in our military. I'm so thankful that that was my way of life, despite all the hard parts of it. Despite watching my daddy go away to war. Despite having to move every year. It was worth it. It's worth it to know what it costs to be free. It's worth it to know with every fiber of my being that I am lucky. That I am truly, truly blessed to have grown up like I have. I wish that all of you reading this could know that feeling. Because it is incredible. There's so much ceremony and tradition and prestige in every part of that life.

The last time I felt relief like I did talking to Weaver this morning, I was standing in an air hanger in Fort Bragg, North Carolina. I had been there for hours, shaking wildly. It had been a year since I had seen my dad, and I was angry. I had just finished my freshman year of high school. He had moved my family to North Carolina, and left for Iraq days later. He had missed my first day of high school and innumerable other important things. For the entire time he was gone, I couldn’t bring myself to talk to him on the phone. And then there I was, standing there, surrounded by hundreds of other family members and friends, waiting. The plane landed. The troops marched in, and there he was, in front. My mom and I were standing literally ten feet from him, but there was a ceremony to finish before the troops were dismissed, and he was in charge of it. I could have reached out and touched him. But as always, duty came first. I can’t imagine what it was like for him, seeing us, but not being able to go to us right away, after so long. As he was giving orders, I heard his voice crack and falter, and suddenly, I was shaking and crying in a way I can’t remember ever doing before or since then. The next thing I knew, I was squished in between my parents, everyone crying and kissing, and I felt it. Relief. It washed over me over and over again. It was over.

That feeling, knowing what he had done, what he had been through…that relief makes the burden of knowledge worth it. The pride makes every sleepless night, every missed birthday, every tearful Thanksgiving prayer worth it.

The burden of knowledge is nothing compared to the bliss of relief.

To Kill 2 Birds with One Bottle of Vodka..

Sometimes you just have to laugh about it...because my life is so absolutely ridiculous.

There's nothing to do but laugh. Sometimes it's only to keep from crying, but after that, it's because I realize that my "problems" are silly, and I should really have my own reality show.

My heart is broken, but I'm pretty sure it'll get better.

But for now, I will lick my wounds and wait out this hangover.

Chins up, little ones!

"Hey! Guys! No touching the ancient inscriptions!"

On the 20th, I took a field trip with my Egyptology class to Dahshur, Memphis, and Saqqara to play in the pyramids. Of course, spending half of my weekend on a class trip was not ideal for me, but I suppose if you have to, spending Saturday spelunking in pyramids dating back thousands of years before Christ isn't terrible. First, we visited the Red [or Northern] Pyramid at Dahshur. We rode an hour into the palm tree forests, through rural villages, and finally out into the desert to one of the lesser visited pyramids, which was blissfully almost tourist-free. Looming in the smog, one could just decipher the famous Bent Pyramid on the horizon. We hiked about a third of the way up the Red Pyramid, built by King Sneferu. Standing at the entrance and already panting, I cursed my cigarettes and chugged water. It would only get worse.
Upon entering the pyramid, one begins a gradual descent through a passage roughly three feet high and three feet wide, at a 40 degree angle. This causes one to crouch in a terribly uncomfortably position and shimmy down a ladder-like ramp into the hot, dank dark for hundreds of feet. I was not prepared for the heat. It has nearly 100 degrees outside in the desert, but for some reason I expected the tomb to be chilly. Instead, it was hot and humid and I was pouring sweat. The smell that greets you as you step out of the passage into the corbelled receiving room is terrible: something like rubbing alcohol and mothballs; it is certainly not a stretch to believe that a dead body lay here and decomposed for thousands of years. In addition, as one might expect, it was difficult to breathe. Beyond the smell and the humidity, the shaft we had just come down was the only source of air, and my breathing was labored. Panicking slightly, I made my way to the tomb, but there was not much to see; much of it had been torn apart my earlier explorers who were sure there was more to the tomb than what met the eye..but they were wrong, and sadly, desecrated the ancient tomb for no reason.
I never imagined the scorching desert heat would be a welcome sensation, but after emerging from the heat of the pyramid, it was a relief. My legs were already on fire from the descent and corresponding climb back to the world of the living. Grateful for rudimentary air conditioning, I boarded the bus for Memphis. Honestly, Memphis, once the capital of ancient Egypt, was not very interesting. We toured a statuary garden and then headed to Saqqara. There we toured a museum, where I had my first run-in with a mummy [I know, I know, I've been in Egypt since August and just now saw my first mummy..it's a shame]. Afterwards, we toured the Step Pyramid complex. Built for King Djoser, it was the world's first pyramid, and though not a "true" pyramid, was also the first man-made structure constructed completely of stone. Finally, we continued to a small, collapsed pyramid, which we entered. This was not as taxing as the Red Pyramid. The descent was shorter and the passage larger, and there is believed to be another air source lying undiscovered somewhere within the tomb, so it is cooler and easier to breathe. The draw to this otherwise unremarkable, and even pitiful looking, pyramid, is the hieroglyphs which are still beautifully intact on the walls and ceilings of the tombs. It is literally awe-inspiring to look at something long-dead hands etched into solid stone to act as a resurrection machine for a king. Stars dot the ceilings, etched there to recreate the night sky to which the king would ascend to become an "imperishable star" and also to denote royalty.
Finally, we entered the mastaba of Mereuka, filled with beautiful carvings depicting every aspect of life, and beautiful Nile scenes, where hippos and crocodiles battled and men fished and sailed. In some places, the original paint used by the ancients was still visible. The urge to touch something so old and enduring was almost overwhelming, but I controlled myself. Others didn't, and our teacher was not thrilled.
"Hey! Guys! No touching the ancient inscriptions!"

Sweaty, smelly, and covered in dust older than Christ [...literally], I got off the bus in Tahrir Square, where Becky and Megan were waiting on me to go to Khan al-Khalili, our favorite market, and also the site of a terrorist attack last year. We had a special errand to run. You see, we have a ghost. His name is Gus, and he comes to visit every other day or so. He knocks things down, breaks things, pulls my posters off of the wall, and hangs out with Becky when I'm not around. No, I'm not kidding. So there I am, disgusting and all Lara Croft:Tomb Raider-ed out, in Khan al-Khalili shopping for the biggest evil eye I can find to keep the ghost out of our room. Really> This is my life.

Only in Egypt. Oh, Masr.

Updated Book List

I just wanted to add two more books to my list of those which have been particularly influential in my life. You should read them.

-The Lemon Tree
I hate to admit, before I read this book I had only a superficial understanding of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It is so difficult for anyone to take a neutral stance on this issue, and Sandy Tolan gives the best effort I can imagine. He doesn't take sides or convey biases, but rather leaves the reader to draw their own conclusions instead of leading them down a path of his own personal feelings. It acheives two ends: it humanizes the conflict through the story of a Palestinian longing for the right to return home and a first generation Israeli girl who moved into his "abandoned" house, but it also explains all of the political posturing that took place, giving thorough accounts of various resolutions that were passed and individual conflicts that occurred.

-The Memoirs of Cleopatra
I chose this book for my flight back to America in December because it was 1500 pages and I figured if anything could sustain me through 24+ hours of travel, 1500 pages could. Granted, I didn't touch it on my flight because I was too deep into my complimentary wine-induced stupor and subsequent passing out, but I did turn to it when I started to get homesick for Egypt at my parent's home in Huntsville. The end result is that I am now completely obsessed with Cleopatra. She was a mother, a lover, a wife, a queen, a daughter, a warrior, and so much more. She is a strong, independent woman whose sole goal in life is to live on her own terms and preserve her country above all else. She handled difficult situations with grace and poise, and her creative strategies always gave her an edge. Even in her suicide, she was creative and fearless, outwitting the conquering Caesar Augustus. She always tried to take the high road, choosing dignity and honor above courses of action which would be easier for her own person. Even after growing up surrounded by deceit and treachery, she maintained a high moral character til the very end. Aside from that, she bedded two of the most powerful men in history: Julius Caesar and Marc Antony. A real go-getter, that Cleopatra.

So, that's that, my dears. If you have any extra time, both of these books are incredible. Plus, for all of my friends back home, an understanding of conflict in the modern Middle East or of ancient Egypt could prove enlightening. Just sayin. Enjoy.

Constructions of Masculinity in the Modern Middle East in Comparison to the Western World

When someone refers to a man who is inherently masculine, what vignette is conjured in your mind? If you are from the West, particularly America, chances are that a physically fit, morally sound, silent-but-strong, somewhat reserved man with few effeminate characteristics springs to mind. For me, I picture my father: a soldier, solidly built, reserved, quiet, yet inherently intimidating; a silent enforcer, well groomed without particular attention to sartorial pursuits, who engages in "manly" activities: physical fitness, a steady job, fixing things, being the head of the household and ruling with a firm yet gentle hand. Of course, as American society evolves and changes, this concept of masculinity changes- for some, masculinity means a rustic-type man who hunts, drives a truck, and enjoys hands-on tasks. For others, the word can evoke a Wall Street banker: successful, busy, who wears a smart suit and carries a briefcase as he earns the salary which will provide for his children, wife, and any mistresses he may have, a la Tiger Woods. While the details are interchangeable, depending upon one's social status, income, and geographical location (one is much more likely to associate owning a rifle with "manliness" in the southeast United States than someone from the West Coast, who may tend to associate a Bluetooth headset and a Rolex wristwatch more with the masculine identity).
However, after having spent the better part of the past few years in the Arab world- Morocco and Egypt with excursions to Jordan and, very shortly, Turkey- my idea of masculinity is slowly changing. Some of the most innately masculine men I have encountered here share very few of the attributes I once considered essential to the characteristic repertoire of a male. Masculinity here means something altogether different than in the Western world. In America, would a man with oil-drenched hair, a prominently displayed pot belly, chest hair spilling out of his open button-down, tighter-than-necessary pants, a unibrow, glittering jewelry- especially in the form of rings, shiny black dress shoes, gingerly smoking a water pipe be considered the archetype of a "man's man"? Probably not. In fact, most of the men I have recently found myself drawn to here in Egypt would be considered "metrosexual" at best in the context of American society. They belly-dance in public; sing at the top of their lungs; hug, kiss, and even hold hands with other men in public; they have no problem straddling another man, very closely, in close crotch-to-butt proximity, on the back of a dilapidated motorcycle weaving through Cairo traffic. But somehow, these are some of the most inherently "manly" men I have ever encountered. How is this? I have been pondering this question for quite some time, and I'm not sure I fully understand it yet.
For one, these men are, cliché as it may sound, completely comfortable with their sexuality. Of course, this is the way in which they have been raised, but beyond that, they exude such an innate bravado that posturing or acting "macho" is rendered completely unnecessary. There is no societal taboo on holding another man close in an embrace. This could be for several reasons:

1. Such close public contact between men and women is prohibited- since this kind of public affection is forbidden, or haram, who, then, can you share your affections with? Should one live a solitary public existence, completely devoid of physical contact or expressions of warmth? Of course not! There's Mohammed, the shopkeeper; and Mostafa, the doorman, and Ali, the friend of your cousin's wife who you met once, at their wedding.

2. The post-colonial remnant of European occupation- France and the British Empire at one time or another controlled large portions of North Africa and the Middle East. When a people are colonized, it is inevitable they will adopt some of the customs of their colonizers. This comfort with what could, in other spheres, be construed as evidence of sexual deviance from the norm, may perhaps be a mannerism introduced into the Middle Eastern social scene by their European conquerors. Which raises another point: if the Middle East is (mistakenly in large part, might I add) considered archaic, backwards, and stagnant socially, politically, and economically, why do they retain European traits, which are considered too "progressive" or "liberal" for many in the United States? But I digress..

3. The alleged "lack of homosexuals" in the Middle East- if there are no homosexuals in Muslim countries as the governments claim, there is no fear in being accused of being gay ifyou act on familiar terms with another man in public. After all, the posturing that occurs in America between men is restricted largely due to a machismo desire to avoid being called "gay" or having their sexuality, their most prized possession, questioned in any way. Without that threat, why not express your fondness for your friend Ahmed in the public domain?

But without regard as to the reason for this social anomaly, how is it possible that even to me, a woman raised in the US and filled with American concepts of sexuality and the like, these Arab men can still be so completely manly, sexy, and desirable? Perhaps because, as a student of Middle Eastern culture, I am aware that while a man may exhibit some less-than-manly behaviors in the public sphere, one can be absolutely certain that he (assuming he is of an earlier generation than my own) is nothing short of paradigm of masculine strength and vigor at home, where most Arab men rule their homes with an iron fist: unquestioned, immovable, the be-all end-all of their family's world. They expect their wives to submit and cater to their needs, their children to obey without question, and their servants to perform their duties perfectly and without prompting. Also, the abundance of testosterone, as evidenced in the staggering amount of body hair, can't hurt their case, can it?

I'm sure to revisit this topic, because it is endlessly fascinating to me, and as my familiarity with Arab society grows, I'm sure my perception of this phenomenon will continue to evolve.

What are your thoughts, my dears?

An pseudo-intellectual off-color joke about colonialism and the Holocaust

Two Jews are sitting together reading their newspapers in 1940s Germany. One looks to the other, and says, "You know, I'm getting really fed up with our leader."

The other looks back, horrified, and says, "You can't talk about Hitler that way, or we'll both end up in a concentration camp!"

The first, confused, replies, "Hitler? Who's talking about Hitler? I'm talking about Moses! If it weren't for him leading us out of Egypt, we'd all have British passports!"

Twofer

This weekend was ridiculous. I figured moving to the city would make going out and having fun in Cairo easier, and boy...I was right.



Thursday night, me, Becky, Megan, Romani, Joe and his friend Remy from Bahrain decided to go out and have some fun. We left the apartment a little after midnight and headed to our favorite bar, Hurriya, where they have 8 LE Stellas, and proceeded to get drunk. When [our dear friend and beer-tender] Milad finally kicked us out around 3am, shisha at Pottery Cafe was the obvious next step. Fast forward to 6:30am, when we finally found our way back to the dorms and promptly ordered KFC. We crawled into bed around 8am and slept Friday away.



Exhausted from the previous night's adventure, we opted to stay in Friday night. After a quick trip to Metro to stock up on popcorn and other necessities, we spent the better part of the next 3 hours watching Romani [the Resident Director here in Zamalek] attempt to hook up a laptop to the big screen in the lobby so we could watch Sweeney Todd. Rarely have I been prouder of a boy than I was when he finally succeeded in syncing the two up. We watched Sweeney Todd, ordered some Papa John's, then watched some bizarre music videos until 4am. Did you know Akon did a collaboration in Arabic? Hello, awesomeness.


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BYPeGvYEJpI
We slept again all day Saturday, and were planning on getting a good night's rest Saturday night since we have school Sunday. But alas, it was not to be. Frankie invited us out for a felucca ride with a few friends, and, thinking it would be an hourlong thing, we said sure. We showed up in Garden City at 9:30 and ended up boarding a yacht with about 30 random people- friends of friends of friends. Lots of alcohol-fueled ridiculousness ensued. Finally, around 3am, I looked around and thought, it's 3am. I have a bus to catch at 9:30. It's a school night. And I'm on a yacht in the middle of the f------ Nile drinking Stella and chainsmoking. WHAT AM I DOING WITH MY LIFE?!
Having a damn good time, apparently.
My life is ridiculous.
The bad news from this weekend: my beloved 12 year old golden retriever Cody died on Saturday. Living in the alternate universe I inhabit here, I don't think it's totally hit me yet. He was a dear, dear friend. We had had him since I was in the 4th grade and he and I went through so much together. There's no telling how many hundreds of tears I sobbed into his fur over the years. I will miss him terribly.
Another recent development: I have become really, ridiculously insecure, seemingly overnight. I have always been a fairly confident person. But suddenly, I am so consumed with self-doubt it's nearly debilitating. Some of this has to do with the Murphy debacle [recap: Murphy was one of my three best friends in college. My sophomore year, we briefly dated. We decided it was a bad idea and I feel head over heels for my other best friend and his roommate, Kenny. Murphy had a hard time dealing with this and cut me out of his life. We reconciled days before I moved to Egypt and everything was great. Once I got back to the States in December, however, he decided once again that we shouldn't be friends, and told me, much to my surprise that we "haven't been friends for nearly a year". That was news to me.]. Because I was so taken aback by this, and because I thought things between us were fine, I am suddenly completely unsure of all of my relationships. I am constantly wondering if my friends are really my friends, or if they feel obligated to hang out with me. Even when I'm hanging out with my best friends here, I'm wondering if they would rather be somewhere else, if they like me at all. Let it be known: I have amazing friends. Becky and Megan picked me up from the airport when I flew back in to Cairo, Frankie brought me my favorite cigarettes all the way from Amsterdam, and Sachi, Joe, and Romani are the first people to come to my aid if I need anything, day or night. I can feel my insecurities straining my friendships, but a large part of me keeps nagging...if Murphy, your nearest and dearest, felt that way about you and you had no clue, what makes you think these people really like you? It's terrible, and I hate the needy, clingy person it's made me.
Other insecurities have arisen too. It is no secret that I like to have fun; I love nothing more than to waste away and evening drinking, being vulgar, talking about football, shaking my ass, and being silly. However, it seems people have begun to equate this light-heartedness for light-headedness. Two of my best friends routinely have intellectual conversations about the Middle East right in front of me, and blatanly leave me out of them, and I've begun to feel like maybe they think that because I'm not as serious as they are, perhaps I'm not as smart as they are, either. It's really started to get to me, but instead of piping up and defending my intellect, I've started doing something I've never, ever done before: wonder if maybe I am stupid. I mean sure, I know about a lot of things, but I'm not an expert in any one topic. It's a bizarre feeling; after being so confident in myself for so long, suddenly starting to wonder what my worth is on so many different levels. It's frustrating.
Ugh. Enough of my pity party. This is a travel blog, not a therapist's office.
If you need a lift after that depressing entry, here's the most bizarre music video EVER for your enjoyment:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kypb12ezLVE
Love.