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.