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.