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.

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