Home, let me go Home

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How could anyone ever understand these mascara scars?

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

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

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

Meet the three most important people in my life

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

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

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

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

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

The Crossroad

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

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

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

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

Walk Like an Egyptian

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

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

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

Car horns have become my proverbial ringing bell.

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