Freeing the Falcon

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Isn’t it strange how sometimes an image or idea appears suddenly with frequency? The falcon-like Gods of Ra and Horus are prominent in hieroglyphics and Egyptian art, but during our two years here, only rarely have we spotted live falcons.

I was on the phone in the kitchen when movement behind the dusty windows across the street caught my eye. Through the dirty glass, the fluttering wings looked like an apparition of an angel. I summoned Brad to look, too. It was a Falcon trapped in a stairwell.

“Can you save him?”

Sensing this was important to me, he went next door and climbed several stifling hot flights of steps of this dirty, old building. Inside, the only sounds were scratching and flapping. The falcon was distressed, hot and exhausted, its mouth open and panting as it bashed into walls.

Carefully navigating around this wildly moving bird, wary of its talons, Brad dislodged a window and clapped to guide the desperate falcon toward the exit. It powerfully swooped down through the open window across from me. The bird circled the roof twice as if to orient itself, then soared into the sky, its strong wings spread wide, escaping to freedom.

This seemed like a perfect ending for our time in Egypt, to send this gorgeous creature with such powerful symbolism back out into Cairo to continue its adventure.

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

– Mary Oliver, poet

Spring Celebration

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It’s the time of “Sham El Nassim” Spring Celebration in Egypt. We head to the Red Sea. Travel outside of Cairo for a change of scenery and respite from routine feels like renewal. Peeling off the dust and doldrums leaves more space for the joyful me to expand. Smiles come more easily, as does laughing. Our senses of humor reemerge, dancing around our conversation like playful children.

Away from home, guilt falls away. Time here isn’t being wasted, but savored; lounging in clean sheets, unhurried breakfast, a second cup of coffee sipped slowly. Five star treatment as a beach attendant cleans my sunglasses and brings a fresh cooler of ice while I read under the shade of an umbrella.

There is an air of celebration, corks popping, giggles bubbling to the surface, relaxed expressions. Seafood dinners with candles and moonlight. The children delight in seeing fish, the thrill of a boat ride, splashing water, leaping off the dock’s end, chasing hermit crabs, and crafting sand castles. You can see their bright, swirling imaginations in motion.

As I float on my back in the sea, time deliciously lingers. Clouds glide by and birds sail on air currents. Gratitude for the warmth of the sun. The scent of sunscreen and tequila.The sexiness of bare shoulders and legs, more skin exposed. Loose clothing and languid posture. A mixture of salt and red wine on our lips. The contentment on our faces, connected to a universal flow and feeling centered. The mind grind has been replaced by deep peace, the soul replenished. I long to stay here like this, happy and carefree.

Is it time to pack already? Time flies. Time flees. We toast at dinner, glasses clinking, “ to a wonderful vacation.” I swallow this joy and peace deep into my belly and carry it home with us, nestled inside for tapping into for when we need it most.

The Spice of Life

One of my favorite outings in Cairo is to immerse myself in the vibrancy of the Khan El Khalili Bazaar. In the early fourteenth century, sultans and merchants established an economic trade area for their spices, silks, and camels. The market still exists today and you can buy most anything there, from a fresh chicken to a patchwork quilt, a piece of handcrafted wooden furniture, an oud instrument, or a scarab amulet. And of course, spices!

As we approach “the Khan,” Gothic Islamic mosque spires pierce the horizon. An array of structures forms a craggy roofline like something a child would draw. Inside its walls, the open-air marketplace is a labyrinth of cobblestone alleys; some quiet, narrow, and full of dusty antiques and vintage treasures. Other passages are a wonderful circus of riotous color and sound.

Vendor stalls are stacked like doll-house rooms laden with shiny gold statues, jewel-toned galabeya dresses and brightly patterned textiles. Pedestrians instinctively make way for delivery mopeds, carts selling roasted sweet potatoes, and donkeys pulling wagons with fruits and vegetables piled high. Cyclists expertly weave between obstacles with large trays of soft, round pillows of baladi bread balanced on their head.

Once you walk a while, camouflaged architectural details emerge: faded signs with subtle, flowing Arabic script, scrolling wrought-iron gates, and decorative mashrabiya latticework on second story balconies. Carefully placed stones line artful archways that frame beautifully carved doors.

Shoppers without an objective can become overwhelmed. There are blank books embossed by hand with gold-leaf initials and delicately carved tables painstakingly inlaid with mother of pearl marquetry. Silver jewelry with inspired designs entices you to buy more earrings and bracelets than any one person could wear. Canvas bags overflow with aromatic spices of anise and cinnamon. Shelves of hand-blown glass bottles in pastel hues stand patiently, waiting to hold scented oils you can mix like an alchemist: sandalwood, patchouli, opium, amber, or frankincense that “induce relaxation, affection, sleep, or healing.”

As daylight fades, market browsers flag down taxis and the ambience shifts. A mysticism appears in the shadows. Streets glow with glittering lanterns and illuminated coffee houses. Shops gleam with brass and copper wares. Locals in cafes shuffle in their wooden chairs, huddling around tiny tables, engaging in lively conversation over shisha and mint tea. 

“As the sky prepares to settle its tired, aching feet into the night’s velvet slippers,
I settle into my armchair, soaking the teabag of my thoughts into warm liquidy stars.”

         -Indian poet, Sanober Khan

May you embrace the spice of life,

Tracy

The Missing Bottle of Glow-ness

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Hello and Happy New Year!

After lovely holidays with friends and family, I reflect with gratitude that 2017 came to a close surrounded by loved ones. In my journal, I like the newness of writing 2 0 1 8 and its round number as I pen the date.

I daydream about possibilities as the months lay before me, waiting to be filled and experienced. I silently promise myself to make the most of the next four and half months. In June, Ramsay finishes Kindergarten and we enter the Foreign Service vortex of changing countries, schools and houses. The place we will land, however, has not yet revealed to us.

As a planner, this is hard for me, the not knowing. The waiting. The wondering and blind trust in the universe. Will our new assignment be somewhere wonderful? Will we be safe? Which hemisphere and will we need cold weather clothes? Will our living space be cozy and filled with natural light? Will Ramsay like his school? Brad, his job? Will I meet kindred spirits there?

My breath shortens when I think of how quickly the next few months will go, and how peace of mind is easily usurped by the sweeping changes heading our way.  So, I commit to living mindfully and with less resistance; letting life flow a little easier. To take it a day at a time and enjoy the magic in the little daily details, like this one:

Ramsay (almost six) was lost in his beautiful child’s imagination when he came up to me and excitedly exclaimed, “I found it! I found it, Mom, the Missing Bottle of Glow-ness!”  This paper with a small mountain on it made perfect sense to him (and likely had something to do with Star Wars), but metaphorically, I loved the idea of having a bottle of glow-ness; magical and luminous and full of possibility.

What are you looking forward to this year?

Wishing for you a bottle of glow-ness for your 2018, too.

Abundance and Light,

Tracy

 

 

Returning Home

Returning home pulls strongly on my heart strings. Hugging Mama, breathing in her perfume and the familiar powdery scent of her makeup. Her lilting voice, bright blue eyes, and favorite pink lipstick. I love being in her house, which stirs up nostalgia; the feathery-soft, weathered jade green sofa, the French twin beds from my childhood room, family portraits proudly keeping watch on the walls. How the sunlight falls into the dining room, highlighting the grain patterns on the wooden table, gleaming brightly as it reflects off of the silver bowl filled with red apples.

Portrait of MaryDana Knight (Mama)

There is comfort in knowing these spaces intimately, remembering the nooks where the dust hides, dents my toes recognize on the hardwood floors and which photos are attached to the fridge with yellowing tape because their magnets fell off long ago. I swelled with happiness, watching Mama read, bake, and play hide-and-seek with my little boy Ramsay, who tells me that he loves how Gran “always looks a little fancy!”

I happily embrace in bear hugs with childhood friends, family, and treasured college roommates. Sharing meals in the south are a feast, an elevated experience. My belly stays so full, I feel like I’ve been dining for days on a cruise ship. During communal lunches at our cousins’ house, we take leftovers out of the refrigerator and make sandwiches, share watermelon and pull up more chairs around the the kitchen island as neighbors and friends drop by. Dinner tables are elegantly set with candelabras, crystal, fine china and linens. There are prayers and toasts and clinking of glasses. Candles burn lower with flickering light as stories unfold and laughter tumbles out with ease.     

Having coffee with Mama one morning, she brought out a cardboard box of memories. We perused family photographs from her childhood in the 1930’s: weddings, parties, prom photos. I take in the era’s details: big bows in girls’ hair, strands of pearls, lace collars, tweed coats, gloves, and fur stoles. Mama’s high school photo. Her as a little girl in Cuba at the Morro Castle.  She opens a 1944 newspaper to the front page. Fine print in the corner reads “Price-Four Cents.” The bold headline: “Allies Repel Savage Germany Attacks near Rome.” What Mama remembers most, with the innocence of a child at the onset of the war, is that her favorite radio program did not come on. 

Grandmother Mary VanBuren

In a black and white image, my grandmother looks festive on the SS Constitution ocean liner in the 1950’s. Next, we find a May 1965 Italian poster advertising “La Boheme, Citta di Marsala” with Mama’s name listed next to “Mimi” the lead soprano. At the bottom of  the box is a faded,curling photo on which”1913″ is handwritten on the back. My great-grandfather waves to us from the back seat of a Cadillac with a running board. Such rich history, so many stories. I even discovered that Mama played tennis with John Wayne’s wife and Daddy had drinks with him during their stay in Columbus, Georgia for the filming of The Green Berets in 1968. Who knew?!

There were so many moments and scenes where I reminded myself to really be present, especially while cherishing the souls, sights, and freedoms we miss so dearly in Cairo.   

  • American flags flying proudly under clear blue skies.
  • Beautiful green fields, manicured farm land and dense pine tree forests.
  • The slowness of summer, long shadows and a sun that doesn’t set until long after cocktail hour.
  • Close to midnight while quiet in bed, hearing the soulful sounds of distant freight trains.
  • The unmistakable sweet southern scent of gardenias and magnolias.
  • Squawking mocking birds, striking blue jays and popping red cardinals.
  • Plump squirrels landing heavily on branches that bow below their weight.
  • Statuesque antebellum houses, brick roads, and historic cottages.
  • Inviting porches and beautiful gardens with topiaries and statues.
  • Catching rain drops, the joy of puddles and calm of watching water trickle down windows.
  • Children blowing bubbles, spinning and falling onto the soft grass with squeals of delight.
  • The wonder and enthusiasm of sparklers and fireworks.
  • Building Legos, sidewalk chalk art, finger painting and rinsing off with the garden hose.
  • A joyful cycle of walking in bare feet, swimming pool play with friends, holding baby kittens, petting dogs, Slip n’ slide fun and soccer with cousins.
  • Real belly laughs and shouts of fun discovery as the boys run with nets to catch glowing fireflies.
  • Ice cream cones, playgrounds, music-making and make-believe.
  • Evening walks around the neighborhood, sitting on benches and having heart-to-hearts.
  • “Why do we go around the outside of the restaurant and not go in?” asks our 5 year old, who has never before experienced a drive-through, and refers to Wendy’s as “Lucy’s” for the rest of the trip.
  • BBQ, BLT’s and pimento cheese sandwiches.
  • While devouring the delicious buttery, sharp cheddar taste of Mama’s cheese straws, I savor the little sesame seeds sticking to my lips.
  • Enjoying delicious, grilled steaks for lunch at the Big Eddy Club, an experience translated by Ramsay in his imagination as “eating camel at the Spaghetti Club.”
  • Lingering by the Chattahoochee River, watching the sun set over the water and wishing I could stop time for just a little while.

I’m always delightfully surprised to make discoveries in a city I know so well: markets with live music and art, coffee shops, ambient restaurants and bakeries that have popped up while I’ve been gone. Modern playgrounds featuring water fountains, bongo drums and enormous chimes. Making new friends with a kindred spirit in yoga.

Getting ready to leave town, the hardship of goodbyes stirs up a mix of emotions; sadness and gladness. Many of Mama’s friends, whom I’ve known my whole life, are getting older. Will they be there the next time I come home?  I will miss family gatherings, holidays, birthdays, funerals, and celebrating those important life moments with people dear to me. Pushing these thoughts away, I breathe deeply and fight the tears. Putting on my sunglasses as armor, I say silent prayers at Publix grocery store while buying snacks for the trip back.  On the return flight to Cairo, I recall memories of a peaceful afternoon outdoors with friends. Although the heat was thick and muggy, the deck umbrella provided welcome shade as we sipped our wine. The cicadas’ loud, alternating crescendos echoed in the gorgeous quiet as small scurrying animals rustled through fallen leaves. I stared into the depths of the trees, mesmerized by the forest’s varied shades of green. Beautiful light streamed through the canopy.

Ramsay taps my arm on the plane to show me clouds and says “Mama, you seem hippo-tized.” I smile at him.  A surge of emotions pulls on my heart strings, missing home already, but grateful for such wonderful memories.

Peace and Light,

Tracy