I’ve been away from blogging for far too long. I have felt distracted and fuzzy-minded. Yearning in a city of 20 million people and a great deal of concrete to be surrounded by beauty, quiet, and to feel a connection with nature. Envisioning myself walking through a forest and breathing fresh air is a favorite meditation these days. Sometimes people assume that in the Foreign Service you lead a glamorous life, that it must always feel like being on vacation. There are those moments when it feels too good to be true, but honestly, most days, we are living our daily lives as we would in our “home countries,” trying to create a home and life that feels stable, healthy, and joyful.
My blog is my space for musings, art, and writing that is an extension of me. But I have felt overly-extended these last few months, so I cocooned inside and wished for inspiration to show up. It took a while.
What have I been up to all of this time? With Ramsay (now age 5) not enrolled in school for the first few months upon arrival to Egypt, we stayed busy learning, exploring, unpacking, and searching for new friends and kid-friendly places. Our household shipments arrived just in time to put up a Christmas tree, and Santa arrived on a camel, which was exciting, but it simply didn’t feel like home here. So, we focused on nesting, getting to know our new city, and traveling the country. Days began to run together.
When Ramsay started school in January, the homesickness kicked in for me. Things I missed most: my mother. My really good friends. Living in a house. Having a garden. Sidewalks for Ramsay to safely walk and ride his bike. Trees and rainy days. Wearing spaghetti-strapped tops and shorts and skirts in the heat without glares, without feeling naked.
I spent a lot of time making our home a safe, cozy refuge from the world outside and tried to find a space in the house that felt like my own. I kept pushing furniture around from room to room and eventually brought a big desk downstairs and put it right in front of the living room window.
To Brad’s credit, he never once groused about this. As I unpacked boxes from Swaziland that we hadn’t seen in over a year, I pored over favorite art books and reread underlined quotes of novels. I enjoyed rereading journals and letters, seeking inspiration. Missing human connection, I jumped into yoga and school activities, attended coffees and embassy functions, seeking my tribe. I met some great women and started a book club. I filled my days in lots of ways, and although creativity was slowly stirring, I did not write. I simply digested what I was experiencing.
When faced with “How do you like Egypt?” I automatically respond with positive (and true) remarks, such as how I love the vibrant markets, the Islamic Art, and that Egyptians are extremely kind. To illustrate my point, I tell the story about going by boat to the Nubian Village in Aswan for lunch with Ramsay, but all of the restaurants were closed. Before we knew it, we were invited to eat with a family on their houseboat, where they cooked us chicken on a hot plate and made a yogurt cucumber salad on the side. That really happened.
Egypt is full of wonders and delights: rich history, mythology, temples and pyramids, camel rides, shows with whirling dervishes and soul-stirring drums, Red Sea snorkeling, and cruising on the Nile, to name just a few. But, in reality, it has been a long adjustment period for me. I do like it here, but it hasn’t been without struggle.
Adjusting to life here has also included sandpaper scratchiness in my throat upon wakening, related to weather forecasts that just read: DUST. Heat that sits on you like a heavy blanket and creates a sort of stupor. Morning pollution that clouds the ground white and causes illnesses from poor air quality. Being gripped by fear, grief, and disturbing emotions surrounding tragic, senseless terrorist bombings. And learning what it means to live under a dictatorship and in a country that has declared a State of Emergency (heightened security measures, martial law, internet restriction and censorship). Additionally, being American in a predominantly Muslim country, under an administration that makes it sound like Americans don’t like them, has contributed to a big dip in morale that ripples through our community. Long commutes in traffic and the gravity of Brad’s work here have also been hard.
I’ve been told in a joking manner by expats that instead of NEA standing for “Near Eastern Affairs” job assignments that NEA really stands for Never. Ever. Again. I laughed, but I don’t dislike it here. It just takes a lot of positives to counteract the tallies in the “cons” column some days. For a while, I was waking up, putting on invisible armor to steel myself for the crunch of chaotic traffic, noise, and pollution just to walk Ramsay to school. My personal mantra became “more wonder, less warrior.”
I try to remember that I’m a temporary Cairene, and concentrate on embracing what Egypt has to offer while we are here. There are many magical days. Cairo is like a city of secret doors. Streets in our neighborhood don’t have long rows of shops, but rather hidden little nooks that are nestled inside of apartment buildings. Post-revolution, facades are a bit run down with hanging wires, cracks on walls and sidewalks, but you can see that Cairo was once a stunning beauty in a bygone era. Her shy charm emerges in flourishes of architectural details on lamp posts, balcony railings, and wrought iron gates that cast pretty shadows across the terracotta tiles of foyers. Heaps of popping magenta, orange, and yellow bougainvillea cascade over walls, and shady palm trees line the roads.
Waking at sunrise to the muezzin reciting their soulful call to prayer. Feeling the spaciousness of standing inside of Ibn Tulum Mosque. Climbing a tower and seeing sweeping views of Cairo, its roof line full of pretty spires and minarets.
And there are those perfect evenings, sailing on a felucca with a gentle breeze at twilight, when the moon looks like a circle of frosted glass hanging in the woolen-lavender sky. The honey-rose sun sinks behind the horizon and twinkling city lights begin to shimmer. And we feel deeply grateful to have this experience.
Until next time, be safe, be well, and much abundance,