A Process of Unfurling

There are always those first night noises in a new home that take some getting used to, such as the loud clanging as cars drive over a loose metal grate outside our front door. Standing in the garden each morning, I relish the temperate climate and beautiful bird calls. I smile at the sight of fuchsia roses blooming, but feel isolated inside high walls and loops of wire studded with unfriendly razors. I try to remember that in our apartment in Cairo, I would long for a patch of grass, which we now have in Honduras.

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I see a crow flying overhead with a twig in its mouth, nesting just like me. It hasn’t sunk in yet that I live in Central America. I’m not a guest here. I’m a neighbor. This is all part of the transition, acclimating to the newness of everything, and practicing gratitude to buoy myself on challenging days. Making meals from small grocery runs and figuring out what’s near our neighborhood without a car. There must be 8 sets of keys for all our doors and I never seem to get it right the first time. Our alarm didn’t work upon arrival because “someone stole the fiber optic cables a few days beforehand.” My broken Spanish fails me, and I feel defeated, until I remember I have Google Translate on my phone, but then hear in my head the repeated advice:  “don’t take your phone out in public.” Sigh. One step forward, two steps back.

It’s overwhelming trying to ascertain what are the real dangers vs. those just perceived? Can I really not walk around the city during the day at all? “Absolutely not.” and “Yes…before dark, but no jewelry, no purse, and dress down” are the different answers. So, I make the choice to venture out on foot, albeit carefully, and buy myself flowers at a tiny roadside tienda 2 blocks from my house.  I return with a sense of victory. Is this ridiculous behavior on my part? Is my reaction? I don’t know yet, frankly.

It’s always about 3 weeks into these international moves that something shifts for the better. My mind that has been racing starts to slow down, my thoughts no longer like a skittish cat. We have found good coffee, sleep comes more easily, and we are feeling more centered. My body that has been on high alert and achy from moving furniture starts to relax. I can begin planning beyond today and a process of unfurling happens incrementally.

Happiness in life really is about the little things. I get out with some great women for lunch and we explore a lovely pueblo outside of town. I make my first Honduran purchase, a pretty hand-carved lantern made of clay and green marbles. It seems fitting, this gift of illumination for our home.

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On a second outing,  I venture downtown with another expat who has lived here a few years. I’m elated by the pretty architecture, careful landscaping of a gorgeous courtyard, the rich history, and colorful markets. Too, though, there is peeling paint, graffiti, areas of abject poverty, too much litter in the river, and the story of a bus driver who was shot for not paying taxes to the extortionists. Like any relationship, in committing to a new country, you get to know the good, bad, and the ugly. (I usually end up falling in love with these countries, even the tough ones).

The house is settling in a bit with the arrival of our art, books, photos, carpets, pillows and blankets, pots and pans and favorite coffee mugs. Things that make me feel more like me. Organically, we have all quietly created spaces in the house that are “ours.” An office for Brad, a toy room for Ramsay, a writing space for me. And today, I got out my fountain pen and my journal, a sure sign that everything else is okay and I have time now to sit and ponder, feeling fortunate to be a part of this very interesting life in this new place. The journey continues… oxoxo, Tracy

 

 

 

 

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

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