Wednesday, September 24, 2003

fancy notions

i'm leaving for pakistan tonight! should be interesting- i've been to india a lot but never to pakistan and i keep hearing how different the two are... i can't really imagine how, but i guess by tomorrow i can see for myself.

i'm excited for a new trip- i just wish there was a faster way to get there!

anyway, i'll still have internet access but i doubt i'll do much blogging- so expect a long post when i get home...

in the meantime, i'll leave you with some old writing- the summer is definitely over now, the first day of fall has come and passed, and in light of that, i'll post some things i wrote at the beginning and end of summer, 2001:

Monday, June 25, 2001
"what a ride":

i leave egypt in two days. a day and a half in fact. it just seems like such a ridiculously short amount of time to have left when i've been here for ten months. it's been almost a year here and i mean it when i say it feels like years and yet it feels like minutes.

i remember the second day we were here, feriha and i looked at each other in wonder and and exclaimed over the fact that we had been here for 24 hours already ;) so much has happened since then. so so much. i do admit that after graduating from college i was sort of looking for a way to prolong life in a bubble. putting off the real real world. and yet one month into this adventure i knew that this was nothing like the bubble i was trying to recreate. i also knew that given the chance, i would never go back to my college days. and trust me, this came as quite a satisfying revelation, since after graduation i never thought i'd have any fun ever again ;) at the end of the mass email i wrote after graduation, i said, "i'll end this
email here. at the beginning." i was hoping that would turn out to be true. it has.

i've just had such an amazing time here- even when it's been boring, even
when i've visited and revisited the same old haunts, there's been a part of
me which was still taken by the romantic side of it all. little things remind me that the life i'm taking for granted is actually quite a different one from the one i lead in chicago. how did i get so used to all of this? the chaos, the dust, the sunsets, the men in gallabeyas riding bicycles (never would have thought it was possible to ride a bike in a flowy garment. now i've seen it all, i guess.) the other day i was on the bus and i looked at the stacks of water bottles under the front seat. i remember asking, months ago, what the bottles were for, and thinking it was strange to worry about a bus overheating in november. it's not that this culture is more amazing than others, or more rich, or even more frustrating. it's simply that it is very very foreign- or was- and it's completely become my norm. i knew rationally that that would probably happen but now, in the sentimental looking back we're all doing at this point, i'm realizing more and more how acclimated i've become.

before i came to egypt (last summer- a million years ago), my cousin lamia
wrote me a letter, saying "happy birthday zahra! don't you think going to cairo is a gift?" i read that again as i was taking things off my walls and i thought, "why, yes!" *smile*

it's interesting, i came here as a teacher but in my time here i'm certain i've learned far more than i've taught. some days there is just so much to take in.

anyway. this email is becoming a goodbye instead of a see-you-later. i'll be back in cairo in two months and i'm sure the summer will end too soon. next year i'll be living in sahfayeen (amusingly enough this means Journalists' City- perfect ;) here's my info for next year- i expect smail.

#8 Nabawi el-Mohandes Street
Apartment 904
Agouza District,
Cairo, Egypt

phone: 302-8217

see many of you soon. i'm coming home! ;)

Monday, September 2, 2001
"bouncing back":

well. somehow two months have slipped by and i leave today for cairo. it's been the perfect summer, one during which i've seen everyone and done everything. ventured out on many quests, great and not-so-great... i'm pretty content. and, as usual, a bit pensive ;)

it seems this summer that i've heard the question "how was cairo?" almost every day. and in explaining the experience over and over, to so many different people, i've surprised myself with what aspects i emphasize. coming back to chicago for the summer was a test for me in many ways- while in cairo i knew i was changing, putting aside certain values and adopting new ones. shifting my sense of self as well as my expectations of those around me. achieving with every passing moment more of a feeling of normalcy, that this foreign egypt-world was in fact a place i could feel
completely at home.

that said, i arrived back home this summer and as expected, i instantly switched back to america-mode. as expected, i once again spoke to strangers without thinking even for a moment about language barriers. as expected, i was given personal space by passing strangers, but i was on my own if i needed help from one of them. as expected, i remembered all the rules and nothing was different here at all.

what i didn't expect, however, was that i would be different. of course i knew i was different in cairo, that, as i mentioned, i was changing, but i truly believed that i was learning how to live a new life, unrelated to the one i lead in chicago. i thought that the cultures were so different that naturally my life right now would be a dichotomy- my egyptian frame of reference versus my american one. i didn't quite realize that some of the lessons i've learned in cairo would carry over. of course the small things
come to mind; shopping in the mall here was overwhelming for me. in cairo the last thing you have is an endless amount of choices- the stores here seemed vast and full and i got agitated quickly. i wanted it simpler. also, the azaan came from the computer instead of from four or five different mosques. but beyond the small things, apparently some of my ideas about my life in general, and not just in egypt versus in america, have changed.

it's far too simple to say that i have two sets of values, one for my life here and one for my life there. rather i think they're meshing together; it's not good enough for me to have gone to egypt and seen the world through that lens, and then come back here and forget all of it because it doesn't apply. as i write this i realize that it does apply. all of it applies. if i think about it i can see that in everyting i've done or seen this summer, i've retained the notion that there are other ways to do things. i can't help but think, quite often, that whatever i'm caught up in is not all that there is. for lack of a better word, i feel lighter. as though i can take things seriously without being crushed under their weight. i went to egypt in search of perspective and fortunately i've gained some. perhaps i haven't verbalized it sufficiently but, as usual, i begin these mass emails with some sort of plan and it always ends up more stream-of-consciousness than organized.

at any rate, analysis aside, egypt is calling me back.

stay tuned ;)

Wednesday, September 17, 2003

i was talking to a friend last night- one of those people i feel so ultra-comfortable with that i can just phone up and be guaranteed hours of conversation. it was fun- but it kind of made me miss college, where i had that all the time. i feel really hungry for that now. and kind of bored.

a writer who never writes

yesterday and today i've been making up press kits for a CARE event- a photo exhibition on HIV/AIDS, taking place in columbus- it's a great event. check it out on the careusa website if you have a chance. anyway, fillling out the fedex labels before sending them out, i was in agony- i am not used to writing that much anymore. i realized how much of what i write is on the computer. and i haven't even been journalling much lately, since most of my journalling usually takes place on trips. even in school, i don't think i took many notes- the last time i remember having finger cramps was in math class, and it's been a little while since i've taken a math class...

i feel like our kids are going to have atrocious handwriting, because they'll never use it! what we all need are more pen-pals.

Wednesday, September 10, 2003


so ramazaan is in a month and a half. that was fast.

i was thinking- four ramazaans ago, i was waking up for sihori with feriha and eating froot loops in our apartment at loyola. three ramazaans ago, i was waking up for sihori with feriha and eating cheese sandwiches with tea in our apartment in cairo. two ramazaans ago, it was omelettes with meryam (cairo again).

last ramazaan, on lalitul qadr, i was sitting next to sakina the entire night- we were both wedged between our moms and we passed the night whispering between namaz and following the duas in our moms' kitaabs. she kept an eye on the time since she had a watch, and would wink at me when, every two or three hours, i would steal away to chat with t on the stairs for a minute or two.

and here we are. september 10th. this week it'll be a month- pretty soon it'll be a year. then it'll be ten. we'll all look at pictures we've taken with her, and she'll look exactly the way we remember her. and yet we ourselves will look different; no eternal youth for us.

i guess people as beautiful as her never should grow old.