Current Location: Kampala, Uganda
Currently Listening: Vuma, Soweto Gospel Choir
Currently Reading: The Yacoubian Building, Alaa el-Aswany
No words are adequate or appropriate for describing my sadness at leaving Cairo. Yet, I feel that an Egyptian epilogue that addresses religion, the position of women, and my lessons from work will be incomplete without recounting why it is that I am already nostalgic and reminiscent.
I will forever associate Cairo with the sounds of Cat Power, Amr Diab, and Beirut. The city is steeped in the smell of apple sheesha and cigarettes and its palette lends itself to breathtaking sunrises and sunsets, the hues of which play on morning Nile fog, pollution or the rare clear blue skies. In my time there, I saw a desert sky and a moon rainbow. I fell asleep to the sound of guitars on floor mattresses shared with three other people – or 30 bedbugs. I traveled to 5 countries and experienced four different Egyptian microcosms. I drowned in koshary, basbousa and Nutella. I drove through the Lebanese mountains and saw my first coral reefs in the Blue Hole in the Red Sea. I lay on carpets talking about life till dawn, danced on the same carpet to Maps by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and ventured out to experience the wonder that is a Cairo Friday morning.
I learned to give everyone a chance, to engage with everyone, for people will surprise you. I encountered individuals, both complete strangers and new dear friends, whose kindness, consideration and appetite for life rekindled my (previously scarce) faith in humanity. I witnessed that people are capable of love and kindness alongside baffling cruelty and one needs an enormous capacity to listen, understand and forgive. I struggled with resisting complacency in the face of utter happiness and understood the importance of mentors and guiding stars that will constantly question and challenge you. I experienced the enormous rewards of living by Holly’s mantra “when you think you are about to say no to an experience because you are afraid or unsure or bored, just say yes” and Ericka’s motto “I have mostly regretted the things I have not done, not the things I have done.” Most of these lessons were courtesy of the remarkable individuals into whose lives I was all too fortunate to stumble – without them, their humor and their love, the Cairo of 18.5 million people would have felt empty.
And most of all, I developed attachments – to people, places and environments that unfolded me a little, caused me to see gradations within myself, provoked me to feel more sentiments more vividly and created the incomparable rush of feeling truly alive. For that, and for the extraordinary individuals who inspired it, I am eternally thankful.
I am typing this in Kampala, Uganda, where I am already experiencing the kindness and warmth of new strangers. The immigration officer flashed a grin upon hearing I will be here for 21 days and asked “21? Why only 21? You should stay forever.” Twelve hours into being here, I can see how one might want to do just that.