Tuesday, May 22, 2007

How do I say good-bye?

I sit here on my bed, surrounded by an emptiness that penetrates deeper than blank walls and bare nightstands and gaping closets that once brimmed (and overflowed) with my possessions, lonely hangers than cluster together in my wardrobe, nustling against each other for comfort. And there is the giant pile of cotton in the corner, resembling nothing so much as an ethereal cloud resting briefly in my chamber before drifting off again on its periapatetic ramblings, not unlike me, I guess. It is rather fun to cast myself into the cotton, swirl around, and feel like an angel floating through the heavens, to burrow inside its soft whiteness and and feel, for a moment, ensconced in the sky's embrace, in the all-encompassing omnipotence of the earth, like this time will never stop and freeze in an argent dream, but that, too dissolves, and the cozy shelter becomes itchy, and stifling, and I crawl out of it back into reality, into my current void between this life and the next.
As you can gather, I've begun packing my things into boxes and suitcases; on Saturday night, I looked around the apartment, saw that my two roommates were already preparing to leave (Frannie beating us all with her efficiency), and tore my room apart. Down came the tapestry above my bed, no more horses galloping through my dreams, unstuffed went the poofs (and thus came out the cotton), collapsed went the camel table, wrapped up went the numerous vases in bundles of clothing and scarves, out came the clothing from the closet to be strewen across the bed...in short, my room soon became a diaster area in every sense of the word, with my belonging scattered and forgotten and tossed indiscriminately into piles to be sorted out later. It hit me then, it really smashed me up against my wall, dragged its fingernails across my face, battered my chest, and screeched at me, You're leaving! This place no longer belongs to you! Some new student would inhabit it next year, with a spate of Gulfies (and their prostitutes) in the interim, and a new set of decorations and friends and long nights of studying would occupy the room, I will leave no mark on the place (well, not entirely true, I accidently took a chunk of the wall with me when I pulled down my picture, but, yani...)
How will we be remembered? Perhaps that is not the apt question, for it is a bit narcisstic, but I wonder sometimes if our presence here meant anything to anyone but ourselves. Did we really accomplish anything worthwhile? I travelled extensively, did things I never envisioned myself doing (but regret nothing), made friendships that will, insha'allah, with the help of Facebook and Skype, last beyond the borders of Egypt, but these things only matter within the context of ourselves. What about to the rest of Cairo, even to just ALI? Will we be another year of students to pass through the doors, just as obnoxious and audacious as before? Probably, I realize, yet I also tell myself that, at least in some small part, contributed to Egyptian society. We made friends, some of us volunteered with refugees and other aspects, we made connections with shopkeepers and businessmen throughout the city, we tried to project an image of America that is one of tolerance and an eagerness to understand, and we certainly spent alot of money here to boost the local enconomy, of course, or at least I keep telling myself ;-)
Yet most of my friends are far more excited to leave than I could think possible, counting down the days till they return to the States without a glance backward, and a good riddance to boot. Ahhh, Egypt, how can one country get some many things wrong, yet still be this entity wondrous to behold and easy to reject? When most of the men spend their days smoking sheesha and sipping teas in cafes, employed in menial labor, when the women marry at an early age, when the education systems leaves children illiterate and unable to speak their own language properly, when 'democratic' elections are held that find the main opposition opponent thrown in jail, when the nation has been in a state of emergency for the last 25 years, when a cloud of smog forever rests over the city and the taxis just pump out more poison every day, when billionaires drive their Mercedes past penurious beggars and folk living on less than a dollar a day, when men walking down the streets stare at every foreign woman and issue catcalls and other indecencies...When a nation like this continues to receive more U.S. AID than any in the world, barring Israel, yet nothing seems to change? Izay?! I could become bellicose, and rant against the regime, against the society, against all the usual cuprits, Islam, the decadent West, my favorite, the Zionist enemy (from which all problems extend), but why? I'll work myself into a conniption, like I'm beginning to, I won't get any homework done for awhile, and I'll be right back where I started when I calm down. I don't have any answers for these problems, I'm not clever or witty or intelligent enough to engineer them, but to me, right now, it's enough to observe them, to know they exist, and to support those who actually have the power the change it. Or, who will claim to during the next elections...
Ah, the cynic I've become, that cold, heartless shell (right, mom?) whose emotional range is so increasingly attenuated...But there are a few things that still affect me, some things you all need not know, and some things that I have no problem promulgating to the world. And one of those is horseback riding in the desert! Last Tuesday, as you may recall, I presented my article on virginity and chastity to my rather small class (alot of people skipped that morning, perhaps the subject hit too close to home for some?) and then later in the day attended the ALI end of the year party, which had me about rolling in the aisles at the hilarity of some of the acts, particularly one of the resident Norwiegans ode to ALI in Arabic with rhyming lyrics perfectly summing up our year in Cairo. Most of my friends were there, which made the experience all the more enjoyable, but I skedaddled right after to rush home and bring Kelly, Akshaya's guest, to the pyramids for a sunset ride. It was so theraputic, to get on the back of Warda (rose) ride through the twisting alleyways and emerge into the Sahara and let my steed loose at a breathtaking gallop over the sands to a hill where the pyramids slid into view one more time. Kelly, too, I think, enjoyed herself thoroughly, and I lived a bit vicariously through her awe at the experience, sipping tea with a Bedouin, racing over dunes, and snapping pictures of us beaming in the soft sunset light with the timeless monuments setting a breathtaking backdrop. I again used the stables I've used previously, and the owner, Samir, was so welcoming and glad to see me, apologizing again for that rather nightmarish night ride (where I was thrown twice) 5 months ago and calling the stable my own. After that, in the cab ride back to town, I received an invite to do dinner with Colin, his brother, Chris, who just got into town, and David at Taboulah's, so I walked in the door to my apartment, found David waiting, washed my hands and squirted on a bit of perfume (to disguise the eau de horse that usually lingers after a ride), and hurried to Garden City for an excellent dinner.
Wednesday was fairly ordinary, with the usual homework and preparations for the next day's hefla (party), with the intention of trashing the place just before we all leave. Not really, of course, but it made for a good party headline on the Facebook invite (oh how high-tech the world has become!). Ok, and here I have a confession to make, and Mom will probably cringe as she and you all read this, wondering what kind of character little Wawa has become...but it's too good to exclude from the blog. We don't get alot of new magazines in Cairo, so we tend to reread the three Cosmos that date back to the fall with an unfounded relish, especially as, truly, we don't read them much back in the States. Starved for Western culture, I guess...But, anyway, one of them features 101 Hot New Sex Tricks, most of them fairly explicit and racy, our favorite is Reverse Cowgirl Style, but, once again, irrelavant. So, Wed. night, I had the pages copied, and then Frannie and I meticulously cut them out, pasted them on index cards, and decorated each one with hearts, color, and carefully selected words from each trick.
The next morning, I received a call around 7 (I usually get up around that time, so no worries) from my own guests, Laura and Meghan, who had returned from Dahab, so I let them into the apartment, did a bit of homework, went to classes, met Akshaya at the Embassy over lunch to collect her prized cases of American beer (remember I don't/can't drink beer, but boys seem to prefer it), somehow managed to cart two 24-bottle cases of it back to Zamalek, set up the apartment as a bower of flowers (the flower guy and I now have a good repetoire) and candles, returned to school, and then headed to Dokki to meet up with Colin and his brother at Ali's shop (the guy who showed my family and Colin's around Cairo), who greeted me with effusive warmth, and then the three of us headed out to Giza again, to D & I Stables, for another ride. I rode Warda again, the rambuctious filly who always liked to lead (she and I get along well ;-), so the moment we reached the desert, she and I took off at a gallop with the rest trailing behind, until the horses had worked off enough energy to allow a leisurely stroll to gawk at the scenery. It was Chris' first time at the pyramids, and in the Sahara itself, so we raced around the area for 1.5 hours, the girls always sprinting to the front, as Chris commented when we finally dismonted, you sure like to be first, don't you? What can I say...
Then, I had to hurry back to Zamalek, shower and beautify as much as one can, being me, and with a time limit, admire the work Frannie and my friends had done with the apartment, and help up put the finishing touches. You see, those notecards we had decorated the previous night were now plastered around the living room and dining room for full perusal from our guests, and our welcome sign on the door was the articles' title page. Wink ;-) Another success, in my opinion, with alot of ALI showing up throughout the night, with a great soundsystem blaring alternately Arabic pop and American hip-hop, with scintiallating conversations revolving around our theme, and just what did that card mean, and with the usual culprits of random people showing up at the door, trying to roll joints on the aircon, and being forcibly removed by our trusty ALI guys. Egyptians they were, btw, not that it matters...
My guests were wonderful in helping with the late night clean-up around 4, especially as they had to catch a bus at 8 the next morning, although I finally roused myself for good (after saying good-bye to them in the morning hours) around 12 to sqeegie the floor and complete the inevitable clean-up. Then, I was contacted by Chris, whom Colin had deserted for Alex, for advice on visiting the pyramids, which I supplied, and then later in the day we visited the Khan for some wandering and culture-absorbtion. Lesley and I had our final date for sangria at Pub 28 that evening, where we mainly gossiped, reminsced, and doughtily ignored the occasional stares around us.
And Saturday, Saturday, apart from a respite from chaos of the previous few days, was the day I tore my life apart one item at a time, defiantly tossing it onto the bed until, weary with the barrenness of it all, conceded defeat for the night and left a ruinous room in my wake. Unfortunately, my poor guests did not particularly care for Marsa Matrouh (it may have been the sandstorm or harassent), and returned on Saturday a bit dejected, but were of course welcomed back sympathetically to our ever-open apartment.
I went to campus a bit early on Sunday to drop off some books, well, alot of books, to ship home before the commencement of classes, but learned that the most efficient way to ship them was by Fed Ex 25 kg boxes, and I had only 18 kg of books. So, I pondered the preponderance of this pronouncement during media class, decided it was most beneficial to skip Amia, run home, throw many of my belongings into a suitcase and several other containers, return to school, lug that load up a staircase (I was huffing quite a lot by the time I ascended to the top), return to the mailroom, and ship two large 25 kg boxes home. Whew! It was a bit distressing to see so many of my things sealed in cardboard boxes and relinquished to the Fed Ex man, to know that they were no longer a symbol of my current life in Egypt, but now merely souvenirs of a time past, but I had to let them go, of course, life must move on.
For the past few days, I've been sorting the rest of my considerable accumulation of stuff into suitcases and praying they will be enough to transport it back to the States...But today, after classes, I visited the Khan again with Chris and Colin, relaxed for awhile in Cafe Fushawi's in relative serenity, separated from them and purchased a number, well, a large number, of mother-of-pearl boxes from the man I bought my own two from, finding his store again through the ambling and twisted back alleys of the Khan. Ahh, more stuff, but they're so beautiful! And then four of us-myself, David, Colin, and Chris-had dinner at Abu El-Sid's in Zamalek, experienced the unique level of service there (i.e., I'll serve you when I want to), was, according to the boys, mocked by the staff, and then returned home, bidding the two brothers good-bye as they fly to Uganda tonight, ostensibly to do homework, but, in actuality, to write this and chat with mom. But, no classes till 12:30 tomorrow, so I can be up late ;-)0 The next time you hear from me, I will likely be finished with classes and somewhere in Dahab, tanned, convalescing, and wondering where life will lead me next...To an amazing year at ALI!