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Wednesday, December 7, 2011

My Way of saying goodbye



And now the end is here and so I face the final curtain

The sky was overcast, white clouds let a hint of the rays of the sun shine through but not enough. It threatened of rain but it never rains in Egypt and I was tired of empty threats. Right now there was only one real threat that I could pay attention to, a deadline loomed over me, huge and inescapable waiting and wanting. It was time to go home and the truth was  I wasn’t ready.

Monday 28th November the day I was slated to go back to Kenya. Its strange how one date can mean such different things depending on who its applied to. Egypt was having her first democratic elections begin on the same day, an important part of her ever changing identity as a country, as a dream,an adventure and an idea. To me this was also the day I was leaving, for 6 weeks I had known exactly how many days it would take to get me here, I knew it in weeks, I knew it in days and eventually I knew it in hours.

I travelled each and every highway and more much more than this I did it my way

6 weeks is not a long time. Its the blink of an eye, its a turn and a half of a calender its barely 2 days longer than that famous fast. But in that time you can adjust to something, your body, your mind, your spirit can change the way they are. Its enough time to fall in love and falling in love changes all of us fundamentally. I fell in love with Egypt unequivocally and unabashedly. I was entranced by nearly every facet of life there. I loved the metro subway system, in the beginning I would close my eyes as we went into a tunnel and just feel the train move thinking this must be how a bullet feels. The shaking as we sped, the crowdedness of the cars, the turbulence over the rails. The people standing up to let their elders have a seat.

In 6 weeks my Arabic underwent a dramatic improvement, I could ask directions to anywhere and actually understand what they were saying without having to rely solely on hand directions. I could bargain for minutes on the price of purchases, I could say hello and goodbye. I would walk into all those shisha bars my head already expectant of the head-rush and sit down and work determinedly towards the head-rush. Eyes fixed on a spot right in front of me lungs expanding-contracting, nose and mouth furiously working until the feeling hit. surrounded by the laughs, the jests and life told in Arabic This was my stop whenever I got lost and get lost I did numerous times, its a part of life in Cairo. You get lost in the streets, you get lost in the smells, the sights, the people and lose yourself in the city.

Regrets, I've had a few But then again, too few to mention.

In 6 weeks I worked. My intern-ship was with the Alliance for Arab Women an organisation fighting the slow but eternally meaningful battle for women's rights. The people I met at work were amazing , revolutionaries who had camped outside Tahrir for days and weeks while at the same time fielding practical obligations like who will take care of the baby? How will I complete this university essay? How do I wash this tear-gas out of my face?

And the people at the protests articulate, brave, confident, daring, energetic, furious, gracious, heroic, just, killed, learned, men, nuanced, optimistic, purposeful, quixotic, raging, strong, tall, unbowed, victorious, women, xenophillic, yelling, zealous.

The guilt I felt over my lack of political participation was never awakened anywhere as much as in Egypt where issues of abstinence from elections are moral questions deserving serious thought and searching of the soul. A young woman told me she didn't want to vote in the ongoing elections since they seemed to betray the spirit of the revolution and a vote here felt like a betrayal of all who died for the toppling of Mubarak. However if her and people like her didn't vote the extremists would have a firmer grasp on power. A lot of people don't vote because its choosing the lesser of two evils but usually its corruption and corruption, this was an issue of betrayal and extremism. The lesser of two evils is still lesser is what I learned from them. And that you don't have to wait for elections to make your voice heard.

For what is a man, what has he got? If not himself, then he has naught. To say the things he truly feels; And not the words of one who kneels.

In 6 weeks I travelled, I took a long standing train ride and saw the temples in Luxor and Aswan, I went to Alexandria and dipped my feet in the Medditerenean, I did the same in the Red Sea(I can't swim), I saw lake Nasser. And I travelled in other ways too. Inside of myself and in the conversations I had. Conversations about life, politics, economics, history, women all the things that matter most. Maybe this was just my impression but I felt that people who go to Egypt are in search of a quest for self. Its a country that's far away from anything you ever experienced, its the Middle East, its Africa, its westernised, its not. Its filled with history and myths and stories we grew up with, its exotic, its familiar. Its different. It allows you to be different, it lets your mind wander. So I travelled inside conversations with these people about the state of the world (its the same everywhere, everyone is scared they will not find a job, everyone feels they will have to do a masters degree.) many a night spent seeking the morning in quiet or rowdy conversation were my best trips.

I planned each charted course; Each careful step along the byway, But more, much more than this, I did it my way.

In the end a place is just a place. Its a collection of buildings, some old some new. Its a shock of culture, culture dripping from every building like clothes hang out of the windows to dry. Its a collection of air conditioning units and satellite dishes. Its a mishmash of modern architecture screaming efficiency in every straight line and memories of the past, a past filled with grandeur and statues so big you feel you have to bow to them. Even a place this beautiful, a place where you can see the sun sinking into the sand behind the pyramids and watch this take place in 5 minutes is just a place. A place is dead. Balzac once said about the desert that it is “God without mankind.” it is beautiful, sensual even but in the end a desert is dead.

The record shows I took the blows - And did it my way

The people matter most in any place, in any journey. The people I met in Egypt were amazing, I had friends I felt I had known for decades, we drank and partied together, we talked and walked and walked and walked. On my last day I tried to see them all but it wasn't possible instead I saw my flatmates, my amazing flatmates, they made life so much better for me in Cairo. My impromptu family. They listened to my singing with no complaints(they complained), we had dinners together as we watched the drama in Tahrir, we went to the square and got chased down by the military police and came back home to be chided and chastised by the ones who were too smart to go around doing anything so stupid. I walked over to the apartment in Mohandaseen, my other family and sat down for hours near a table that had held numerous bottles of tequila and the weight of some of the heaviest conversations of my life.

I've loved, I've laughed and cried. I've had my fill; my share of losing. And now, as tears subside, I find it all so amusing.

We talked about the future and made all these plans to meet each other again but... the saddest thing about goodbyes may be the lie we tell at them. Most real goodbyes are forever. Their apartment had a window with a view of Cairo, a city beset with dust and smoke, neglected by the rains and always parched. A city filled by  buildings jockeying with billboards for prominence, a city that when the sun goes down(between 5:30 and 5:40 that process is complete) comes to life in a clash of darks and yellows and on this day little pools of water. The biggest lie about most real goodbyes is that they are not forever, but its a lie we need to hear right then. Life will drag all of us in a thousand different directions to a thousand different places and deposit us there without a map. Its nearly impossible to find ourselves in this world let alone other people. But the beauty of life is that it allows us to  hope. It lets us say this lie and mean it, for though its a lie for once in a while maybe just once in a life it becomes the truth.

To think I did all that; And may I say - not in a shy way, "No, oh no not me, I did it my way".