Usually I answer the comments on a post in the comments section, but I believe there is so much more for me to say about the comments I received on my post about missing Egypt that another separate post is called for.
Some questioned how I could miss a country I was not born to, others questioned what exactly I missed, and some questioned whether I was actually searching for a happiness I may not find there. All are valid curiosities and many are rooted in reality but, as seems to be a running theme in my life, I don't really fit into anything that makes sense.
Missing Egypt even though I'm not Egyptian, what do I miss? I have been to many foreign countries and have seen many cities and cultures, but there is something in Egypt that makes it different from anywhere else. Lets narrow this down to Cairo though, because when I talk about Egypt I am mostly talking about Cairo. What makes it different?
Cairo lives and breathes on its own as a city, it is the only place that I have been to where there is an active city at all hours of the day and night. I spent a whole day with my husband, and my brother and sister-in-law, and when it came to fajr there were still things for us to do: we sat on a bridge full of early-bird (late-nighter?) fisherman and families still in the street as we were and ate hummous. Prior to that we had been in a cafe on the nile that was filled with people at one in the morning, the streets had still been deadlocked with traffic and the bridge next to it had still been filled with groups leaning over the side. The small boats strung with lights and blaring loud music were still moving up and down the Nile until early in the morning. The city never sleeps.
During the day you hear the traffic, the ubiquitous junk dealer leading his donkey up and down the streets yelling through an ancient amplifier that muddles his words into a garbled mess of noise. No one could really tell me what he was saying but everyone knew that he would buy your useless junk. And the donkeys, oh the donkeys; next to the blare of car horns the second most common sound in Cairo is the braying of all the donkeys. What about the carts of neatly stacked watermelons? Everywhere just waiting even stacked on the sides of the road as we drove between Cairo and Alex.
The million restaurants, the ring of the koshary shops, buying cheese and foul sandwiches at two or three in the morning. The bazaars on every corner selling everything you could imagine. Or the tiny carnival I once spied while with my friend Merhan and her cousin and them taking me to it and paying for us to all drive bumper cars.
The smiles of the bumper car crew who grinned and welcomed me to Egypt. The smiles of everyone in the street, the warmth and passion with which friends argued, gestured, laughed, talked, cried, and watched everything that went on around them. Even though I didn't know them they were connected to me, to eachother, and to others they didn't know. Life, while poorer economically, was lived fuller for its very tenuousness. The food tasted stronger, the colors brighter, the air thicker even if it was with pollution, and I felt a million times more alive. Pain, love, happiness, and sadness were felt more vividly.
Thats what I miss, and moreover it is so different from anything else I have ever felt. When I walk through downtown Minneapolis now I get a wiff of that same feeling. Not as bright, nor vivid, nor passionate as Cairo, but for a split second I feel a bit more alive. And the fact is that despite being surrounded by people I am completely alone. No one is connected here, friendships are not expressed as fully, no one smiles, no one laughs, no one sits and talks just because they can. Here life is about point A and point B, in Egypt life is about the trip between the two. Thats what I miss.
I've been to other ginormous cities. I've walked the midnight streets of Madrid and never found what I found in Cairo. I've walked the midnight streets of Paris and not found what I found in Cairo. I've been to Istanbul and found that people affect the same coldness and individuality of Europe and America, and while in Athens I found the same sense of living life as I found in Egypt, but I could not stand the rudeness; while close to Egyptians in passion the culture was still basically different and offensive in many ways. The Greek were passionate but almost eager in their passion to offend you.
Everyone I have ever met who has been to Egypt returns saying that they had never met a culture so warm and welcoming. Thats what I miss. Smiles, I miss. Laughter, I miss. Being hugged to the bosom, of a matron I had just met, with joyous abandon, I miss. Being handed babies to kiss like a presidential hopeful on campaign, I miss. Listening to the curses and shouts and laughter and arguements of those around me and those in the street, I miss.
Sitting here staring out into an empty street, shuttered houses of people I've lived next to for six years and still never met, knowing that unless I go to the house of friend I will not be greeted with anything but wary aloofness, I feel completely alone. The sense of belonging to a whole, I miss.
And that has nothing to do with not being born in Egypt, and everything to do with finding a home there anyway.
And my pursuit of happyness; sure I am a person who can never be 100% happy in one place and its a curse (?) that I've dealt with for a long time in my life. When I lived in Minnesota I ached to be somewhere else, when I lived in Arizona I love it but missed Minnesota, in Minnesota again I ache for Arizona. When I am in Cairo I am sure I will miss both places at the same time. Do I think I will find some happiness in Cairo? I am certain of it. Do I think I will find the be all and end all of happiness there? I doubt it, but I am open to the possibility. I am a wanderer by nature, I don't know that this will ever change. And I don't find that missing someplace detracts from my enjoyment of being where I am at the moment. In Arizona I found a happiness I could only find in Arizona and I partook of it wholeheartedly, and in Minnesota now I find so much fulfillment in my family and friends and wonderful ummah here even though I miss Cairo and Arizona that my desire to be elsewhere does not keep me from enjoying the beauty I have here.
Everyone is always pursuing happiness but, with the exception of when I first went down to Arizona, I don't believe that a place will ever bring me a peace I can't find where I am. My peace, my home, my happiness exists within me and I carry it wherever I go. And I think I am blessed to have pieces of happiness waiting for me wherever I end up.
That being said Egypt is my home as much as Arizona is my home and Minnesota is my home, and all for very different reasons.
That is, I guess, the nature of my own happyness.