Saturday, 8 October 2011

all the things that came before

I'm feeling restless tonight, with a lot of different thoughts swirling in my brain. And they say that restlessness is bad because it unsettles you; and they say that restlessness is good because it stirs your soul and makes you pursue the things that bring you to life. But often in my restlessness I just want to get lost in music and dance, escape from the weight of words and ideas and just float in sensation. Or travel to a place where I know no one and there are no expectations; everything is new and so fresh. No associations, no memories. No trying to make sense of how everything is supposed to fit together in the disjointed life that you live when you move around a lot.

Chris, who left Cairo during the Revolution, described the group of (expat) friends he had here as misfits, all looking for our place in the world. It's true that many people I've met here seem to be searchers - questioning, seeking to understand a different culture, other ways of seeing the world, another perspective on history. Not in a cheesy "I've gone travelling to find myself" kind of way; just that people you meet in Cairo who've chosen to live here for a while seem to share certain characteristics. Usually curious about the world, open minded, adventurous...and a little lost.

I can't understand the opposing instincts that coexist in me - the desire to stay and the desire to go. People find it easier to interpret the side that settles; they look at how attached I get to places and people and find it hard to understand how I can get up and leave to go somewhere completely different. I find it difficult to understand too. Salisbury, Nong Khai, Oxford, Paris, London, Alexandria, Cairo. A lot of hellos and goodbyes.

And really I think that Cairo is somewhere I could stay for a while; there's a lot about this city to love. But still there's no escaping the fact that you occupy a strange space when you live outside your home country for a long time. You'll probably never fully belong or understand how things work the way you understand the country you were born in. It is intriguing, and part of the pull of living abroad, the intoxication of getting to know a country bit by bit - but it can be lonely. There will always be things that challenge how you see the world - call them cultural differences or whatever you like. It's so obvious, but living here as a foreign woman it gets so tiring being constantly on your guard to make sure your behaviour doesn't get you into situations you don't want to be in. At the same time, being viewed as a guest in the country means that usually you are treated with an incredible amount of kindness and generosity. I've been here nearly two years and people still welcome me to Egypt on a daily basis.

There is little to anchor you to a place when you're on a short-term contract and could leave at any moment, but I treasure that freedom; my awareness of all the things I love about here is kept sharp. Life is lived more intensely, I seize more opportunities, my emotions are stronger and more vivid.

There are a lot of smart, passionate, interesting, funny people out there. And I've met many here, Egyptian and expat. We're all on our different journeys, coming from different places and aiming for different destinations. And though this makes me sad sometimes, this brevity, it is a beautiful thing too.