Sunday, May 27, 2007

So Long, See You Tomorrow

A few evenings ago, M and I were standing at the window, looking down at out street. It’s a view I’ve become quite accustomed to and which I’ve taken pains to describe more than once on this blog. “It seems like we’ve been here forever,” I said, and she agreed.

My father likes to describe the giddy feeling of displacement he gets after traveling by plane—how, in a just a few hours, you can take off in Los Angeles and land in Dayton. It’s a feeling I’ve had a lot this year, and I’ve usually had it standing firmly on the ground (or on the deck of a yacht). I seem to have left Minneapolis longer than 11 months ago. Even summer camp and all its heated dramas seems like a distant memory. Perhaps the most distant of all recent memories is our first arrival into Cairo—the bleary-eyed arrival into the hazy, primordial stink of summer nights here. The ride into Zamalek from Heliopolis, with an equally exhausted colleague chatting in my ear. The dark and narrow streets of the island, that sense of finally being about as lost as I care to be. Everything was so new to us and that newness registers in my memory as a kind of stain on oak, or the feeling of an antique gift being unwrapped. It’s familiar to me now, but I can remember the newness. I remember our bawaab awakening us the next day (after noon), to introduce himself. I had no idea what he was saying to me, but somehow I knew he was the bawaab. I remember our first foray out into the street, the sensory overload of what is really about the most benign street in the most benign neighborhood in the city. I remember my whiteness pulsing, and I remember telling myself that I’d get used to it.

I wanted to get used to it. I think sometimes we put a premium on newness for its own sake, and that as soon as we begin to feel accustomed, then the shine has come off our original purpose in doing the new thing. I wanted very much to come here and be a good young professional, make no doubt about that. It’s a subject for another post. What I also wanted was to come to a place like Egypt and see for myself what life is like, what people are like, what happens when an American lives in the Middle East and walks down the street and does, in some measure, represent his country to those who live in this country. I wanted to be from the America of George W. Bush and the Iraq War and to walk down the street anyway. I wanted to be an American who can think and act with respect toward others—indeed, when appropriate, in deference to others. I wanted to give a different image, and I wanted to see a truer image than I had been shown.

This is what I’ve seen:



Anonymous said...

I love the book that serves as the title of this post. Have a great summer, J and A.


Stephanie said...

And I love the post. It's beautiful.