Thursday, August 30, 2007

It’s not so much that I enjoy the experience of jet lag so much as I appreciate the license it gives me to be a lazy bum, which pretty much describes me since returning to Cairo. The journey from the US to Egypt seems a little shorter each time we make it, the adjustment to life here just that much smoother. Our descent into a mostly non-stinky Cairo night was smooth and easy, which characterized both of our flights this time around. My only complaint is that I didn’t have the attention span to watch all of Chinatown, which was in the on-demand library of movies accessible on the TV in the back of the seat in front of me. But the plane had a lot of empty seats, so it was easy to spread out and relax, and the wine flowed freely, and for free.

Our pal Ahmed was waiting for us on the other side of passport control, hopping up and down happily, grinning widely. He was the first of many to receive us so gladly. He even hugged M in public, much to the interest of a couple Arab guys who were warily eyeballing the whole situation. He lives with his family in Heliopolis, a suburb beside the airport, and he had come at 2 am to bring our house keys. He was doing this because our bathrooms were remodeled over the summer, the locks changed after the work was done. Plus he was eager to see us, and we were eager to see him. And what a change to have a familiar face awaiting us on the end of our journey! Just another way that our arrival into Cairo was markedly different than a year ago.

And then it was off along the flyover road that sweeps you in rollicking fashion over the dark immensity of the packed neighborhoods and past the giant advertisement for CSI. Hey there, Gil Grissom. What are you doing in this part of the world? Our driver was the same one who had taken us to Zamalek a year ago, and as M noted, he had seemed gruff at the time. Now he was just a guy doing his job, probably a little bit tired, but somehow somewhat gentle. He gave us the ol’ Hamdulillah after I found my passport a moment after misplacing it. He drove a Jeep. He avoided all the cars that had parked, inexplicably, along the narrow shoulder of the freeway, including one car whose tire had blown. A group of women in burkas stood beside the open trunk as a man lay on the freeway underneath the car, surveying the damage. A couple of girls dressed in white played near the bumper. We zoomed past. Just before we hit Zamalek, the driver served to avoid a microbus that had stopped in the middle of a busy street to pick up a passenger, who ran into the street and climbed aboard. A moment later, the driver deftly avoided a car driving along the same busy street in reverse. M and I shared a grin over that one.

Moments later we were back. We woke up the poor, sleepy young bowaab who sleeps in the “office” (really just a closet underneath the steps). He was polite as always, just with bedhead!

It was a welcome sight to return home. That’s strange to say, since I am reminded of my whiteness and my foreignness every time I walk out the front door. But, it’s home, as well. Our apartment is still huge—and is even larger than it seems to our eyes, given the pervasive lack of space in this city—and now it features two sweetly remodeled bathrooms. These bathrooms make me smile each time I visit them or simply pass by them. As you can imagine, I’m smiling a lot, even if I’m a little sheepish about being so happy about such a thing. Another thing I’ve enjoyed is the happy reception we’ve received from Neghi, who received his digital watch two days ago, UmmNadia, from the good folks at the Euro Deli, from the man who cleans my shoes (he gave me a hug), and a much longer cast of characters who hang out in our neighborhood and who have helped to make this a friendly place to live and to return to.

Next time: Amsterdam. Here’s a preview.


No comments: