“Boy, I bet it feels good to be done with Egypt.”
Many a well-intentioned friend or family member made this statement during my trip home. And while I will not miss the hours I spent wallowing in my own sweat, waiting for the AC to kick back on during nightly power outages, I have to disagree with them.
It is heart-breaking to be done with Egypt.
Cairo is easy to hate, with the Ring Road traffic and the constant catcalls and the burning refuse. It’s also easy to love, even though I find myself in complicated love with Cairo.
I hate how my movements throughout the country and even some of my experiences were limited, simply because I am a woman. Yet I love the depth of relationship between women in Egypt, and the fact that I was privy to those relationships, simply because I am a woman.
I love the architecture in the City of a Thousand Minarets, even though most buildings look the exact same color of dust, without much uniqueness or fanfare. I was dismayed by the architecture when I first arrived in Cairo, but now it is comforting. And finding a gorgeous building among the rows and rows of boring ones? The best.
I love the welcoming nature of Egyptians, the friendliness, the genuine interest in each other. Except when that interest bordered on gossip (which I did not experience too often, thankfully). Or when it was not genuine interest in me, but in my perceived bank account simply because I’m foreign.
Even the pace of the country, which is slooooooooooow compared to the hustle and bustle of the US, eventually felt good. Can’t get all of your errands done today? No worries, it will happen tomorrow, insha’Allah. Plus, I now have an endless reserve of patience.
And even though I felt incompetent at my job every single day my first year (only every third day during my second year), I also felt valued and appreciated and cherished. Full of warm fuzzies. I was seeking a challenge, and I found it, which was both frustrating and empowering.
Mostly, I had a beautiful experience. I left with a heavy heart. My kiddos were amazing – funny, smart, kind, open young people, who shared their souls with me. I love all of my students every year, but I have never felt so much love from students before. Such a gift. I count myself among the luckiest for getting an incredible group of kids every single year.
So yes, it is a relief to be leaving the perpetual sheen of dust, and I am looking forward to what awaits me in Bali. But I also find myself very defensive of Egypt. The swirling sand of the last two years has shaped me, molded me, left me simultaneously less and more. Extraneous pieces have eroded away, and what is left behind is stronger, sturdier, and smoother. More complete. I am taking with me friendships that have sustained me through major challenges and changes, experiences that have turned my previous perspectives upside down, and loads of new skills that will benefit my next group of students.
I became an international teacher because I felt compelled to go into the world. I was not drawn to Egypt, but it beckoned me just the same. And thank God for that.
In all its ridiculousness, its complications, its brutifulness, Cairo is a place I will always consider home.
A student told me on the last day of school, “I didn’t always like you, but I always loved you.” That’s it exactly. I didn’t always like Cairo, but I sure do love it.