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Sunday, June 22, 2014

Goodbye Cairo

This is the last of my goodbyes.

Tomorrow we fly out of Cairo for probably the last time in our lives. We can see ourselves returning to the Red Sea in the future, but our time in Cairo has come to an end.

I have really mixed feelings about it all. On the one hand I'm so happy and can't wait to board that plane without looking back. Cairo is a tiring, dirty, overstimulating, difficult place to live, and it feels like each year here has worn away at my positivity. But at the same time, Cairo is so vibrant, interesting, exotic and memorable. How could I possibly leave and not miss it?

When Ryan and I made the decision to move to Egypt in 2010, it was exciting, so exhilarating. I'd always pictured myself living abroad at some point. And when people joked that we'd finish our two year contract and come back to "real life", we laughed with them, but when we looked at each other we knew. This wasn't just going to be a two year adventure before returning to normal life. And while we didn't know what would come next, we both wanted more.

I'm still a little surprised that we stayed for four years. We pretty much chose the worst possible time to move here. The revolutions (yes, plural), the evacuation, the curfews, police blockades. In the time we have lived here there have been three different presidents, two of which were ousted during bloody revolutions and then put on trial. It's been a difficult task to understand the politics, religious beliefs and societal pressures that have led to everything that's been happening. We've been pressed into an expat bubble, hoping the things around us don't get too bad.

But even in the midst of chaos there are so many special moments that stand out to me. Almost as though Cairo is raising her hand to grab our attention and say "Hey, it's not so bad, look at this!"

Like the neighbors in our area. One man came over to our car the morning of particularly bad demonstrations and begged us not to go to certain parts of the city so that we would be safe. He made us promise we would not put ourselves in danger. And the grandfather who frequently walks his little grandson over to see us when we get home from school, because the little boy wants to give Q a flower from his garden.

There's all the times in restaurants and shops where people come over and scoop Q out of our arms and whisk him away to talk to their families or other strangers. This is the only place in the world we've always felt completely comfortable with a stranger taking our baby, because the Egyptian people have a love for children that is beautiful to behold.

The fact that anytime you see someone's car broken down on the side of the road there's always at least two other cars parked to help them out.

How it's impolite to turn down tea when it's offered. Even if it's in a little tourist shop where you were just buying a souvenir. The owner genuinely wants to bring you a drink, talk about your family and show you pictures of his children on Facebook.

The way everyone says "Obama!" with a huge smile on their face when they ask where we're from and we say "America".

How every time we throw in a word of Arabic, people say "You speak Arabic?" and give us a huge smile, even if we answer that we only know a little.

This place has been a huge blessing for my family. And I've learned so much about the world, the Muslim religion, Arab culture. My eyes have been broadened, which is probably the greatest gift I will take from living here.

It hasn't always been easy, and I haven't always loved it. But Cairo has been my home for four years. It's left an indelible mark on my soul. I will remember it all, even if it's only in snippets of memory that flash me back to blaring music in the back of a cab, or the sweet smoke of a shisha bar, the sounds of Arabic being yelled across the room, and the eerie keening of a voice calling out prayers in the middle of the night.

I keep being told that I won't appreciate how much I'll miss it until I leave. And right now my emotions won't let me decide whether I'm happy or sad. So here goes, time to take the plunge and get on that plane. Thanks for the memories Cairo, the thrills and the scares. It's been an epic ride and we'll be telling your stories for years to come.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

1st Birthday

We had a pretty momentous event over here on Friday.

Q turned one year old.

I'm still a little blown away that it's already been a year since I gave birth. It's hard to remember how small and fragile he used to be. When I look at him now all I see is budding toddler. A little bundle of waving limbs, hands throwing toys, grabbing everything, pushing forward to explore his world.

A few hours after he was born.

One year later.

It's been a great year, so full of life, full of learning and potential. Ryan and I are constantly talking about how one of the coolest things in parenting is seeing him learn to do something new. Seeing his body develop new abilities, his eyes look around with wonder, and now that he's starting to talk, to hear him express himself.

So this birthday party held a lot of meaning for us. It's a huge landmark in his life and it was really special to have friends and family there to celebrate with us. We were even able to facetime with our families back home so they could help sing happy birthday and watch him test out cake for the first time.

He didn't really eat any of it, partially because we had to wake him up from his nap to join the party. So I don't think he was hungry enough to really try it. But he did seem to enjoy finger-painting with the frosting. He got it all over himself, me, the high chair. So we got to have a bit of fun with a messy first cake experience.

It was so much fun seeing him rip wrapping paper, get excited about Legos and play with a balloon. All around a pretty fantastic day.

And even though I know he won't remember this day when he's older.  I will, and it will always be special to me because it's the first of many birthdays to come.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Goodbye AIS

As of tomorrow there are officially 2 weeks of school left.  That's 10 more days of waking up and coming to work.  Which means it's time to start saying goodbye to AIS, our home for the last 4 years.

The American International School of Egypt is a remarkable place. The walls are vibrant, full of artwork, posters, displays of projects. The hallways are crowded between classes, the students filling more and more space as the year goes on and their bodies push higher into the sky.

In many ways it's very different from every school I attended myself, or taught at in America.  The hallways are loud, way louder than I ever experienced, because Egyptians are loud. They yell, hoot, and shout at each other in daily conversation. The language in the hallways is primarily Arabic, though you do hear tidbits of English. The boys are constantly touching, holding hands, hanging onto each other, kissing each other on the cheeks, but you see very little pda between boys and girls.

In so many other ways, most ways really, it's exactly like every other school in the world.  It's full of kids.  The little ones poke along getting distracted by anything and everything, as they get older they travel in packs.  There are cliques, popular kids and ones that eat their lunch alone. There are messy lockers, stuffed book bags and lunch boxes in the lost and found.

It's been a wonderful place to work, and Ryan and I are really going to miss it next year. One of the hardest decisions we had to make was to leave a place where we both enjoy our jobs. This school has given us so much, and the faculty especially are wonderful. It's hard to imagine that we could be as lucky anywhere else, but we're hoping our new school can live up to our expectations.

In no time at all, we'll be hugging our friends, taking a last look behind and leaving this place for good.

And the thing I'll miss the most is how much all these wonderful people love Q. They dote on him, steal him from each other, give him kisses, hugs and call out his name when we walk in the door. AIS has been so good to us, the people have loved our son like their own. The school has become a part of our family, which is why it's so hard to say goodbye.


Goodbye AIS, thanks for all the good memories!