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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.

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