Dear Cairo, how I have loved you. (Writing to remember.)
It would be hard to know by this little online space that I have lived and travelled to well over 30 nations — maybe closer to 40 by now (I’ve stopped counting).
Getting married and having children has changed me in so many ways. One of those ways is that I stick much, much closer to home more than I ever have in my adult life.
But what about Papua New Guinea? The trips to America?
Yeah, I know. To some it may seem as if I’m jetting off all the time, but believe me when I say that my 25-year-old self would barely recognize this little homebody mama. (And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.)
I’ve been reminiscing a lot lately about 2006 – the year I spent mostly in Cairo, Egypt. I lived there for the better part of the year and made about five trips back and forth from Australia for work during that time.
Without a doubt it was one of the sweetest times of my life.
I learned what my friends and I dubbed “taxi Arabic” (enough to help us get around the city). I got used to crowded trains and Egyptian mustaches. I ordered McDonalds milkshakes by delivery bike. (Seriously, you can get everything delivered there – it’s beyond crazy. And awesome.) I ate far too much shawerma and falafel and pita and baba ghannoug. (I just looked up how to spell that last one – what the?? Funny word.)
I travelled an hour by taxi each direction every Sunday (my day off) to lounge by a pool where I’d feel comfortable in my (modest) western bathing suit with my legs and shoulders revealed. I rode a camel to the pyramids. I met the head bishop to the Coptic Pope and befriended the pediatrician to the President’s children. I prayed with the nation’s prayer network leader and shared many dinners and laughs with his family. I went to weddings. I wore scarves. I tied my hair back into a ponytail every. single. day. because that was the “modest” way to wear it.
I played with children in the garbage city and served at the Mother Theresa House there. I wandered around the city with a National Geographic photographer and mimicked what he did with his tools. I led a conference for six hundred Egyptian and Sudanese and international young people to train them in leadership and how to serve and influence their own city. I organized a cruise for my friends from Oregon so that the coolest proposal ever could take place on the Nile.
I filled 50 busses with young people and sent them throughout the far corners of Cairo to saturate the city with acts of kindness during our “Day of Compassion”. I rode feluccas and did a thousand airport runs and checked on teams and encouraged leaders. I wrote a billion emails and opened a myspace account. I got used to dirty feet and long skirts and “dressing up” with beads and bangles adorning my t-shirts.
I clicked an old camera encasing FILM and what came out is what I was left with – no cropping, tweaking, or color correcting. (I kind of miss that, too.)
Hands down it was some of my best life and ministry and leadership experience to date. I’m not sure that I’ve ever worked harder, prayed stronger, or laughed deeper than that year. Some of my views on politics and the Church and being American and cultural norms and gender roles and terrorism and the plain old common good were shaped that year in surprising ways.
And yet I feel like I have so few stories to tell from it.
They come trickling out every now and then and I sometimes call my children “habibi” (sweetheart) or accidentally say mumkin instead of maybe. But mostly my memories are faded. Two-thousand six was a year that I wasn’t disciplined in journaling or writing, and—I kid you not—if I don’t write or journal about things it’s almost as if they never existed.
I forget names so easily… places, events. It’s seriously tragic. Embarrassing sometimes.
But even though I struggle and strain to remember stories, I remember slices of detail from Cairo – like the way a group of twelve-year-old school girls would mob me on the train and ask to touch my eyelashes and tell me how pretty my eye make-up was. Or how getting my visa renewal required six tiny photos and three flights of stairs and hours and hours in the waiting room, sharing it with (mostly) Africans from the far reaches of the continent. Or the way a wedding party by the Nile would pull me into their photos and I’d end up dancing by moonlight to their boom box blasting Amr Diab with whooping and hollering from onlookers while I marveled at tiny children being awake and dancing at midnight along with me.
I remember what it’s like to be in love with a place and a people in a way that’s so far beyond human capacity to conjure up on your own that you know that you know that there absolutely must be a “God element” to the whole thing.
Egypt, the place where I fell in love with the Middle East. I’ll always remember that.
The moral of the story? Keep writing. Write even if it’s never shared. Write for your own sake. Write to record and to preserve and to pass down. Write as if your memory depended on it.
Mine sure does.
Dear friends, is your memory as shocking as mine? Do you write to remember? I’m going to be trying to write down “old” stories from time to time here. We’ll see how cobwebby it is in the attic of my mind…
P.S. I wrote this post last week and the very next day heard the news reports of Egypt’s most recent protests. I’m praying for this nation in turmoil as they continue to grapple with the current and future political landscape. It really does effect everything and—more than ever—I’m convinced they need Jesus as their Reconciler and Prince of Peace. Please pray with me for these dear ones?