Sunday, September 16, 2012

Watching the Sun Set on 21 and the Moon Rise on 22

I haven’t written a personal update in a really long time, and as I am just about halfway through my expected stay in Egypt, I figured now would be a good time to post something personal--and personal it is.

First of all, I am safe. Cairo has not gone up in flames. I don't want to detract from the severity of the clashes, as many protesters were injured and I believe there were some deaths, but the action is confined to a very small radius in a gigantic city. I easily avoid that area and feel as safe as ever. 

I just had my 22nd birthday, and I am blessed enough to have amazing friends who made it special-- from those abroad through messages and facebook, to my Egyptian friends that got me a cake and sang to me in the streets, to my American and Canadian friends who took me out two nights in a row for a lovely time. Thank you all! I had a great weekend!

I have had a wonderful time travelling around here in Egypt on regular and long weekends, in between long crazy weeks with two 12+ hour workdays during which I had to run around to opposite ends of this gigantic city. I’ve gotten to experience the black and white desert with an amazing group of coworkers, explore Alexandria with two incredible friends and together meet a random man who took us to a private beach and pool on the North Coast, endure the hassles of Luxor and climb a mountain in the dark to watch the most incredible sunrise over the Nile with a lifelong friend and sage and relax on the red sea with the same friend, reflecting on all the lessons learnt over the past year.

Amongst all this adventure, I continue to see and listen to stories of suffering and horror, whilst simultaneously having fun with co-workers and friends and enjoying some mostly simple, but still indulgent pleasures of life. This tense dichotomy in combination with further reflection regarding my previous life and country of origin has definitely had a profound effect on me emotionally, mentally, and spiritually.
This past year has been a whirlwind; but at the same time I feel like I’ve been 21 for ages and that these past 11 months have spanned five years. I guess this doesn’t come as a surprise considering that life in the Middle East often rolls over you in crashing waves as you attempt to keep the sand out of your…well everything.  This past weekend marked the end of a year, but really the end of an era for me. My first year, graduated from university, out in the world and completely on my own. I feel truly lucky to be having this experience and am so grateful to my family and all my friends for supporting me. It’s been a year of conquered fears, tears, laughter, confusion, enlightenment and further confusion stemming from said enlightenment.

Everything here seems more intense than it might otherwise be: joy, pain, romance, friendship. I’ve had moments of pure ecstasy from plunging into new adventures and experiencing true friendship; and I’ve had moments of pure emotional numbness often experienced in situations of so-called “romance.” I chuckle now at my sigh of relief whenever those “romances” came to speedy conclusions –when it was realized that which I was constantly aware of—that I don’t fit into the puzzle of ex-pat romances: intense and short-lived or frequent but devoid of emotion. Being aware of that made me never fully let my guard down—although I once did partially: a lesson well learnt—and kept me from getting emotionally involved in something which would only lead to emotional destruction. It has also, however, kept me from taking a chance on certain people and relations that could have proved to be fun and perchance even special—but I can’t say I regret my policy either.

I have felt more alive this year than ever before. Moments when I was sitting on the Cairo metro or in a shared taxi in Palestine thinking: “I used to always wish I was somewhere else. I don’t anymore. Breakthrough.” That’s not to say it has been a year of bliss and magic. In addition to moments of ecstasy I have experienced moments of deep depression. An hour passed sitting on my couch and staring into abyss, not wanting to be here, not wanting to be there, not wanting to live, not wanting to die—just wanting to erase existence. But even when I wished I didn’t exist, I felt so deeply alive. I was feeling nothing, but yet feeling something, something strong but invisible—like a burst of wind on an empty highway. You feel the toppling power of the wind, but see nothing because you’re the only thing transient on that stretch of pavement. The current knocks you off your feet and holds you down. It streams so quickly over your face you can barely inhale to stay breathing. Then everything goes dark and you fall asleep. It’s when you wake up that you see you weren’t on a highway after all, but standing in a beautiful meadow. The ugly black pavement has transformed into soft green grass, towering trees and flowers of every color and design. You haven’t been moved; you just see more clearly now—you see the world as it’s meant to be seen, and each blade, root and petal is more beautiful to you than you imagined anything living ever could be.

The peace you find isn’t lasting, and the more suffering you see and listen to, the harder it becomes to see beauty in anything. I’ve realized you can’t hold on to peace here. There is not enough comfort or stability to capture and enslave it. But peace enslaved isn’t peace at all. It’s an illusion. Peace is meant to be sought and pursued—lost and found, then lost again. The following is a small part of a spontaneous and lengthy stream of consciousness inscribed onto a paper place mat at an Indian restaurant ironically named Nirvana overlooking the red sea:
“Yes peace is temporal. I hold to the truth: “Seek peace and pursue it,” because every time you find it, it morphs and moves and swims away, darting into dark caves or the deep blue unknown. It is something you cannot ever attain in full—only at times and in parts. It slips away into the night unnoticed and I wake up feeling heavy because when peace abandons ship it doesn’t not leave empty space in its place, but rather anchors that hold me where there is no air. The more I see of this world—the more I learn—the less I understand humanity. The American dream is an illusion—an aquarium: creatures of the sea in a replica of reality—but were they to enter the sea…”
I’ve been lucky enough to spend a full week on the red sea and again see beauty in the world. I will always remember the white beaches, coral reefs, stony banks, pink and purple mountains and golden rising moons with love and gratefulness, for reminding me that we come not from ugly but stunning origins, and there are still places you can see beauty un-mangled by human destruction.  

I find myself very much on edge, longing only to go back to life as it was created to be, instead of the way we have degraded it to be. Part of me would like to just break away and spend my life working only to travel and backpack—through Nepal, India, China, South America, anywhere and everywhere, ignoring the cries that haunt my thoughts and drive me to destructive vices. Part of me wants to go back to the illusions I once lived in, always wishing I was somewhere else, yet calmed my the comforts of capitalistic cushions. And then there’s part of me, a strong ever burning part that is pushing me to challenge myself further and experience the source of the stories I sift through here. See with my own eyes what I have ever only pictured in my head as I take notes and nod, pretending I have a clue what they’re talking about. I empathize because I’m talking with them face to face, but I will never achieve a higher level of understanding until I actually go to Somalia or Sudan and see the setting of their stories. Even then, I will never fully understand the plight of a refugee.   I guess in a way I am the antithesis of a refugee: I have chosen to leave my home—a good one at that—because of a desire to stay moving and transient, whereas they have been forced to leave their homes and only desire safety and stability.

So that’s where I’m at. I’m looking for opportunities in Somalia and Sudan primarily, but may have to spend some time elsewhere before being considered for a position there.