I sit in front of my laptop, sometimes for hours, fidgeting between my blog, Facebook, Twitter, and my e-mail account, looking for any sort of interaction, mainly from people I know, although I’m always more than happy to receive interaction from complete strangers as well.
I really miss my friends. I’ve been away from Egypt since last November. It wasn’t as if I regularly saw my friends while I was in Egypt. But I could if I wanted to. Cairo’s traffic had made getting from my home to any other point in the city a grueling task that I began to avoid at all costs. I was almost turning into a hermit. Me: the woman who cannot be held down by a whole continent.
I miss getting late night phone calls and growling in anger at the inappropriateness of the time but then putting on my happy voice and responding, “Alooo?”
I miss my friends nagging me to go meet them at a coffee shop or at one of their homes. I’d decline, they would nag more, I’d decline again because I was NOT going out in that horrendous traffic, they would insist, and then my resolve would weaken and I would put on my strong face to brave the Cairo traffic. That’s how much my friends mean to me. That is what I would do for them. (It’s A LOT. Have you seen what Cairo’s traffic is like?)
I’ve discovered I’m absolutely horrible at making new friends at this age. I’ve lost the talent. I feel like I would be forcing myself on people so I don’t even try. Everyone already has their close-knit circle of friends at my age anyway.
But it’s not only that. I struggle to find things I have in common with people here. It’s not enough for me to enjoy engaging in the same sport as others, for example. There are things that are occupying my mind 100 per cent of the time. These things are far from the minds of anyone I have met here in the UK so far.
I am in a constant state of anxiety and worry over my country and the Arab region, for example. The friends I already have are exactly the same. It’s not that when we meet we only talk about politics. But we have that common underlying bond no matter what we discuss. We might talk about something completely silly and superficial. But we do that to avoid talking about that one thing we are always thinking about.
I have a very close friend who happens to live in London these days. I invited him to meet me and my family at an amusement park halfway between London and where I live. We had an amazing day. Not once did we mention anything remotely political. But it’s all there. Bare and naked. The day we were standing at the frontlines of the Egyptian Revolution and had to run for cover from gunshots. The night the military announced a curfew and we walked on eerily quiet Cairene streets trying to make our way home, when we suddenly saw a gang of thugs in the distance. All the times we climbed Egypt’s highest mountain together. We don’t need to talk about any of that. It’s there. I don’t have that with people here in the UK. I don’t have the history. I don’t have the experiences. It makes me feel lonely, like I live in a world that only exists in my head.
Every now and then a friend will come from Egypt to the UK on a business trip and I’ll get the chance to see them. Those are always precious moments. But they never last. I’m soon back to being completely and utterly on my own; me and my Facebook, Twitter, and e-mail accounts.
It’s almost as if I’m always looking for something tangible within the feeds of my accounts but I never really find it. It pacifies me sometimes. But it’s an empty pacification.
It is really hard trying to settle in a new country. What makes it so much harder is an inability, borne of lots of trauma, to go back home.
I don’t want to make new friends. I just want the ones I already have.
We have a word in Arabic that we use to describe living in a country other than our own: ghorbah. It is related to the Arabic word ghareeb, or stranger. I know of no English language word that properly describes ghorbah. Google translates it to “alienation”.
I am a stranger. In a way, I am even an alien. And all I want is my family and friends, many of whom have been dispersed among the countries of this world, like me, to try to find better lives than the ones we had in our country.
I miss my friends. They are my country.