I don’t know what it is or how long it will last, but I’ve been dealing with adversity much better than I had been in recent years.
Is it the therapy sessions I’ve been having? Has my anxiety been reduced because of the hormone replacement patches I’ve been wearing for the past few months? Or do I finally just get it: that I won’t always have control over my circumstances and that sometimes it’s better to just be accepting and to roll with it.
I’ve been in hotel quarantine now in the UK for about a week; I arrived last Sunday. The first couple of days were a bit of a shock to the system, but I’ve eased into it quite well. I have my own little routine and I’ve been able to build little things into my day and week to look forward to. It really is the little things that make all the difference. I go on three walks a day round and round and round the hotel car park. I love those walks now. When I saw our hotel car park that first morning I was really disappointed. The space is so small. Its perimeter is only 180 meters long. But I now love going on my runs and walks around it. I enjoy watching other people as I go round and round. I love seeing the little kiddies play. I wonder where that person is from and what brought that person back to the UK.
On June 3, I left the UK for Egypt. I hadn’t been back to my home country since before the pandemic and hadn’t since seen two of my four children. I could not avoid the trip: my daughter was getting married and another daughter and son were getting engaged.
Before I booked my trip, I made sure I was going to be double vaccinated first. I wanted the protection, as I had insider information that Egyptians weren’t nearly as strict about COVID-19 as most Brits were. I also told my children that I would not be able to participate in their events unless they were held outdoors and the numbers were kept to a minimum. Since I have the best children in the world, they obliged and were very kind and respectful of my concerns.
The day I left the UK, Egypt was on the amber list. That was the same day a review of the green, amber and red lists was to be announced. There wasn’t even the slightest rumour about Egypt getting changed, although there had been a couple of low profile news stories about a new variant appearing in Thailand that had allegedly originated in Egypt.
As soon as I landed I got the news: Egypt was now on the UK’s red list and I’d have to enter a hotel quarantine upon my return.
I can’t say I was disappointed. I’m a firm believer in the importance of hotel quarantines for people arriving from certain countries. I know that many people aren’t as strict as they should probably be about home quarantines. And I know that it’s almost impossible to enforce their strict observance 24/7 for ten days. I also think that it’s important to limit travel from countries that aren’t taking COVID-19 restrictions seriously. In the UK, we’ve been through hell and back to reduce the numbers of cases and deaths to what it is now. We should have been stricter with incoming travel all along. Later, though, is better than never.
I’m going to need to make a mindshift happen that I think I’m going to find very difficult.
I don’t feel like I belong. Anywhere.
I know that I felt this as a kid growing up. But it wasn’t a problem then. I didn’t need to feel that I belonged. I was fine with how things were. I grew up in America. My Egyptian father made a point of letting it be known that I was not American; I was not one of “them”, even though I was. I didn’t know anything else other than what I was told. It had no real meaning to me anyway. I was a child. Things were simple.
I need to find a way to get my brain to think that way again.
I had a most interesting conversation yesterday that really resonated with me. It’s given me much food for thought.
Mahmoud is a fellow Egyptian revolutionary who has also found himself going through difficult times while based in Berlin, Germany. I first got to know him in 2009, in those early days when there was only a handful of Egyptians posting on Twitter. We had a little community of Egyptian bloggers/micro-bloggers going for ourselves. Twitter had given us space to make our voices heard. We had a lot to say. And, for the most part, we felt we had a lot in common. Someone organized a couple of tweet-ups for Egyptian tweeters, which I joined. That was probably how I met Mahmoud first in real life. We stayed in touch over the years the way people do through social media. And our paths crossed a few times in Tahrir Square during those fateful days in 2011.
Mahmoud read my previous blog post where I was expressing confusion about what to do next in life. He wrote me a comment on Facebook saying that we had to talk. We eventually caught up with each other yesterday on a phone call.
“We’re misplaced gods,” he explained to me. “We’re misplaced gods stuck in mediocre places with mediocre people who don’t appreciate who we are. And it’s affected the way we see ourselves.”
For most of my life, I was certain I’d have shit figured out by the time I reached my 50s. The older generations always appeared to have their shit together in my eyes. Now I realize that they were either great actors and wanted to protect us younger folk from the realities of life, or I was just extremely naïve. It was probably both.
What am I doing in my 50s without the slightest idea about what I want to do when I grow up, who I want to be, or where I want to live? This can’t be normal. Oh, but it is, the wiser, less naïve version of myself responds.
I’ve long felt that my father, in his final years, felt disappointed with how his life turned out. There was a look in his eyes that I felt I could read. He was thinking, “This is it? This is all I will ever be? All I will ever accomplish?” I think, in many ways, he was heartbroken. My father was an academic. He was a professor of kinetic chemistry. He loved his job and he loved his students. He also loved research, something he wasn’t able to do much of once he moved to Saudi Arabia, where he spent some 30 years of his academic career. My father knew his own potential. It was thwarted and he knew it.
In some ways I find myself with similar thoughts about my own life. This is it? This is all I will ever accomplish? All I will ever be? I know I have accomplished some things in life. I realize that I have lived a rich life, full of adventure, love, loss and achievement. I know that. But there’s a weird feeling residing inside of me. I’m conflicted. I want to be more. I want to do more. At the same time, I’m tired. I just want to settle down and get out of the way of other humans. I’m tired of being rebellious and wanting to change the world. And I’m upset that I don’t have the energy anymore to be rebellious and want to change the world.
I don’t know where to start. But I’m afraid this is going to be a messed up, emotional blog post. I wouldn’t be sharing these thoughts if I hadn’t come to the conclusion that I’m not alone even though I feel very very alone. I’m sharing in case this makes someone out there feel a little bit better. I’m sharing because sharing helps me work through my own thoughts, even though I worry that it makes me appear desperate and needy, which I sort of am anyways. But I’m going to stop giving a fuck about what other people might think of me for a little bit. I need to write.
It’s hard to sum up what an issue really is. It’s difficult to give problems, lots of them, that all come with personal and social contexts, a title that other people will understand.
But let’s call this one loneliness.
It’s a desperate loneliness. It’s the kind of loneliness that probably puts people off you. That’s how desperate it is.
It’s a loneliness that often expresses itself as: Oh, how I wish I had a friend I could call up and say, “Meet you at the movies at 6pm tonight?” But that’s not really it. That’s not the source of the loneliness. The story of the loneliness is so much more complex. (more…)
Egypt is a country that has me completely messed up in the head.
This is my “office” view as I work from my laptop today.
I have so many conflicting feelings about it.
I was in Egypt less than a month ago visiting family. But only a few days after returning to the UK, I decided to jump on a plane and come back. Ramadan started, my friends were all posting about the accompanying festivities, and I was missing it all. I hadn’t spent Ramadan in Egypt for several years.
When I told my therapist that I’d be missing a session because I wanted to go back to Egypt, she asked me what it was about Ramadan in Egypt that I missed. I had spent most of the session telling her about real-life problems I was facing and I was fine. But the minute I started describing what it was like to stand in the balcony at the time of the sunset call to prayer, when all the craziness of Cairo’s streets suddenly disappears, it all goes quiet, and people are in their homes with their families and friends around tables full of food and love, I broke down in tears.
Even my therapist’s face showed pain on my behalf. “Oooh. You’re homesick,” she said. (more…)
I haven’t been able to write much about Egypt’s revolution in the past few years. I have been too traumatized. But today I find myself in need of acknowledging the day, January 25 of 2011, when it all started. I need to assert that I was there. I was on the tarmac when it all happened. I was part of it from start to finish. And now it is a part of me, for better or for worse.
My husband, a Scot, asked me two days ago whether I regret the revolution happening. Are things better or worse, he asked. They are worse, I said. But the country’s political, economic and security situations can’t be the only measure of our revolution’s success. We failed in all that. We were ready to revolt. But we weren’t prepared to take charge. We simply didn’t have the wherewithal. I vividly remember thinking the day after Mubarak resigned: I’ve done my job. We’ve removed the dictator. Now I need to leave the rest to the politicians who know how to take this forward. But they didn’t. The “good ones” squabbled amongst them, leaving room for the baddies to move in quickly and spread more evil than we had ever seen.
Despite all that, despite everything the country is going through, the revolution was not a total failure and I will never regret taking part in it. (more…)
I don’t think anyone who hasn’t been in the same position realizes just how much people give up to immigrate to another country. Sometimes, perhaps always, even immigrants take years before they realize how much they’ve given up.
People immigrate for so many different reasons. Some immigrate for a better education for themselves or for their children. Others immigrate for economic reasons. Others leave their countries as a result of political conflict, insecurity or war. Yet others may just need a new beginning.
Whatever the reason, I’m willing to guess there’s a certain amount of trauma involved in uprooting oneself to try to settle down somewhere that could be significantly different from what one has known.
I know I have been traumatized by the circumstances in Egypt post-revolution and by my decision to leave and try to settle in the UK.
It’s now been five years since I’ve started going back and forth between the two countries and two-and-a-half since I officially started settling in the UK. Only a few weeks ago my husband said something about one day settling down in Egypt again. My response was visceral: “I never ever ever want to live in that country again.”
After spending last month in Egypt, I think my relationship with my country may slowly be on the mend. (more…)