Thursday, June 5, 2008

A bookmark

Today was the end of my semester in Cairo. I can write the sentence, but it still hasn’t really sunk in yet that I’m done with Egypt and on the plane to Argentina. I’ve been thinking about the end for about four weeks now, since spring break ended. Nothing extremely blog-worthy has happened since then. I went to Khan and bought souvenirs, I finally made it to see the pyramids at Giza, and in the same day I got back in the saddle and rode, very slowly, around a second set of pyramids at Abu Sir. Twice in the last week, I took a late night ride on a felucca full of friends, laughing and drinking as we glided over the Nile. I took seven finals in one week, I attended half a dozen farewell dinners, and then I finally said goodbye.

This could just be another day in a life. On the downside, I’m aboard a plane, eating exceptionally bad airplane food. On the plus side, there happens to be an extremely good looking Brazilian with dreadlocks slumbering next to me, and the airline I’m flying is Italian, so they offer wine as part of the complimentary beverage service. I’ve boarded a plane dozens of times before, shuttling off to various ends of the earth. But this time is significant, because it marks the end of four months living without: toilets where you can flush the paper, nonleaded gas, easily-accessible gluten-free food, stop signs in English, and set prices. It hasn’t always been easy. Cairo tested me, physically and mentally. To see and experience something so alien, so completely different from the US, has definitely made me look at the world and myself almost from a different dimension. If every new environment is like a funhouse mirror, then every time we look out at the world we see ourselves reflected back from a different angle, new parts distorted and magnified. If I didn’t come away from Cairo feeling like I saw new layers of myself and the world, well, I must have been walking around with my eyes closed. Fortunately, this is not the case.

I’m sure the introduction of a new environment will only throw what I have learned into sharper relief. I can’t really describe exactly how Cairo has affected me. It’s always hard to explain exactly why we are friends with the people we are, or why we love our families, or why we harbor an unreasonably strong dislike for spinach. We just do. In the same vein, Cairo just has changed my perspective. I don’t know how, it just has. Somehow the hot, dry air, unmitigated sun and teeming city energy have seeped into some invisible, semi-permeable membrane of mine, and I think it will have a hard time seeping out again. Cairo made studying sociopolitical conflicts and history and diplomacy real concepts for me, and it reaffirmed what I should be doing with my life. It was nothing like what I thought it would be, and everything it should have been. With that thought, I raise my flimsy, plastic cup full of wine to the end of a semester of adventures, and the beginning of what hopefully will be an amazing summer. Cheers.