Collecting homes in Cairo

April 24, 2008

With D.C.’s weather becoming more humid by the day and finals looming, it’s only a matter of time before the mini-vans begin creeping stealthily into strategic positions throughout campus; until cab drivers with hunger in their eyes begin hovering outside Leavey to catch stragglers struggling with suitcases on the way to the airport; until parents and brothers and sisters and cousins descend on us to pack up boxes and bags, defrost refrigerators, and head for home.

For many at Georgetown, it’s time to wonder how we’ll make it through three months without friends who are like family, who will be scattered all over the world.

I’ve already gone through that first trying goodbye to college. I watched my best friends drive off into the languor of summer, knowing that I’d return to a past I’d nearly forgotten by going back to my house in Portland, Oregon before leaving for an internship after a few weeks.

I’ve gone through the second one, too: through the haze of packing my boxes as my flight nearly left without me, I recognized the tinges of home in D.C. as I prepared for my junior year abroad. I headed back to Portland for the whole summer—if not home, it is at least to the place I am from. I settled back into the routine of S.E. Ankeny Street and the rhythm of living with my family for the first time since I graduated from high school. As soon as I got a tight hold on the threads of home again, I had to begrudgingly board another waiting plane and head off to the Middle East.

In the last nine months, I have shuttled between Cairo, Dublin, Vienna, and Haifa. I’ve climbed Mt. Sinai, danced in an Irish ceilidh, been force-fed schnitzel by my Austrian family, played billiards with Bedouins in Jordan, and wandered through Jerusalem at night.

I haven’t been back to Portland, but somehow home has found me anyway. I glimpsed it in the drizzle that made the cobbles slippery on my third trip to Ireland. I heard it in the same old Danube Waltz played from every radio in Austria at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Day 2008, just as it did on the first day of 1998, the last time I spent the holidays in my father’s European hometown. And I have found it again most curiously here, in Cairo, on my trip back to Egypt during the spring vacation of my second semester program in Israel.

It turns out that you can find home as you lug an old duffle bag across the threshold of the house your family rents at the beach every August. You can find it in the dusty smell of the coffee shop down the street that new furniture and years of cleaning fluid will never destroy, or in a chip of the same rusty green paint dangling off a chair drawn up to a fountain in Paris, granting you the same view of toy boats circling lazily in front of the Louvre that you loved years ago, the last time you were there.

It turns out that you don’t even need to love a place to find home there. Home slipped in as I cut mint for iced tea in the kitchen of my friend’s sweltering apartment in Mohandiseen, just like I did when the AC went out in my old apartment across town, months and months ago. It does not matter how deeply relieved I was to leave here in December—I’m still feeling at home, back again in April.

I have six weeks left of self-imposed exile, and after all this moving, all these suitcases, I am itching to go back home, even though I’m no longer sure where to find it. Maybe home will reach up from the Douglas Fir-crested West Hills of Portland and wrap its fingers around me as my plane touches down in Oregon. I hope the glimmer of home will be waiting patiently for me, stretched out in the shade on Healy lawn when I get out of the cab from National Airport. And, if I’m lucky, the new fragments of home I’ve accumulated around the world over the past year won’t dim the light thrown by the mirrored pieces of home I left behind.

Read More

Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments