I made my way to the school for my first face-to-face meeting with my new boss. All possible illusions of me being a tourist just visiting Egypt started to fade. I was not a tourist. I was not visiting. I was on hijrah; a permanent move to an Islamically-based country. I was here to start building a new life for my son and myself.
The upper middle-class Egyptians strolling in and out of the school gates made me feel underdressed by comparison. I was not in the same league. I couldn't be! My clothes were now a couple years old and not nearly as sharply pressed--ok, they weren't pressed at all.
Good thing I don't embarrass easily.
Waiting in the reception area for the principal reminded me of so many past on-line relationships made real. I knew this lady from emailing and one phone call once I landed. I had no idea what she actually looked like.
Was it her? I'd straighten up a bit on the couch. That lady would walk past.
Did the principal wear hejab? I had no idea.
Could she be that one?
Turns out that my new boss was an elegant lady with this great warmth. From the moment she came to introduce herself, I knew that I had made the right choice in keeping my commitment with the school. She would do her best for me. I felt that. I felt the comfort of that.
I signed up and walked out of the gates as if I was worth a million bucks. It had nothing to do with my outsides. It had to do with all the calm and happiness I felt inside. Happiness is an inside job, afterall. My job was going to be OK.
So, my boy and I headed back to the hotel. I looked around our four walls with the trepidation of a baby chick crampt inside the eggshell but not ready to peck its way out. Yes, this was a teeny-tiny room but how could I really leave it after two days? I couldn't.
I arranged for another day and asked for a driver who knew the area. I had to search for a new place to live. The old, experienced driver was over charging so I got the number of a young driver instead. While I liked the old man's courtesy and decorum, I found myself unexpectedly laughing with the substitute.
The days had been so frought with survival tactics. I had been tense without even knowing how much. The visit to the school released so much of that tension and it came out that night as I toured the local neighborhoods.
Somewhere I would find a place to live. It had to be close to the school. I knew that other American teachers typically lived in Maadi. I had no interest ZERO in living in an ex-pat community. I wanted real Egypt. I wanted cheap, safe and close to shops, restaurants and sights. Location, location, location!
None of the recommended local places interested me. It was very dark, late, and I was both tired and a little loopy. My driver was standing out of the car making a call. He came back with a new idea.
The young driver took me to his family's home, not far from the hotel, and we consulted with the local know-it-all perfume shop owner. Yes, he knew of a place.
This was a furnished two-bedroom with air-conditioning. And what? Immediate satelitte and high-speed internet hook-up?! I thought of agreeing on the spot but I held back. I actually did want to pray istakarah.
It wasn't the best...the furniture was old and tired...dirty and junky...but then what wasn't dirty and junky in Egypt?
That's how I felt then---I have since come to view things differently, as homes in Egypt can be absolutely spotless with the right care.
I left that possible apartment with much uncertainity and headed back to that evening's eventuality. I had spent three nights in a hotel room, with each night eating up a large chunk of cash. It was filled with clean, new furniture and
That sunk in. I would have to give up hotel living (with all of the helpful people I'd come to know). I would have to get my butt in gear and really hunker down in Egypt.
I would have to accept that apartment as the best I could do.
Sometimes, we take little steps forward and it feels so bad because we don't want to be in that spot. We know we aren't meant to be there for long. I felt that. I felt that the apartment was wrong for the long haul. I needed it for now but not forever. That hurt.
I didn't want yet another short-term residence. There had been a long list of emergency shelters. I wanted somehow to land in Egypt and discover a lovely gem of a place which would become my home for the next 40 years. I wanted a fantasy. I couldn't have that. I had to face the truth. I would be staying in a temporary place until I knew of somewhere better.
The next day was Friday. Still fasting. Still having a fair amount of culture shock. I called the landlady and agreed to rent her downstairs apartment. I called the young driver and he helped us with our carload. After lots of carrying bags down to his car, we took a short drive, and then carried lots of bags up to the apartment--my apartment. I was in.
I was in my new apartment...in Egypt...in my new life.
That night my son and I curled up together in the big bed and I listened to the sounds of the street. It was overwhelming; all that I had done
...and all that I had left to do.