I tire myself with my eternal quest to define all the elements that shape my identity. Who am I? Where do I belong? I never seem to have a clear answer.
I’m Egyptian, but my kids are born in the US and I’ve established roots in at least three other spots on the world map. So at times I feel more American, for two years I felt Jordanian and on many occasions I feel very Swiss.
Last Saturday I had a rare moment of clarity.
As 80 million Egyptians were gravitating towards the Cairo Stadium in anticipation for the big soccer game against Algeria (only 80,000 managed to see it live), I found myself grabbing an early cab to the bus station, jogging the rest of the way to my terminal and hopping on the bus to go all the way to New Jersey to watch the game with some friends and family.
It took me two hours to go. I managed to watch the last half hour but it was so worth it. Thousands of spectators with red tee shirts, wearing their red, white and black Dr. Seuss hats were waiving the Egyptian flags and cheering our team.
It wasn’t just a game. For 95 minutes on Saturday, our soccer field was turned into a battle field. The few Algerians who went to the stadium were using all kinds of vernacular and physical profanity to antagonize our people.
For days before the game, they launched a media campaign lashing and slashing at Egypt and its people. I heard rap songs especially written and produced for that not-so-noble cause.
It got me furious. I used to work on an initiative called Peace Through Sport, a project which was initiated by Jordanian Prince Faysal to promote peace among youth through sport. So when I heard about that Algerian YouTube clip all I could think of was: BRING IT ON!
So here I was, for a whole afternoon on Saturday hoping, praying and at times cheering at the top of my lungs for the players on the TV screen. I wanted Egypt to win because this wasn’t just a soccer match to qualify for the Coupe Mondiale, this was a match to regain our national pride! That Saturday I was a very proud Egyptian, even before we scored the winning goal in the last 30 seconds of the game. Especially when the camera zoomed in on an Algerian girl, furious to be defeated, giving us all the hand sign for (Screw you).
That Saturday I was a proud Egyptian and it really felt good.
We still have another match to play, again against the Algerians. I find myself relying on friends to pick up the boys from school, arranging with others to watch the game together and again…hoping and praying and wishing I were there.
This Wednesday, I will be all Egyptian and it will really feel good.
Back in the 80s, I was a skinny teenager with long brown hair and oversized, rolled-up tees. Home was the only place I was born in, grew up in, and went back to everyday.
Then came the 90s and we moved to the other side of the Nile. It felt like my whole world as I knew it had ended; though it was just a few minutes’ drive away. I don’t remember that I liked the move that much. I thought I had lost my home, my friends. But in reality, all I lost was the rolled up tee.
But I do remember that a couple of years later, I slowly grew attached to my new hood and with all the confidence a twenty-year-old can master, I called it home. By then, I was wearing tight fitting tees and low rise pants. The hair was still the same.
Then I met my husband and decided to spend the next two decades at least, roaming the world with him. The prospect of living abroad seemed fascinating. When he proposed, the prospect turned into a much anticipated reality. Then we got married…and reality hit! I had physically relocated with him to Indonesia but the rest of me stayed firmly rooted back home.
“Home is where we both decide to live for the moment.” He would try to convince me after every emotional meltdown. I still remember the sneers I gave back, the snappy comments. Home was exactly where I had left it, I would reply; thousands of miles and oceans away. It was where my friends and family were and life there was moving on… without me.
Then came the 00s and we moved to New York City. I was warned: you can never be neutral about the City. You will either love it or absolutely hate it.
It didn’t take long to fall in love…with New York.
I eagerly started to grow some roots and shoot them downwards to establish a solid foundation for my new-found home. The tees were out and camisoles took their place. Surprisingly the hair style survived yet another move.
I went to school for my graduate studies. I started a family and had two lovely boys. I made friends. This was home, I was sure. This was where my family was created. This was where true memories were made.
Then we moved to Jordan.
Now, if you’ve never been to Jordan, it would be hard for you to understand. It was the best place to raise a family, pursue a promising career and make some wonderful friends who, like me, brought along various parts of the world they lived in. I called it home. My kids did too. My husband was too wise to get attached.
We moved again.
“Home is where our family is,” I tell my kids now. They both shake their heads and give me the SAS…silent angry stare.
My 6-year-old refers to his future by saying: “When we’re done with NY… .” and My 4 year-old simply wants to go back in time. He’s still too young to understand the concept of a future. Let alone a future of homelessness.
So we have no real home. Every place we left behind has changed. People have moved on. We’re strangers when we go back. We’re strangers when we move forward.
I looked the word up in a dictionary hoping to find a definition for Home that would suit my lifestyle. A definition I could share with my boys to help them cope. There were at least ten options, none could define our lives.
So last night I looked at my son from the rear view mirror of my car, tucked my still-long brown hair under my ears and I answered his question.
We don’t really have a home the way your friends do. We are homeless people! We don’t need roots to survive. We’re campers and we’re explorers and if we spread a map on the wall and put photos of all the friends we make along the way, we will feel quite at home with our homelessness.
In his October 26th blog post on slate.com/ science, William Saletan exposed the humor that belies the scandal of Flight 188 and its dozing crew.
Napping, sex, and abstinenceis quite a catchy title. I mean, what could sleep and sex have in common when boarding a plane? I can understand the food and sleep connection he tries to make. They both come in short supply these days, as the article points to added flying shifts and budget cuts that have left pilots exhausted and overflown.
I read on... despite vows of "abstinence" from any news related to plane tragedies and an alarming spike in panic attacks I get every time I feel a little turbulence on a plane.
I read on because I was intrigued. I wanted to nail the sex connection. But unless the pilots were hormone-driven teenagers who still got a rush from mid-air, stuffy-cubicle sex, I found none.
That's good news, right?
Pilots are supposed to be those seasoned, mature professionals who are sensitized to the fact that, stranded up there in an oversized matchbox, their job isn't just to shuttle people around, it is actually to save lives. OK, maybe it's my fear talking, still, it's a very risky job.
but then again, they are hungry and overworked, enough to fall asleep while flying for over an hour. Does it matter if they were sexually deprived as well? was Saletan really referring to the pilots?
It's a scary mix he throws out there. And deprivation of any kind will not help me ease my fear of flying. Ever since that EgyptAir plane dipped in the ocean over 10 years ago, my agony at every bump, turn and slight turbulence has really deepened.
But I'm a Roamer, I spend a good portion of my life on planes. it's part of the deal and admittedly, the part I dread the most. So when the media starts picking at pilots dozing off in mid-air, I say enough! it's time to wake up.
Saletan offers his two cents on the issue stating that "if cockpit sleep is going to happen anyway, like dessert and teen sex, then maybe we should manage it instead of forbidding it."
I'm not sure I'd root for that plan. "Cockpit sleep" shouldn't happen anyway, whether it's managed or not.
Wouldn't it be easier if we rooted for cutting shifts down? Let those pilots go home, rest in their own bed, eat at their own table, have sex ... wherever they chose to have it... as long as it's not inside the cockpit and while I'm on board!
If Obama thinks he's now under pressure to prove that he is worthy of his not-so-hard-earned prize, he should come and talk to me!
October 4th I woke up to a buzz coming from every little gadget in my house. TV was on, smses were flooding in and so were a few early calls. Who? did What? Where? I tried to understand what was going on with groggy eyes and a dry throat itching for it's first taste of hot coffee.
The mood coming in was quite unanimous. But unlike the foreboding gloom that permeated all my airways right after 9/11, my callers (well maybe not the TV anchor who gleamed with patriotic pride) were laughing. Obama won the Nobel peace prize.
Everyone expected an answer, an intelligent one. They all wanted to know what I thought. And the pressure was on.... I went straight to the papers, then to the blogs, then to my politically savvy husband hoping I can borrow an intellectually fitting opinion. But I found none...
Almost a month later, the pressure hasn't wained and neither has my non-challence.
I read an interesting post by a blogger who was in Jordan at the time. He said people were ambivalent. They like America's new president but they feel that the prize was premature. Not that he doesn't deserve it, especially if good intentions count. But people in Amman were "baffled". Palestinians/Israelis are still viciously fighting. American youth is slowly withering in Iraqi deserts and Afghan caves and judging from all the GREEN talk these days, in a few years we will all be dead meat anyway. http://lynch.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2009/10/10/jordanian_takes_on_the_obama_peace_prize But in another place I read that in a few short months, Obama managed to yield Iranians to international power and that- by international standards, seems to be a great leap forward towards peace!
Really... Who am I to judge whether he deserves it or not? And why should I care so much? if any at all?
I just put a fresh disposable diaper on my daughter's little butt and for a split second I thought, would that be the final straw that tips the balance and lead my whole world prematurely to doom??? I waited there in dread...
Thankfully, it hasn't. And though more conscious about the environment today than I was before I came to the US two months ago, I'm not willing to give up on baby diapers yet.
You know when you turn on the radio and a tune from your past suddenly blasts? Yesterday, just as I managed to negotiate a few minutes of grown-up music from my boys, Seal decided to reward me with his deep and raspy voice. Yes, I love Seal and he brings back happy memories of home.
Yesterday, driving on the I-687 back from a children's museum after a long and arduous day chasing after three young kids with very very different interests, I heard his voice.
And it wasn't just a song. It was THE SONG. MY SONG. I had my moment. A moment where I could almost touch, smell, taste and see that desert spot overlooking the Pyramids...
It was sunrise on a summer morning in 1995, and a good friend has agreed to wake up early and head to the Pyramids to shoot a film for a Marketing graduation project. We were wearing Bedouin clothes, and we were dreaming of hot coffee and our still warm beds. But we stood there, in awe of our surroundings, breathing in the rare fresh breeze that engulfs my city only at dawn. He likes Seal too, and he likes my SONG.
We put it on. This was the age of the CDs. They were rare, cool and we had one in the car. We listened for a few seconds, braced ourselves for the long shoot that lay ahead and got out to face the camera lens.
Yesterday, I heard the words: "And now that your rose is is in bloom. A light hits the gloom on the grey" and I felt that moment. My notion of home has changed dramatically over the years. But the light that still shines on my city of birth, still has, at rare moments like this, the power to reach me where ever I go.
It's alarming that a gigantic multinational body like the UN keeps no published records of our lot, the spouses who oblige and follow their partners around the globe. I spent days, searching the net for any stats that would tell me how many of us are out there and all I found was one document stating the rules for spouse employment within the UN system. While in Jordan, I joined the UNLESA.. can't remember what the letters stand for but it was an organization for UN spouses based in Jordan. For two years, the focus of the group was to match spouses with jobs within the UN system. Well, that was when they were not fighting for space for with over two dozen UN agencies who couldn't find an empty room to give up for a couple of hours for us to convene. Since I had a good job already, my interest in the organization dwindled after a while. I only stayed on because I genuinely liked its members. While finding a suitable job tops the list for many of us Roamers, there are other issues that should be tackled with equal candor. Some of which, directly feed into the job search issue. Take an example of a mother of three, two of which are toddlers with years to go before they go to school. Say the UN Spouse Employment Programme finds her a great job that totally matches with her qualifications and aspirations. Who will take care of her kids? what happens if her school age child falls sick? If she's late, is there a support system she can rely on to help? Shouldn't the process of founding a support infrastructure precede any job search?
Six weeks now, kids are slowly settling and life is falling into a predictable routine: Drop kids at school, go to Gym, work a little on pending articles and back to pick up kids from school... Between homework and back to back Grey's Anatomy series, I have little time to think...Let alone reflect.
It takes a few seconds only for the first thought to pop up though. What's next for me?
And though I have little time to dwell on it, I carry my precious single thought along everywhere I go: in the morning on the way to school, to the Gym, all the way till I turn the last light off and brace myself for yet, another day in Suburban New York.
The question of who I am usually yields a different answer every... two to four years!
Sometimes, I'm a PR and Media Professional. I'm also a freelance Journalist. But the only constant job I have is that of a typical Roamer...
A United Nations Spouse who has followed her husband to yet, another destination.
It keeps me busy and it keeps me alive but right now... It stands in the way!
In the way of fulfilling career aspirations.
In the way of ensuring a core sense of stability for my family.
In the way of defining who I am.
Like Roamers everywhere, I constantly have to deal with Nostalgia, Insecurity, and kids relying on imaginary friends to replace those left behind.
I have made it my mission to investigate these issues and share with fellow Roamers tips and insights to overcome the hurdles of our lives and find peace with a rootless life.