Thursday, March 25, 2010

Coffee Talk - Living in a Shoebox

It was agreed today among us, the ever-wise expats of Westchester, that the secret to happy living in America is to find a culturally appropriate shoe box and align oneself with its occupants. You can never be just American. You have to be a hyphenated American. The closest to my heritage would probably be Arab-American!
But after observing closely the local AA community I had the chance to meet here, I realize that I don’t quite belong there. They are the Louboutins of the Arab World, or at least they behave as such. I’m more of a Nine West girl or recently, an Uggs fan. Does that make me Australian-American????? I can already see Katie’s face cringing at the thought 
But it’s true, as my friends said today, that we hang on to our heritage much tighter when we move away from our homeland. I’m more Egyptian here than I ever was when I lived in Cairo. I cook Egyptian, I dress Egyptian and I behave Egyptian. Or at least that’s what I believe when people give me that quizzical look and I justify myself with a mischievous smile and a wink and I say: Oh I’m Egyptian.
The truth hits when I go back home, summer after summer, and I find that in Egypt, I don’t eat Egyptian. I don’t dress Egyptian and in all honesty, I have no clue what behaving like an Egyptian means!
So back home I don’t fit into the regular Bata box (Egyptian national shoe brand), and here, I can’t seem to find a box that gives me room to happily wiggle my toes.
I think of Roumi cheese.
I don’t eat Roumi. I never even liked Roumi. It’s so sour and oily; and in the presence of the infamous Gruyere and Kashkaval, who wants to have Roumi in their fridge?
I miss having Roumi in my fridge. I even threaten anyone who comes to visit without a pack of Roumi. Yes it’s that bad! I crave Roumi cheese and I would love to feel its oily tongue- nipping taste in my mouth right now.
I come to New York, and I just want to wear Azza Fahmy jewelry. I fill my house with Arabian horses Рon oil paintings that is. I drive a distance to the Arabic shop to buy my monthly stock of Montana Molokheya and other Egyptian crudit̩s.
I try to watch Egyptian television and if you happen to catch me cheering our national soccer team in front of a pathetically weak cyber feed, you’d think I was born a soccer fan. I never even liked the game before I left Egypt!
So what does this say of me?
That I’m holding on to my heritage in an effort to find myself a fitting shoebox in the new world.
What I found today- unfortunately after my friends had already dispersed - was that the box I need is right there at my fingertips. It just hasn’t received its proper label. And it’s neither a Louboutin (with great sorrow), nor a Bata either (woof, sigh of relief).
So today, I’ll propose a few labels for my new shoebox: The Exp Factor- The Expat – GC (Global Citizen - thanks to Alex) – Rrrrrrrrrr (for Roamer) - Shoes For Lovely People (this brand actually exists!) – but my favorite so far is the one I found on Zappos: Zoo York!
Any brilliant ideas??
I extend the invitation to all UN spouses and expatriated wives to claim their rightful place in my shoebox and celebrate our common identity

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Desperate Housewives of Westchester

As a UN Spouse, when are you allowed to announce your status as Desperate Housewife?

Some like the life.
Some were meant to be full-time moms and home-makers. I like it too. But I just can’t fill the emptiness that engulfs my days.
Blame it on my mom. Blame it on my dad. They both taught me that a woman has to earn her independence and never rely on a man’s wallet to feel secure.
Blame it on my husband. He made it clear that he would never marry a “typical Egyptian” because, in his mind, she would be a spoilt, sheltered girl who always relies on the men in her life to take care of her. That’s why he married me, he says.
No pressure there… no pressure at all!
I moved to New York over 7 months ago… I tried online courses. I got busy with GREs and Toefels and school applications. I didn’t get into the single program I applied for. So yes… I’m disappointed. But that’s OK, this too shall pass!
What I worry about is the prospect of another full year of doing…. NOTHING.
Is it healthy to have nothing to talk about other than new dish recipes and child sicknesses?
Is it normal that the only source of real fun is when my new-found friends invite me to their inner circle and go out to lunch?
Is it OK that after so many years of pursuing higher education and building, NO: hand- carving a career despite all the moving around, I’m back to square zero, not even SQ 1??
Maybe it is. I just have to find it in me to accept it.
Or maybe this itching to do more, and achieve more is an infliction that many other roaming spouses suffer from. We just don’t share our thoughts enough.
So I hereby officially announce: I’m the new DHW of Westchester NY.
Let’s see how many will join the club and maybe then… our sheer number will make me feel finally empowered.
Too bad no hunky plumber is moving in my hood anytime soon ;)

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Citizen of the world

They say home is where your family is. I say home is where I was before I came here. It was the Cairo I left behind when I moved to Jakarta. It was New York City when I moved to Amman. And ironically, it’s Amman, ever since I moved back to New York.
They say home is where your heart is. I say home is where I left a piece of my heart behind. It’s where I said good bye to real friendships and great adventures. Home is where I created memories and saved them in scrapbooks and photo albums.
They say home is where you come from and “don’t you ever forget about your roots”. I say that after 11 years of roaming around the world, I’ve spread my seeds in many fertile lands and by now, I have deep roots that have sprouted into beautiful flowers in every city I lived in.
Today I don’t feel homeless. Today I embrace the whole world as my home. Sounds too poetic. Right?? Maybe a little cheesy!!! But that’s living a Roamer’s life. At times you feel lost and lonely and on a day like today, having spent a great evening among good and sincere friends, I feel good about the world.

Let’s see what tomorrow brings.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Surviving the DMV driver's test

On a bright Friday morning, I stepped out of my car, went to the driver’s seat, adjusted it, then the mirrors and buckled up. I grabbed the wheel and took off for what I was sure was just a routine driver’s test.
Patiently, I waited at the first STOP sign, then the second, then a third and by the fourth I thought to myself: How many more before my blank-faced tester can actually realize that I DO READ ENGLISH, I KNOW HOW TO BREAK AT A STOP SIGN and I CAN ACTUALLY DRIVE, especially since I’ve been doing it for almost two decades and at least six months (without a single penalty) in this state?
That’s when I made a small jump. It was a big mistake!
That Friday, I went back home in utter disbelief. On the one hand, I didn’t yield (after patiently stopping at that fourth sign for over a minute). But on the other, I drove really well.
That was Friday the 11th. On Thursday the 12th, a snow storm hit the city and everyone vowed to stay home. I took off and headed to the site of my second road test.
Same waiting line, same sober faced with an I_HATE_MY_JOB look testers; but the streets were all covered in snow. Two stop signs later and practically no danger to yield to (everyone else really stuck to their homes), I passed!
Now I am officially approved by the NY DMV as a safe driver. How much exactly did that cost me?
- Study time, though that was the only part I found important
- A trip down to Manhattan to do the practical test and wait for hours for my papers to be processed. Finished a boring novel and missed a nice lunch with my friends in the process, which was an utter waste of time
- A painful four-hour session of decent and responsible driving that is TOTALLY designed for teen drivers. I don’t really drink, let alone drink and drive. I’m worried about children crossing the street, but I’m concerned about the safety of my own three little ones strapped in the backseat of my minivan. For God’s sake, I drive a minivan!!! Ring Ring Ring!
- Two mornings trying to pass a practical driving test
- A nerve-wrecking and quite humiliating experience sitting next to a woman I don’t know, whose sole job is to judge my every move: a turn of the head, a jerk of the knee, and God forbid, an untimely sneeze. Then she sits and starts scoring my abilities right there and then. So instead of focusing on the road, I try to steal a few sideway glances to see if I’ve already failed or not.
I passed.
But it’s far from over…
Still have to do the trip to Manhattan to renew the license I have yet to receive.
Yes, they gave me a learner’s permit which expires two days after my test was scheduled, how clever was that?
So now, I’m bracing myself for yet another boring novel, a lunch missed at one of my favorite hang outs and a morning totally lost to bureaucratic chaos..and NO..this isn’t happening in Cairo. It’s right here in one of the world’s supposedly most humane countries!!