Monday, July 8, 2013

Here I am again

Well, as the title suggests, I have returned.
As of 4 am Cairo time on June 28, 2013, I have left Egypt.

The last two days I spent in Egypt flew by in what felt like an instant.
On June 26, I spent most of the day packing, and then went out with my friend Nehal that evening. When I returned home, I found a small gathering of my host mother's three closest friends had come over to say goodbye to me.

Then the 27th, my last full day in Egypt, was quite full of activity. I finished packing, said my final goodbyes to several friends, and then at about 7 pm, we loaded all my things into the car, and then I headed off towards the Cairo Airport with my host parents and Loay.
The car ride passed by pretty uneventfully. We talked a lot, listened to some Mohamed Mounir (one of Egypt's most popular singers), called a few people, and then arrived at the Cairo International Airport at about a quarter to midnight.
After entering the airport, we kind of just sat around, chit-chatting, walking around every now and then, got something to drink, I showed them the poster of pictures of us together that I had made as a gift, all while waiting for Carson and Annika to arrive so we could say goodbye to our families, then go through security, check in, and eventually get on the plane.
After quite a while, Carson arrived with her host family, and then informed us that, quite oddly, Annika would not be flying with us that night, but would be flying home by herself the next day - but was still on her way to the airport to say goodbye to us.
After a few minutes, true to her word, Annika joined us there, and then we said our dreaded, tearful goodbyes to our host families before going through security - I don't think I'll ever forget the image of Amal and Loay standing on the other side of the metal detector, waving at me with teary smiles.
After we went through the security, we had a few issues at the check-in due to overweight luggage, then after a brief visa scare that thankfully was cleared up quite quickly, we finally made our way to the gate (with not a lot of time to spare), but found that every one of our fellow passengers was still waiting to board anyway. Having arrived just as the boarding began, we walked down the jetway into the plane, talking animatedly all the while, and then once we were seated in our seats at the very back of the plane, we used Carson's phone to call both of our families one last time to tell them we were in the plane and to say goodbye.
After a while, the plane finally started to move, and just before it took off into the crimson Cairo sunrise, we shed a few tears together.
After the plane took off, I admit - I took out my iPod, put "Here Comes Goodbye" by Rascal Flatts on replay, and proceeded to cry extensively.
Other than that emotional meltdown, I spent the flight mostly by talking with Carson, about everything and nothing, and halfheartedly trying to get a little sleep. Eventually, we arrived at the Frankfurt Airport about an hour early.

The Frankfurt Airport was intimidatingly large, but comparatively empty since it was still pretty early in the morning, and surprisingly not so difficult to get around. Since we saw that our flight had begun boarding, we decided to make our way over to our terminal on the SkyTrain, and arrived just on time.
The flight from Frankfurt to New York City was quite long. The plane, luckily, was very sleek and modern, equipped with very large individual entertainment screens (albeit with somewhat disappointingly small movie selections), which we made use of to entertain ourselves. Plus talking again, about so many different, random things, as our thoughts flowed. And a bit of sleeping. (Or quite a bit, actually - I halfheartedly tried to watch a documentary about whales just to take advantage of the entertainment screens, fell asleep in the first fifteen minutes, and then woke up a few hours later). And just sitting around, being bored, complaining about how (although we still were not happy to have left) we wanted the plane to land so badly so that the flight could be over. xD

Finally, our prayers were answered, and we touched down in JFK. Immediately we used my cell phone to call my dad and Carson's grandmother, who were waiting to pick us up. After having a few unexpected delays getting through customs, we retrieved our luggage, then made our way out to the other side, where Carson's grandmother was waiting for her. Since my dad was still on his way, stuck in pretty awful traffic, Carson and I hugged each other goodbye and I waited about fifteen minutes before my dad arrived at the arrivals terminal, and we were reunited for the first time in ten months.
That moment was just about as surreal as anything else I'd thought was surreal those past few days, and at the same time profoundly amazing. It was absolutely wonderful to find my dad waiting for me with open arms, a broad smile, and a bag of Skittles (what can I say, the man knows me too well! xD). We instantly started talking, as though we had never been apart for all these months - I told him about the trip, we caught up, and just kind of chit chatted as we normally would until we arrived at the same place we stopped while I was just about to leave for Egypt - my grandparents' home in New Brunswick, New Jersey.
After an equally warm and hearty welcome back to the States from my grandparents, we very quickly headed out to dinner at a nearby Polish restaurant called Krakowiak - a pretty nice culinary welcome back, I must say.

The next day, the four of us went out to lunch with several of my aunts and uncles at a nearby Turkish restaurant called Sahara, which was also quite nice - lovely company, of course, and the food was also delicious - reminiscent, in many ways, of the food I had left behind in Egypt.
After that, we went back to my grandparents' house, hurriedly gathered up our things, and were very graciously driven by my Aunt Jane and Uncle Bill, who were kind enough to give us a lift, over to Newark Liberty Airport for our flight out to Detroit.
Though it definitely was a bit of a close shave, we made it on time, and caught our flight with no troubles. My dad, who got bumped up to business class, was generous enough to give me his seat there, which I very much appreciated.
Then, after a short one hour flight, and some more tears, I found myself looking out over my state, as it slowly began to unfold, and come alive from the window of the plane, as vague green hues and outlines of towns became forests, fields, and buildings. Eventually, the plane touched down, and as it gradually came to a stop, so too did my year. My year in the mother of the world.
After getting off the plane, we made our way over to the exit, and on the other side of those automatic glass doors, who did we see waiting for us but my mom and sister, holding balloons and a beautiful sign. :') A very moving and lovely way to be welcomed back, I must say.
After that, the rest of the evening passed pretty uneventfully. I gave all my family their gifts, which they thankfully liked a lot, and then we went out to dinner at a Thai restaurant, conversing endlessly all the while. It truly was amazing to be reunited with my family - in terms of my relationship to all of them, in many ways it feels like we were never apart.

After that, all the days since I've been back have been a bit of a whirlwind of activity that I myself have struggled to keep track of a bit. A few medical appointments. Many trips to the local library and to the pool. Celebrating the Fourth of July by viewing a breathtaking firework show. Having a welcome back party with the same close friends who came to my goodbye party, all those months ago. Celebrating my dad's birthday. Keeping my eyes glued to the news for updates on Egypt. Keeping in touch with my host family and friends back there. Unpacking (which is still an ongoing process xD). Seeing both a show called "One Radio Host, Two Dancers" featuring the host of This American Life, Ira Glass, and two dancers named Monica Bill Barnes and Anna Bass, as well as a lovely art exhibition of the work of a very talented Iranian American artist named Shirin Neshat (both of which I enjoyed immensely and highly recommend). Many, many things.
In terms of reverse culture shock, I'm definitely not feeling anywhere near what I expected to. Every now and then I have thoughts regarding little cultural quirks here and there that I didn't notice so much before, or that stick out to me now after being away for so long. But no glaringly intense culture shock to speak of.
I'd describe what I've been feeling as something more akin to reverse country or reverse life shock. The first day, after I landed, was honestly so trippy. I'm sure that that was intensified quite a bit by jetlag and exhaustion, but it just felt extremely weird to be back. I felt some reverse culture shock on that day more intensely than what I just described, and so many things popped out at me that I used to not notice - the amount of green everywhere, how sleek and glossy everything seemed, people's behavior, speaking English 24/7, using dollars, those sorts of things. And after ten months of being away, and not having fully processed the fact that I was coming back here until saying goodbye to my host family/sitting down on the plane, it was just plain weird at first.
Take that, and intensify it a little, and it accurately describes how I felt after my return to Ann Arbor - it just felt so strange to see all these places that I've been going to, sights that I've been seeing, people that I've known, senses that I've been sensing, and things that I've been doing, for almost my whole life, after having been away for nearly ten months.
I've since gotten over this initial shock from the first days, but it still feels kind of odd at times.

Another thing that's been on my mind a lot lately has been the Egyptian news.
What has been going on lately has been somewhat inaccurately described by the Western media as a "coup d'etat." What really happened, in a nutshell, is that people took to the streets to protest against the new (and now ousted) president Mohammed Morsy pretty much on the day that I left. The Egyptian people were highly dissatisfied with Morsy because throughout the past year since he was elected, he did not do much of anything to improve the situation in Egypt - all he did was put members of his political party into positions of government and turn off the power periodically as a "power saving mechanism."
The people took to the streets to protest because they were fed up with all that and wanted real change to take place, for the country to be improved. The army then intervened, giving an ultimatum with a deadline of July 3 at 5 pm for the political parties to meet the demands of the people, threatening to intervene themselves if no compromises were made.
On July 3, the army announced the end of Morsy's presidency, resulting in jubilant celebration throughout Egypt.
I too am glad now that he has been ousted in a relatively peaceful manner, but I worry now for what will follow. I'm not sure what the near future holds for Egypt, but what I do know is that I hope and pray that it can be as powerful and great as it was in the past. I know that it has that potential, I see it in the goodness and determination that my host family and friends in Egypt possess. I know that it can be like that again. And I really hope that it will.

That's all for now, I think. I won't end my blog now, not just yet. Maybe partly because I just don't want to, but I feel like I can still squeeze out another post or two that will be relevant to my year there. We'll see.
For now, enjoy some pictures.
Ma alsalama for now,

With my host mom. I'm going to miss her like no other.

With Carson in our AFS Egypt tees. A very fitting garment to travel in, considering we had to wear AFS USA tees on the flight there. 

With my brother. 

Osrityyyy (my family) <3 

From left to right: Yara and Basant, Carson's host mom and sister respectively, Carson, Annika, me, my host mom, and Dina, Carson's friend.

This is Sparky. He is a stuffed wolverine (the University of Michigan (which is located in Ann Arbor)'s mascot, given to me by my friend Brent as a gift before I left. He rode out the trip back snug in the pocket of my sweater, as you see. :3

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