“It’s like that, you know.” Justine pondered, lying on my favorite couch as I threw the last of my things into suitcases. It was on that couch where I sat for hours and days as the military cleared the protests. It was on that couch where I often fell asleep on a seemingly quiet evening during curfew and awoke to gunshots from the bridge.
“It’s like what?” I asked, immersed in the sorting of knick-knacks from my dining room. What to pack, what to leave?
“It’s like nothing has changed. When you go home, and you feel like things should be different. But everything is the same.”
I had just played Bastille’s “Pompeii”, my soundtrack-song for leaving Cairo.
“But if you close your eyes,
Does it almost feel like
Nothing changed at all?
And if you close your eyes,
Does it almost feel like
You've been here before?”
Matt and Steph were sitting on opposite couches, their agreement communicated in silence. They had all three been home in the last year, but this was my first trip. I hadn’t been to America since flying away to my first international teaching assignment two years prior.
I said my last goodbyes, then, to the three people who helped shape my time in Cairo. I thought I didn’t have any more tears, but of course that wasn’t true. I sat alone in my empty apartment and thought about what Justine said. Would it really be the same as I remembered? I had been so worried that I would go home and feel lost, feel like everything and everyone had moved on without me. I was sure I wouldn’t fit-in, imagining a dramatic Coming-to-America-esque vibe full of new fangled technology and shocking progress. I was also concerned that I was too different, full of social faux pas and unusual habits I had picked-up abroad.
I ended up with quite the transition time. Originally, my plan was to leave Egypt Wednesday morning and be at my parents’ by Wednesday night. The time change would make the change quick and jarring. But an unexpected 24-hour layover in O’Hare quite possibly pushed me through the initial stage of culture shock, instead. I got used to being able to understand the conversations around me, the clean, crisp, smoke-free air, and the way Americans travel with intense purpose, even when they are just walking to the bathroom.
I arrived home and after tearful hellos and a good shower, settled onto a stool in my mother’s kitchen. I watched her cook, hearing again the noises of my childhood: kitchen sounds of scraping, clanging and mixing. And it felt just like Justine said it would, like nothing changed at all.
The memories came flooding back to me. Instead of two years, I felt as if I had only been gone a week. Egypt was bottled into the back of my memory bank, and things like driving, watching TV with my brother, and shopping with my mom were easy, innate activities.
Two years of memories cannot, however, be bottled-up without eventually overflowing. I noticed little spurts of Egypt creeping into my comfortable Kansas life. I had to stop myself from speaking Arabic to the servers in restaurants, I missed the fresh produce and busy streets, and the calm, quiet demeanor of people in public was a little disconcerting.
I noticed changes in myself, as well. I walked with confidence and energy, no longer feeling as much insecurity about my weight or appearance. I felt strongly connected to my family, with a yearning to help them and care for them in a way I couldn’t for two years. And I felt perfectly fine sitting alone, no longer sad or lonely, without the need to be around people all the time.
A week after arriving home, my mother had major heart surgery, and I put aside any element of culture shock to apply myself fully in that experience. But the passion and love-for-life I gained in Egypt is what allowed me to fully invest in my mother and family at that time. I was a better daughter, sister, housekeeper and friend than I would have been two years ago.
The combination of Egypt and my home in Kansas make me so ready to continue my adventure in Indonesia. I am grateful for the things that haven’t changed, and the things that have. I am both excited for my journey and excited to spend the remaining week here with my family. I am proud to be from Kansas and have lived in Egypt. I know, as I delve further into international teaching, the positive changes will only continue.