Almost a victim of Eat, Pray, Love - "There's No Place Like Home."

By day eight Cairo felt firmly apart of us, and we it. We both had a sense that we could both commit to months or years here, but through the looking glass was the life we left behind. Our children, sisters, brothers, friends and parents- a world away in the United States. When we awoke on the final day to the beeping of the cell phone alarm, we showered and went to the front desk of Hotel Juliana where we expected our driver and airport-transfer to be there and waiting for us. What we found was some old man who didn't speak English, had no teeth, and coughed blood into a rag while smoking on a cigarette. While in Egypt, we were informed several times that "smoking is good for your health", however this fine specimen of lung cancer clearly contradicted their advice. In chairs outside of the make-shift office we waited, and waited. Seconds turned into minutes. Then it was ten minutes late, then 15 minutes late. Eventually after thirty minutes, I looked at Shan and she knew it was time to go. Now if someone had told us while sitting in our American living room while planning all this that we'd be stranded in Cairo, with no ride, speaking only a tiny bit of Arabic, thirty kilometers away from the airport, with only minutes left till our plane takes off, forced to find a taxi to escape in when you're in a country in which men ignore women- then, we might have been a bit scared. This however wasn't then, it was now, and we weren't those quaint little people any more. What we had become in Cairo was exactly who we needed to be at this very moment, as we silently recognized and engaged our joint mission together. We lifted our packs onto each other's shoulders, tightened the cords and jumped from the third floor landing down the stairway. With each step the dust rose from our shoes, as we cleared the stairwell  and shot into the lobby which was just beginning to fill with the light of Cairo's dawn. There, the security guard was snoring in the corner, a newspaper over his face. We were now running through Garden City, our lungs consuming the air like machines. Quickly we arrived on the corner to the main road leading to Al Tahrir Square. Eventually we began to see cabs, and frantically waved them down. Immediately we were refused, but then another arrived. The cab driver spoke no English and so we resorted to sign language and hand gestures of airplanes along with our minute amount of Arabic to secure a ride for 50 Egyptian Pounds. Success I thought as we wondered if I had just communicated "take me to Libya" by mistake. Worry turned to reassurance as our cab ripped a hole in the Egyptian morning, flying past signs adorned with a symbol of an airplane. We ended up making it exactly on time for our check-in. Shan turned to the gentlemen with cash and tip in hand, and thanked him in Arabic, then told him "good job" in his native language from her sheet of phrases she had written down. The tired and worn driver's face turned to a smile revealing his lack of teeth which also made us smile. In that moment, we weren't some white female tourists, we were beginning to become apart of this world which we came to visit.
Cairo airport is small and sterile. It's also very backwards requiring you to go through metal detectors before checking in. These were perhaps the first metal detectors we had encountered which actually worked in all our visit. Most metal detectors in Cairo are broken and the guards are forced to simply say "beep" when they want to search you. Inside the terminal there's a small coffee bar, and a McDonald's signaling your return back to western civilization. Before we left, we picked up a few souvenirs and then were shepherded into this glass box with no bathrooms or food. There we waited till they bused us out to this humongous British Airway's 777 with its engines on stand-by, ready to gobble up the sky. The seats were cushy, and the craft even had climatization on the tarmac unlike our Egypt Air arrival. It was hard to believe that in five hours we'd be back in London.

 London, I say that like it's a real place, when I'm certain it's just a fantasy world like in Peter Pan which magically appears just for me once a year then disappears like a dream when I return to the States. I knew I had five hours to decide if I was going to tell Shannon our relationship was over and that I would stay behind while she went home and took care of the kids. Another victim of Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat, Pray, Love? Would I be strong enough to live with that kind of guilt? To give up everything I ever knew for a dream? Perhaps I could talk Shannon into staying with me, and we'd just leave the kids behind an indefinite amount of time with the Grands till we could afford to send for them? That's when I caught the look on Shannon's face out of the corner of my eye and realized I had been saying all this out-loud. "Merde!" I grumbled. Shannon replies with a firm "NO!" "Damn", I think. "What?" the flight attendant says. "Not you",  I retort and cower back into my seat as she hands me my full English breakfast.

I realize now that it was typical sized meal for a normal person, but at that moment it seemed as though the proportions were huge compared to our meals of the past four days in Cairo. Eggs, sausage, potatoes, tomatoes, mushrooms, biscuits, muffin, water, juice, tea. I felt like a starving refugee from Northern Africa who had been given entry in to an American all-you-can-eat buffet. Surely no normal person eats all this. It was good too. No probably not, but British Airplane food was as perfect as you could have ever gotten at that moment. I wouldn't have traded it for anything in the world.

When we landed at Heathrow we swapped terminals, and was surprised that the spanking new terminal 5 didn't have air-bridges to ferry us into the terminal. (Maybe they just don't like people from Cairo?) Eventually we made it to an old familiar place: the American Airlines terminal. There we picked up some Mars bars, a Doctor Who magazine for Chance and some Hob Nobs. Eventually we made our way onto another 777. It had already felt like we'd been travelling all day, and now we had another 7.5 hour flight, a subway journey across New York, and finally another 2.5 hour flight into North Carolina. Shan made friends with some girls from Italy on the flight, and I grabbed a pen and starting writing on my tray table place mat something that I eventually titled "Sheep Under The Sea". A collection of things I learned abroad that was heavily influenced by our friend Jeremie's French accented English as he tried to say "ship under the sea" holding a Belgian beer. I think the title is fitting, and the best part was it seemed to cure my writer's block. Words just poured from my hand, and for the next eight hours I wrote on every piece of paper, styrofoam and napkin I could find.

When we arrived in New York, we went through passport control where a gorgeous New York officer breaks out his text-book immigration probe question: "What did you like better, Cairo or Brussels?" and I quickly responded with the lie I knew would get us quickly through the red tape: "right now America." He laughed, and said "Yup, there's no place like home!", like some Hollywood script paying homage to the Wizard of Oz. It worked, and we were allowed back into the States where we quickly left the airport, took the air-train, then the subway, then a bus at rush hour and eventually made it to the other NY airport where we waited, and waited, exhausted. When we boarded the final three hour flight to Raleigh we had already been up for almost 24 hours, traveled from Africa to Europe, and half way down the east coast of the North America. I immediately collapsed into my pillow after take-off remembering nothing till touch-down. This from someone who can never sleep on planes. When we arrived in Raleigh we called our shuttle driver and he picked us up to take us to our reservation at the Holiday Inn. We were lucky we didn't have to drive back to our house that night. There in the hotel I wrote some more, we ordered some food and sat perplexed in a room with a television bigger than the entire hotel we had been living out of in Cairo. It was intense acculturation. A bit all too much; as emotional sadness overwhelmed me and my body now on the verge of shutting down, caused me to collapse after a shower. Perhaps we were back, but some part of us didn't completely comeback with us. Assimilation back to America brings forth depression as you're forced to capitulate back into reality. I might have been half dead, but I knew that the hardest part was yet to come and I wasn't looking forward to it.


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