Confessions of a Confused TwentySomething: Sex Ed With an Egyptian Taxi Driver

Cab rides in Egypt are like a box of chocolate; you never know what you're gonna get. You could get Sha3by FM, you could get the Quran, you could get cigarettes and silence. But, this? This was a box full of chocolate-covered crickets, except the crickets were still alive.

PORN, SEX, AND EGYPTIAN DISCOTHEQUES ABROAD

"People outside of Egypt are far more advanced; sex is easily available. You can have sex with a girl who's 16 years old… but, if she gets pregnant, you'll be tried for it. She needs to have the basic mental awareness to know who she's choosing to have babies with and what her life is going to look like. She needs to be 18 for her to be more mentally stable and to determine how she's going to live her life. (Because every girl has her shit together at 18). Even though her body is not that of a child at 16 years old – as proven by the fact that he allowed her to have sex with him – she's still his 'girlfriend'; she's having sex with him because it's physiologically normal. It's like eating and drinking, for them. But, for us, a girl will get to 30 years old and won't know anything about the topic. For them, at 14 years old she can start to engage with certain things that are appropriate for her age. Even their movies are made for certain ages. If it says 14 years old, she'll see a kiss, a hug, and maybe… uh… a woman naked up top. She could see a man naked. But at 16 years old she'll start to see interactions, just not full sex. 

*pause*

Have you watched anything before?"

"Huh? Watched what?"

"Anything 'sex'."

"No, I haven't."

"That's wrong, too."

"Why?"

"This is a form of education! Imagine you marry someone like you who hasn't seen anything at all, both of you won't know what you're supposed to do! This is a problem. That's wrong. There, a girl will start to see oral interactions – engaging with him using her mouth – at age 16, but at 18 she sees full sexual relationships. 

They have places, like a discotheque here in Egypt, where you'll go in and there's a man standing and he has a towel. He starts out standing naked, and she starts engaging with him, but he's hiding 'it' with the towel. One by one, her friends will start to encourage her – 'Come on, go on, etc.' – until she feels confident. That encourages her so that when she's married, she knows how things go – she knows how a man is pleased. This is the reason behind a lot of divorces; she doesn't know how things go – where to start and where to finish – and she doesn't know how to please him, so she lets him do his thing... and he doesn't know what he's doing either. But when they each have some experience, they start to engage."

PLEASURE, ENDURANCE, AND *SMACK, SMACK* SEX

A girl needs a particular touch, you know? And a guy abroad treats you that way, you know? But here, a guy wants to just… *smack, smack*… he sleeps with the girl right away. No! Sleeping with her is the last thing. The pleasure isn't in the sex. People here have things completely wrong!

A woman has indescribable feelings in her breasts; that's why God made her to breastfeed for 9 months, because she enjoys the baby sucking on her. So when the child is sucking on her breasts, she keeps giving him milk because she's enjoying it. At the same time, it's body-to-body contact… But *smack, smack* sex is the last type of pleasure; it's not the whole thing, you know? 

I could bring you to the highest levels of pleasure without touching you at all from the bottom, you know? But here, the guys just want a girl and sex; he just wants to sleep with her. If a guy has a high level of fitness and has trained and knows what he's doing, he'll last about half an hour. In that half hour, he cums once. That's it. She'll have cum about 15 times. (Someone introduce me to this mythical creature that makes this happen 15 times in half an hour. Please). Do you know what you're doing? Are you gonna be able to last that half hour? This is a problem area, you know? Some women complain that their husbands don't last more than 10 minutes. More than 5 minutes and he can't. As soon as he – ha *thrusting motion* – and he's done. He can't. She won't have had a chance to do anything. So if we haven't learned how to use our minds to think of something else outside of this so we don't cum quickly, she'll have to resort to someone else to please her. This is where you get types of infidelity. 

As long as a woman is pleased, she'll give him more; but if you find that I'm not giving you pleasure and giving you unnecessary heartache by not sleeping with you – if you come to a near climax of desire and I suddenly get up – and you're sitting there and your body's burning up inside… time after time, you'll be like 'No, I can't, you keep getting up an leaving me'. There needs to be communication; he needs to say 'Hey, I'm almost done, get ready' or she tells him 'I'm already done'. If she cums first, that's ideal. Why? Because if she cums first, he'll come at any point and khalas khelesna (that's it, we're done) . God gave women this thing where every 5 seconds she feels something pleasurable, which gives her tolerance. For the guy, as long as he's cum – or ejaculated – he can't keep going, except if he's trained himself to do it again.

A long time ago I studied GCE, the equivalent of IG, and we had an English professor who I asked a very direct question; I said, 'Professor, when a man cums a lot, is it bad for him?' He said 'Of course not, that's a misunderstanding. These things are like eating and drinking; you eat three times a day, is it bad for you? You drink 5 or 6 times; you sleep; you wake up… These are physiological things in your body, but someone could train themselves to drink more water in a day because they need it'.  So, you train yourself to have more sexual endurance. By the way, this is what made me better at sex, this professor. I used to be afraid. Some people will say they can't do it more than once a day, but I can do it once, twice, morning, night. Why? Because I removed from my mind the idea that I could die from sex. I trained my mind that I'm sexually strong, and I train myself like an athlete. He trains himself to pump iron, and I train myself to last longer. I don't cum when 'it' wants to, I cum when I want to."

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LET'S GET [WAY TOO] PERSONAL

It's the same thing with a girl, you can't leave yourself to this age… If you leave a car or a VCR or a television without turning it on for 26 years, you think that when you turn it on it's gonna turn on? Am I wrong?"

"That's… an interesting perspective, haha."

"Even you! Look, this is blatantly physiological – don't say no – there's something called masturbation. Have you not done that?"

"Nope."

"You're lying."

"What makes you say that?"

"Because there's no girl can tolerate that!"

"How do you know?"

"You know… I can't be more clear, but you won't be able to eat, you won't be able to sleep, you won't be happy… Your brain chemistry won't be stable, your hormones will be all over the place, your period will be all over the place."

*pause*

"Unless… Unless when you sleep you dream that you're with someone specific so you wake up and find that you've cum. That's another means of exerting energy. If that happens then you're normal and can tolerate not doing anything sexual. But if that doesn't happen, then no, please yourself. You're 26 years old."

"There are lots of ways to exert energy, by the way; it doesn't have to be sexual."

"Sexual energy has nothing to do with physical energy or anything…"

"But if you focus on releasing your sexual energy in a different way…"

"Sure, but you're killing one thing at the expense of another."

"Who says that one kills the other?"

"You want to convince me that you've never been kissed?" (Question Dodging 101).

"Nope."

"So you've never met someone and fallen in love and been loved back?"

"Yeah for sure, but that doesn't mean that anything happened."

"Ok, but at no point did you ever dream that he was sleeping with you, so that relieved your stress and you woke up feeling better?"

"Nope."

*long pause*

"If fate so had it and some kind of 'stress' happened between us, would you be able to handle that?"

*uncomfortable pause*

"So you and I are sitting somewhere and we exchanged some kind of kiss, would you be able to say no, I don't want to?"

"Yeah, I could…"

"So you and I are talking, and you feel like you like Ahmed, and Ahmed feels like he likes… what's your name?"

"Regina Phalange."

"Ahmed likes Regina Phalange, ok? So he starts to hold her hand, and – hup, hup, hup – they both end up together. Will you be able to say no, I don't want to do anything or engage in something? Will you be able to resist that?"

*painfully long pause*

Condoms, Virgin Births, and Stretchy Hymens

"Abroad, Regina could be with Ahmed, but beware of one thing: Regina is 16 years old, so if she says something happened between you, he's responsible. And bear in mind, 18 years old she can't get pregnant; even if there's a sexual relationship, she can't get pregnant. (Wait, what? Didn't he say the total opposite at first?). That's why, even if she goes out to buy gum, you'll find a condom along with it… You'll find a condom. You must! Any guy or girl carries a condom in their bag, and that's normal. If I open your purse right now I'm bound to find gum; girls are like that - chocolate or gum, and condoms. That's what it's like abroad. Why? Because at any point we could be sitting together and could have sex." 

"What's your perception of the concept of a virgin? What do you imagine? Medically."

"An intact hymen…?"

"But every hymen is different; your hymen, as Regina, is different than Jana's, is different than Amal, is different than any other girl. There are different kinds of hymens. There's the kind that's stretchy, the kind that's intact and has holes in it, and the kind that's one piece and very thin. The stretchy one is like a balloon - it has a small opening where your period comes out, but it's covered with a plastic curve – just like a balloon, but it's made of a flexible type of skin like your ear. So when the male member enters, it goes in and out and the hymen stretches around it and doesn't break. There's the other kind that has holes in the middle; small bits of it get ripped off, but it still functions in that it bleeds later. Some sexual relationships between a male and a female could get to the point where they have a sexual relationship but it's not full sex. I could do this *clit-rubbing motion* and you'd still enjoy it, because a woman's pleasure isn't from penetration. Her pleasure is from the part above, the clit. He rubs that part, and he enjoy a small part of that as well, but he doesn't enter. The problem is that when he comes to ejaculate, he does it outside on her stomach. But if he ejaculates in that area, even if there's a hymen, the semen will swim upward and get her pregnant even if she's a virgin."

Confessions of a Confused TwentySomething: WTF Am I Doing With My Life?

Alternative title: Why I Quit My Job With No Plan Other Than to Travel Across the Country and Subsequently Realized That Nobody in Their Twenties Has Any Clue What They're Doing or What They Want, or Why.

"I need to quit this job."

"You know you've been saying that since you got there, right? So why don't you quit?"

"I don't know, because life is expensive and I wanna save up to go back to school."

"But…?"

*pause*

"But I wanna travel! I wanna go back to Paris and live there for a while and sit at beautiful French cafés... But I also wanna make money."

THE TWENTYSOMETHING DREAM

You know those travel accounts on Instagram with 'inspiring' yet utterly meaningless quotes Photoshopped onto pictures of beautifully blue brochuresque getaways and hashtagged #lifegoals and #travelgram? It's the kind of thing that makes you sit at your desk and think, "That's it – I'm done with the corporate life! I'm quitting my job and traveling the world!"

Then you go out to eat and realize you can barely afford sushi, let alone your dream Eurotrip.

Alas, 'tis the mark of a quarterlife crisis to quit one's job in search of purpose, wanderlust, and freedom from the shackles of corporate slavery. 'tis also the mark of sheer stupidity.

On that note, I quit my job.

In the real world, I would be unemployed; the creative industry sugarcoats a little and calls it freelancing. So I'm basically in my mid-twenties and relatively unemployed.

It wasn't even one of those epiphanies where you wake up one day and realize that you're wasting your life toiling away at a dead-end job working toward something you're not actually invested in, so you decide to drop everything and chase your dreams. Ok, maybe it was a little bit like that – just a bit more pathetic.

I left my job without much of an idea of what I want to do other than "explore Egypt, get to know people, and tell stories," and without a clue where my income would flow from. That's the twentysomething dream, isn't it? To quit your mundane and meaningless life to go soul-searching, pursuing your passion and meeting people from all walks of life in hopes of renewing your sense of self and finding purpose in the simple things. 

And while my Instagram account may tell a different tale, reality did its thing and ran a bulldozer through my expectations.

EXPECTATION VS REALITY

The distance between expectations and reality lies in those #lifegoals and #travelgram Instagram accounts I was just telling you about. Social media lets us curate how people perceive us and exactly what parts of our lives they see, allowing us to fabricate a reality that makes it seem like "chase your dreams" and "carpe diem" are luxurious walks in the park. So while my Instagram is flooded with gorgeous travel photos, reality is that I live alone in an apartment that gets minimal sunlight and has killed my drive to carpe the shit out of any diem. Reality is that I put together an elaborate plan of all the awesome things I want to achieve with this phase of my life, but I end up just staring at the list, getting overwhelmed, feeling stuck and exasperated, then promptly giving up for the day – every day.

But who the hell posts about reality, anyway?

Everybody's busy showcasing a beautiful facade of success, trying to convince others (or themselves, if we're honest) of how awesome their life is. What no one's telling you is that the road to your expectations is paved with mounds of festering shit that you have to push through, taking one step forward and falling on your ass 10 steps back. Instead, you're watching everybody's highlight reel and filling your 'motivational' Pinterest boards with things like "work a job you love and you'll never work a day in your life," meanwhile you've been working your ass off to the point where you're jaded, and now you're just sitting at home eating a family-sized bag of chips and wondering when your reality is going to look anything like your expectations.

Kinda puts Britney Spears' 2007 meltdown into perspective, huh?

So what started out as "I'm going to freelance, go to the gym, and explore Egypt" eventually ended up as somewhat of an existential crisis as experienced in painfully lengthy WhatsApp messages from the vantage point of under my covers.

MORE QUESTIONS THAN ANSWERS

What am I still doing in Egypt? Am I going to stay here? Do I move to a sunnier apartment and hope to freelance enough to pay rent? 

Should I work part time? Do I find a fulfilling full-time job? What kind of work do I want to be doing right now – or even in the long-run?

Do I want a temporary money-making gig where I can write on the side, or do I want a job where I get to invest myself in something I'm passionate about? What the hell am I 'passionate' about, anyway?

Can I get someone to answer these questions for me instead?

Conclusion: Confusion does not equal failure.

NOW WHAT?

"My world right now is work work work, then travel somewhere in the middle of nowhere."

"Are you happy with the work work work, travel, rinse, repeat situation? Is this what you want for yourself right now?"

"No, this isn't what I want for myself; I'm just trying to get the best out of everything. I'm not sure what I want out of life right now."

"So you're in that stage of 'I don't know what I want, but it isn't this, but I'm gonna stick to this until I figure out what I want'…?"

"I like what I do. I really do. But I don't know how long I want to stay at this stage. There are childhood dreams chasing after me, and a dream to grow and be bigger… and in the middle of all this, you forget to ask yourself the right questions."


Disclaimer: Some of these stories are true, some are embellishments of the truth, and others are entirely fictional. Then again, in the mind of a writer, the line between fact and fiction is all but clear – it's just a matter of getting into character. Which are true and which are tales? That's up to your bullshit radar. 

Why We’re a Generation of Digital Media Narcissists

Questioning why we post what we post, and why some stories are deemed more media-worthy than others.

Standing at the eL Seed exhibit at Art Talks not too long ago, I watched as some of the artist's Manshiyet Nasser family walked in to find the walls lined with the art they recognized from their neighbourhood – except the art was now being ogled by people with plenty of money and far too much wine. Actually, it wasn’t the art being ogled – it was they. I watched as the proverbial hawanem Garden City uncomfortably eyed the quiet yet pleasant older man in the galabeya – it was either that, or they gathered around him to take pictures, wine glasses in hand. As twentysomething hipsters took selfies with one of the little girls against the backdrop of a multi-thousand EGP piece of art, her face expressed a discomfort she was too young to understand.

Fast-forward two months to when I fell in love during my first trip to Aswan; I fell in love with the serenity, the Nile, the culture, and the people who call this place home. Between talking to strangers and taking it all in, I pulled out my phone to capture the scenic beauty of my momentary paradise. Then, as I felt compelled to sneak in a photo of two older men sharing tea and talk on a sunny porch – smiling as they enjoy the Nubian vie quotidienne that I so wanted to embrace – a wave of guilt washed over me. It felt wrong - voyeuristic, even. I remembered that same little girl and realized I was being those twentysomething hipsters, and that wasn’t okay.

It seems that we – the generation of digital media – have become narcissistic well beyond our own awareness. We're driven by likes, shares, followers, and clicks; we get our sense of gratification by refreshing our social media pages and seeing how many people have found us worthy of their digital acknowledgment. Aside from the fact that this is going to result in a boom for the therapy industry in the near future, it’s problematic because we're often compelled to capture the world around us not solely because we find beauty in it, but primarily – though perhaps not consciously – for the purpose of being the ones who captured and shared the beautiful moment, bringing the attention (and the affirmation in numbers) back to us. 

We don't post and think, "I hope this brings attention to the beauty of Aswan and makes people visit it." If we're honest, we think: "I hope people see how beautiful Aswan can be through my eyes because it took me forever to learn how to take such a kickass #NoFilter photo; I hope putting a thing or two about this Nubian man in the caption of my selfie with him will give a human element to the post since people have been obsessing with Nubians lately; I didn’t get the best shot, but hopefully this long and sentimental – albeit superfluous and actually meaningless – caption will make up for it.” Sometimes we even go so far as “Since I just bought this little purse designed by these refugee children whose names I’m not going to bother finding out, I should probably take a selfie with them and the purse… Oh, note to self: don’t forget to use #ethnic #authentic #supporttherefugees #artisan.”

It’s not about whatever it is we’re capturing – it’s about us.

When we start finding ways to benefit at the expense of other human beings – say, those who’ve found themselves involuntarily in our camera lenses – then something’s amiss.

Zoom out a little and you’ll find that the media functions on a very similar premise – independent media outlets, specifically. They’ll use rhetoric like "telling human stories" when it really entails only telling the tales of certain people whose demographic is currently in the spotlight; on the one hand, they’re doing good and informing the masses by sharing their stories, but the reality is that they’re only telling the hot topic stories that will drive more attention to their platform.

Borrowing the words of a friend as she explores Lindsay Lohan's recent claims of racial profiling, "But with [Muslims, Syrian refugees, people of colour] being the underdogs du jour, [far too many people are] sure to make headlines on the backs of human beings who are actually discriminated against, racially profiled, and denied refuge because they’re the wrong faith."

Activism and the plight of the underdog sell more than sex, with everyone hopping on board for their own personal gain. Suddenly every company is invested in Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) – the fancy term for big buck businesses giving back to the community – and everybody and their mama has become a social media activist for whatever is current and relevant – something dictated by those who’ve established a platform that echoes loud enough to be influential, often piggybacking off someone else’s struggle and making it their own.

So it was no surprise when my social media timelines flooded with Christian Egyptians wondering why the recent displacement over 80 Coptic families from their homes in North Sinai's El Arish after a man was shot in the head and his son burned alive – all following a video statement by an Islamic State affiliate group in which they declare Egypt's Christians their 'favourite prey' – was barely making headlines. To them, the question still remained: why does it seem like nobody else gives a shit?

Once again, it fizzles down to a fairly simple media reality: who cares? 

What do I gain? Can this be written off as ‘just another incident’? Is there a relevant hashtag we can use to gain traction? Will our demographic care enough about this to interact with it? Are enough people – nay, the right people – talking about this yet for it to be worth expending my resources?

At its core, media entities are far more concerned about the hits on their platforms than they are about the actual humans involved – as are we as individuals in our use of digital media.

It seems the right question to ask would be, “How long it will take for a (likely white) public figure/media personality to feign selfless pity for Egypt's Christians and take them under his/her influential wing, campaigning to shed light on their plight and making them a 'hot topic' that will get enough clicks to be worthy of headlines?”

Perhaps the issue is then that the media, and our present use thereof, is merely a manifestation of our subconscious narcissism – a projection of the invisibly rampant inferiority complex that plagues a generation that would sell its digital soul for some intravenous self-validation.

This isn’t about undermining the plight of Syrians, Muslims, people of colour, or any similar group; if this is what you’ve concluded, put aside your privilege and start reading again. It's about challenging the notion that some people’s plights are worth unabashedly spotlighting under the guise of humanitarianism while others barely get a self-indulgent ‘I Stand With Syria’ temporary profile picture.

Confessions of a Confused Twentysomething: Welcome to Your Twenties

If real life were anything like the movies, I'd have a killer ass and be a successful writer with superfluous amounts of disposable income who's lookin' for love on the streets of LA. 

But that's not real life.

There's no meet cute, there's no moral-of-the-story conclusion to every problem, and nobody walks away from someone then stops and turns back to longingly stare while raindrops fall and cars whizz by to the sound of a softly introduced guitar chord.

The young prince and the fair maiden don't live a fairytale story that builds up to their happily ever after.

Actually, the fair maiden just sits there whining to her friends through painfully long texts about why he hasn't opened her message even though Facebook says he's 'active now'. In real life, the young prince can't even have a proper conversation after watching her drop a full bottle of beer and slurp up soup at a bar. In real life, it gets sweaty and noisy, and someone has to take on the awkward role of putting it back in again when it falls out. 

Real life is hella messy – especially in your twenties.

Normally someone would go "there's an app for that," or the words 'SHAMWOW' would splash across the screen, but not this time. There's no clean-cut solution to your twenties that can be shipped to your doorstep for three easy payments of $89.99.

But why, though?

Why is there no guidebook to this part of life? How come no one actually prepared us for this? Why are the rules and expectations so complicated? How do you make friends in your twenties? Why am I working like a mule and not actually saving any money? What the heck is an entrepreneur and when did everybody become one? Is there anyone who isn't married yet? How does this gas oven work? What's the Pizza Hut hotline?

Life's important questions. 

But our lives would be boring if we scripted them ourselves. The car would never overheat on our way to work. We'd never have our morning coffee interrupted by a not-so-handsome stranger. No one would name the client Khara (shit) on their phone then accidentally send it to them. We would have enough time to shit, shower, and shave – and sheesha, too – without having to compete in the 'who hasn't showered the longest' competition every morning at work. 

It's just not the same without being groped as you bask in the stench of smelly people on the subway, or rushing home only to realize that you forgot to defrost the chicken, you just stepped on a cat carcass, and the building door won't open so you'll have to jump through the window at 3 AM.

Welcome to life in your twenties - a freak shitshow that no one really understands but we're all just trying to figure it out without getting killed (or fat) in the process. 

No better day to start bitching about the perils of adulthood than Valentine's Day, right?

#ThisIsWhyImSingle.

Until next time. 


Disclaimer: Some of these stories are true, some are embellishments of the truth, and others are entirely fictional. Then again, in the mind of a writer, the line between fact and fiction is all but clear – it's just a matter of getting into character. Which are true and which are tales? That's up to your bullshit radar. 

Why I Quit My Job to Explore Egypt

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"Egypt is great if you fly in straight to Sharm and then stop over in Cairo for just a day to see family before you fly back out."

"Listen, I love this country, but I'm not a fan of the people."

"Why the hell would you move back to Egypt?!"

Fielding these questions has grown so exhausting over the past year and a bit. I still don't understand why people see things this way, especially people who – at some point or another – call(ed) Egypt home.

Has it become a trend to hate on Egypt? Is that what all the cool kids do these days – talk about how crappy Egypt is? Or do they talk about how beautiful it is but only stay cooped up in Rehab – when they're not vacationing year-round in Gouna, that is?

Yes, I moved back to Egypt a year ago after living abroad for 20 years.

Yes, it was a voluntary decision that I don't regret.

Yes, I love this country and all of its inconveniences.

Now I'm damn tired of everyone bitching and moaning about this country and its people. 

Are you trying to convince me that interacting with Egyptians is awful? Are you trying to convince me that every time you set foot outside your apartment door, you're going to have a shitty experience? Are you trying to convince me that there's nothing worth seeing, doing, or exploring in Egypt?

Really? Okay, challenge accepted.

Driven by the conviction that beauty exists in this country and its people if you choose to see it, I quit my day job to go out in search of it all.

I want to see the places, meet the people, and discover the culture – one not marred by 'globalization' and 'westernization' and a fascination for all things foreign. You won't find me in Sahel and you won't find me in Sharm. You'll find me in places like Minya, Assiut, Port Said, and all the way over to Aswan. 

Come hell or high water (or busted iPhones), I'm out to prove – through pictures and stories –that Egypt and its people are incomparably beautiful.

Come see Egypt through my eyes, won't you?

The Loneliness of an Idle Saturday Afternoon

Saturday, 4:45 PM

I'm sitting alone on a bookstore patio under gloomy autumn skies; my earphones are in but nothing plays except the soft rock of the patio that sends me achingly adrift back to California. I don't want to think about California. 

I'm supposed to be writing but I'm lost in a fog. I've been checking social media every few minutes with the excuse that I need to do so for work. I scroll through my Whatsapp messages looking for someone to talk to and keep me company - maybe even someone to see. 

Sent messages. Seen messages. Unread messages I can't get myself to acknowledge. I stare beyond the words on my screen at some sort of nothingness. 

I play music through my earphones and drop my head into my hands, finally putting the feeling into words: God, I'm lonely. I blast worship music and hope to pray the lonely away, immersing myself in the God who promises to be my comfort and my strength, who has been for the whole year I've lived here. Instead, tears are dropping into my lap as I hope no one at the table next to me takes notice. I don't have words; I just have tears and an all-too-familiar clenching feeling in my heart. I'm lonely. 

I scroll past names of friends in Canada and I can't get myself to reach out - I've been putting so much weight on them lately and relying on them for company because I'm struggling to find that right now. I've been talking to someone a lot lately but I don't want to feel like I need to depend on him for companionship and making friends. There's no attraction, but it's almost like a drug rushing through my body. I need it. 

I need someone to talk to. 

I need someone to share thoughts and feelings with. 

I need someone to care enough to see how I'm doing. 

I need someone to dig past the smile. 

I need someone to be vulnerable with. 

Anyone, really. 

No. Not anyone. Because there are these unread messages from people seeking me out, and I'm sitting here in my loneliness disregarding them entirely. 

Why do I need to feel that validation from the people I want and not from the people who want me? 

Why can't I seek out this aunt or that friend or anyone else who's been trying to see me? Why can't I go visit family? The options are there - I'm just not choosing them. I don't understand. 

Part of me thirsts. 

Some days God can fill that and it's beautiful. Most days, someone will cancel plans on me last minute and I'll feel like the scum of the earth because I'll have nothing to do and no one to see, and no group to fall back on. I don't have a support system like I did in Canada. It's heavy. 

I message my mother, my safe space in any situation. Someone who won't disregard me. I tell her that life here is getting lonely again and it's hard to find people to spend time with and call friends. She says what she can to make it better. Find a young adults group at church, she says. Yeah, I've been meaning to do that, but it's a bit intimidating. 

Reach out to this girl or that - tell her you need to make friends and maybe she'll invite you out with her friends. You two are close. 

No, mom. I'm not going to go beg for friends. My pride and my dignity won't allow me to beg friendship and affection and pity from people. If I tell someone I'm lonely, they'll drop things to be with me. But if I don't tell them I'm lonely, I'm not enough of a priority for them to reach out. 

Maybe my mind is overthinking, my heart is overfeeling, but this is just where I am. 

"I'd rather stare at a wall," I tell her. Then I stop talking. I'm hurting and I'm angry, and I don't want her to hurt with me. 

My head falls back into my hands as I try desperately to beg without words for the loneliness to go away. 

I'm here to write! I try to convince myself. I want to be like all these authors in this bookstore. I want to accomplish so much. So why am I crippled by the reality that I'm here alone? Why am I using writing as an excuse for the fact that I don't have plans today? 

More California music. More stifled tears. 

I reach out to one of the friends my mother mentioned. I put my heart on my sleeve. I don't directly tell her I need a friend; I still can't do that. Instead I ramble about boys and contentment and validation: 

Finding contentment in God and not in guys is a lot harder when you find yourself feeling/being alone when there's no guy involved. 

Before I left to Canada, life was busy and I was happy. Lots of people involved. And now that group fizzled. A guy showed up in my world before Canada but isn't around anymore. He's really fun and I enjoy his company, but I know he eventually wants in my pants. But I also know that I'm gonna want to see him because he was a fun friend, and right now there's none of that. 

Finding that validation in God is a lot harder when it's your only option and not just 'an option' - does that make any sense? 

I've never been one to know that guys are attracted to me sexually - it was something I needed to feel and experience again and again. It wasn't a truth in my life. Now, it seems that guys being attracted to me sexually is the only way I know how to make friends.

I've had guys tell me time and time again about elaborate travel plans we could take together. We both pretend it's because I'm a good travel buddy. I hold to the idea of a fun trip with a friend and all the validation that comes with it. The trip never comes. 

I think the complication here is company. I don't feel this need when I find myself comforted and around people. When I have a fallback and a support system. I didn't have this in the same capacity in Canada. But, here, it goes something like this ... 

"Okay... Where do I find company? How do I make friends? Oh, cool, you seem fun! Let's hang out. Oh, you're just trying to get in my pants. Well, I guess I'll just milk this as long as I can, or until you disappear. You disappeared. That sucks. I'm don't want anything from you, I just miss my friend." 

Her response is telling me to keep myself busy and make new friends. That's what I've been told my whole life. That's what I keep telling other people when they hurt. That's what I keep telling myself.

Just make new friends. 

Yeah, if it was that easy then maybe I wouldn't be in this mess to begin with.

Artwork by Juleen Gerges.

In Search of Home: The Other Side of the Story (Part 1)

Lately I've been neglecting my blog because I've been caught up writing on CairoScene about my transition from Canada to Egypt, and the crazy misadventures I meet along the way. While I love my column and the world I get to explore through it, there's another side of this transition story that remains untold on the CairoScene platform. 

The events that transpired over the past year or so of my life are, in and of themselves, the makings of a peculiar narrative and a testament to the one who chose to script it. A year ago I was living in California for a few months, learning the ins and outs of living away from home and exploring the beauty that is the Californian landscape. While I love photography, no photos will ever do justice to waking up to the view of the San Gabriel mountains, driving down the Pacific Coast Highway, or experiencing a world abuzz with life and creativity. However, the few years prior to that move left me grappling with the concept of 'home', and as soon as the Pasadena streets began to feel like home, I found myself back in Canada. A few months and another visit to California later, God chose to end the Californian chapter of my life and take me in a very different direction.  

San Diego Sunset

In September, after turning 25 while working a part-time food service job that took me to festivals across different cities around the GTA, I booked a flight to Egypt that I'd been holding off on for a while. I wasn't sure why I did it, but it felt like the right thing to do; nothing in life made sense at the time, anyway. My first two weeks in Cairo consisted of catching up with family and friends, and meeting a few new people. It also consisted of taking myself seriously as a writer and freelancer, and printing myself a stack of business cards. With the amount of people asking me what I did for a living or what degree I graduated with, I developed and memorized a set answer: "I graduated not too long ago with a degree in communications and I work with anything to do with the English language, but I was recently working a fun little part-time job until I got my website set up." Whenever I gave anyone this answer, their response would undoubtedly be the same: have you ever considered teaching English here in Egypt? The truth is, I had. A few years ago, as very few people may know, something rather strange compelled me to believe that God wanted to send me to Egypt for a while, for a purpose far bigger than what I understood. When I tried to head to Egypt at the time, the circumstances just weren't welcoming and it wasn't going to work out. With every person who suggested that I teach English in Egypt – some who even found me connections and kept an eye out on jobs for me – I felt that faint memory of my purpose in Egypt becoming a far greater reality. I'm not a big believer in coincidences, so it's hard to convince myself that it's a coincidence for every person I spoke to about my field of work to suggest I teach English in Egypt. Backstory: all of this comes after my mother, a few months prior, walked in as I was laying miserably in bed and, after a short conversation about why I seemed so miserable, had suggested that I look for work in Dubai or elsewhere abroad. In the words of Bear from Polka Dot Shorts, "Coincidence? I think not." 

For the final two weeks of my trip, I began actively searching for and applying to jobs as an English teacher in Egypt, landing myself an interview and a few connections. Somehow, I had thought ahead and packed an outfit for a formal interview for no particular reason. Running with the momentum of these two weeks, convinced that I want to move back to Egypt and work there for a while, I returned to Canada to continue the weary job hunt. What I'd forgotten is that I had two more shifts left at my part-time gig, the first of which was two days after I'd arrived. That bleak fall morning in October saw me sitting at work, where I was the eldest of almost all the employees, chatting with the head manager and discovering that even he was younger than me. Just a week before that I had been searching for teaching positions in Egypt and looking for work in my field; that day, I sat in a food truck counting the hours until it was over, which gave me a lot of time to do some much-needed introspection. Needless to say, I quit immediately. 

With job-hunting as my full-time job for the following two weeks, I sought solace at a friend's café where my scouring of Jobzella and Wuzzuf was punctuated by impromptu card games and long conversations lasting too far into the night. I grew weary and exhausted as my options dwindled, dreading the thought of returning to my bleak and confused reality. My heart, mind, and soul were a giant mess that my choice of words can't begin to explain; I struggled to find purpose or even create it. After another long day of searching and playing cards, I found myself on the receiving end of an anecdote from a friend I'd made through our countless hours of sitting at Castle Lounge, face-à-screen. Resonating with my blatant exasperation as I did everything I could to make a dream a reality, he told me the story of when he was in university in Canada and was then told by his priest that he would go study in Egypt. Thinking nothing of the matter, but applying anyway to appease those pressuring him, he gladly hit a few roadblocks that would render him incapable of making the transition. Except, a day or so later, he got a call saying he was accepted into the program in Egypt and, four days later, he was on a one-way flight to the homeland. From here he went on to describe some of his encounters in Egypt and how, regardless of how much he didn't want to go through with this transition, he was able to recognize the incredible fruits that came from it and how God made things happen in a way beyond what he was able to recognize at the time. It was all a matter of God's timing, I was told.

Exhausted from searching for work and taking to Instagram to distract myself, I came across a CairoScene post that caught my eye – they were looking for a copy editor. My eyes lit up; this is exactly what I was looking for. A few hours and a cleverly-written cover letter later, I sent an email and hoped for the best. In the meantime, my mother was aware that I was looking for work in Egypt and wasn't particularly excited about me going back to the motherland. We had both agreed to pray for whatever direction it is that God wanted for me in this phase of my life, and to see how things would work out. I suppose it's often in our times of desperation that we remember that God created us for far greater things than complacency. It was also in these times that he began piecing together pieces of the narrative that I've only come to understand in hindsight. What happened over the span of the following eight days could by no means be scripted, which compelled me all the more to depend on the one scripting it and not on my own abilities to pull my life together. 

Within the hour that I sent my application, someone from CairoScene responded and told me to swing by the next day for an interview – I guess I didn't clarify that I lived halfway across the world. Having recently lost an interview with the AUC because they didn't want to Skype, I was afraid the same thing would happen again. A few emails later, we agreed on a time for a Skype interview the following day. I had no idea what to expect or how to respond if offered the job, but something inside of me was confident that everything was going to work out. My mother, on the other hand, was not ecstatic. Technical issues the following day meant that I was online for an hour and sending emails, waiting for someone to arrive for my Skype interview and finding no one on the other side. I can't begin to tell you how nerve-wracking this all was; I had spent several days waiting on responses that would determine whether I pack my bags and start life all over again in another country, or resign to what life was in the moment. It was in those moments that I echoed Paulo Coelho's words: "Today I am a woman torn between the terror that everything might change and the equal terror that everything might carry on exactly the same for the rest of my days.

A Skype interview became a phone interview and, on the spot that mid-October afternoon, I was offered the job as Senior Copy Editor of CairoScene as of November 1st. I gladly accepted. I had no idea what to think after hanging up the phone; I suppose I wasn't aware of the adventure I was about to embark on, or the strange commitment I was making to myself in that moment. I wish I could say it was smooth sailing from that point on… Being in limbo isn't easy, neither is being on the path to making a huge decision and finding significant stumbles along the way. From my father's approval to some logistical work issues, I found myself overwhelmed and yet overcome by a strange peace that everything was going to work out.

Sitting with my mother at the breakfast table the day after I accepted the offer, we were looking at where the office was (in Giza) and how much time it would take me to get there from Heliopolis – hint: a lot. Having mentioned in the past how I would love to live in Zamalek, I revived the conversation about how Zamalek would be perfect - it's close to work, it's close to family, it's a quaint and safe area. Our conversation was interrupted by a beeping of my phone and an email from one of the Mowafis (bossguys at Scene); my mother joked that maybe they were retracting the offer and I wasn't going anywhere. Instead, it was an email saying that a coworker and friend who lived in Zamalek was looking for a flatmate because hers was moving out at the end of the month; the flat was affordable, and he offered to get me connected with the girl. I read the email out loud to my mother, who had spent a few days worrying and fretting over my transition and this crazy decision I was making. She was baffled; I was thankful for the blatant interruption to remind us both that all of this was being scripted together and was in someone else's hands. 

Over the course of the following week, everything seemed surreal. I spent my time between purchasing and packing and planning, excited and unaware of the magnitude of the decision at hand. Roadblocks and hurdles still came my way, with hours spent waiting on emails, checking flights, and praying in confidence for my father's approval, because I wasn't going to travel without it. My transition to Egypt was going to happen, this much I was certain of, it was just constantly hanging on a thread. You could say I was caught in the adrenaline rush of having a week to pick up my life and say my goodbyes, but this was nothing new to me; I had travelled many times before and this was just another trip. I was doing my routine headless chicken dance that happens every time I travel. It hadn't quite hit me, and I didn't want it to.

All was well until the night before my flight. A few old friends came over to see my off, unsure of when I'd be back to visit or how long I planned on staying in the motherland. After sharing the story with them of how this all came to be, I realized the magnitude of what I was doing and how much had been going on behind the scenes. It hit me straight in the gut when my mother started tearing up at the mention of me moving away. I didn't realize I was moving away; to me, it played out as an elongated trip to Egypt. Clearly, that wasn't the case. One long night of tears, prayers, hugs, and playing Tetris with suitcases, it was time to hop on a plane. Again, spontaneously hopping on planes is a bit of trademark move of mine, but I don't think anything could have prepared me for saying goodbyes to my family. Hugs and tears and reassurances that technology will make things better and that I'll be back soon; I loaded my suitcases into the car and drove off to the airport with my mother and a good friend. I'm not used to being walked to the gate, but they walked me through and, as I was heading off to security, the waterworks began. 

Trying her best to look me in the eye as we were about to part ways, my mother said something I'll never forget. "Enti mafeesh 7aga mraya7aki," she said between sobs. "You're looking for something to make you feel at peace and you can't seem to find it anywhere. I hope you find it." I hoped so, too, even though I didn't know what that something was. Disgruntled and hopping on a plane, slightly unaware of what I was doing, I messaged a friend "…holy crap" while providing absolutely no context. I suppose this is why we're friends, because his immediate response was "get on that plane." I did. Weary and confused, but knowing that something far bigger than me is at play in this moment, I got on the plane.  

the poetic chaos of home

Every time I go to Egypt there's a small chance that I'm never getting on my return flight.

Like the archetypical girl who falls in love and flees everything she knows only to be with the man she loves, I fall in love with this country all over again every time I step out of the plane only to be welcomed by the unavoidable smack of humid, dusty air at the crack of dawn. I fall in love with the busy streets; I fall in love with the city that never sleeps; I fall in love with the late nights turned early mornings; I fall in love with the warmth of the culture; I fall in love with the familiar yet intriguingly unknown; I fall in love with the history bursting through every wall and window; I fall in love with the sights irreplaceable; I fall in love with the din of robabekya in the morning and azan at 5 AM after I've just found a cool spot on the pillow so I can fall asleep.

It's the beauty of its sunsets; the crystal blue of one sea to the next; the architectural bliss and historic goldmines; the countless things to do and places to discover; the simplicity and warmth of its people; the wafting scent of corn grilling over coals, streetside; the fresh fruit from the fruit vendors down the road; the sweetness of sugarcane juice delivered to your car...

It's poetic chaos, really.

Every time I'm back in Egypt I fall in love with the feeling of 'home', and that's where I belong.  

Follow #monkiistravels or @monicagerges to see more of this beautiful country through my lens.

moments

One of the most difficult decisions to make is choosing between what you want in the moment and what you know will be infinitely better for you once that moment is over.

You're yanked back and forth between the choice you know you need to make and the moment you're not ready to end.

Even more difficult is deciding when the moment is over - when it needs to end; when you need to let go.

Every moment comes to an end, and though it may come as a natural transition, it's up to us to decide when to let go of a moment and embrace what may come next.

But some moments we refuse to let go of. We hold tight. We cling. We kick and scream.

We want to seize the moment, try to freeze it and own it, squeeze it and hold it, 'cause we consider these minutes golden. But something stirs deep within us, despite our futile efforts to silence it. We know we need to let go, release, and begin a new moment.

Life is a series of moments we make. Live wholly in every moment because, one day, you'll have to let go. Wherever you are, be fully there. Make each moment count. Know when it's time to let go.

There will always be more moments.

to be free

You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. - Galatians 5:13

Freedom/to be free is both freedom to and freedom from

It's a feeling. A feeling of liberation or a weight being lifted off your shoulders. A feeling of release; of letting go. A feeling of clarity

We are free from the unnecessary weight and stress of life that we often place on ourselves. 
We are free of our expectations of ourselves and society's expectations of us. 
We are free from all the crap that holds us down. 
We are free from our brokenness. 

We are often our own worst enemy, and so we're given this freedom to release ourselves from our own clutches.

We are free to breathe; free to engage; free to embrace; free to live.

We are free to fail; free to ache; free to fall; free to try again.

We are free to create; free to explore; free to wander; free to feel.

We are free to be.

We are free.

Freedom is that liberating sigh of relief. 

Freedom is that breath of fresh air. 

Freedom is that gut-filled shout you give at the top of your lungs, standing by yourself in the middle of a forest or at a crosswalk on the crowded streets of New York City, as time seems to stop for one simple moment of clarity and release. 

Where the spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. The spirit of the Lord, it dwells within you. Wherever you go, you bring freedom with you.

Certain people  make us immediately feel comfortable; their genuine hearts and warm smiles make us feel free to put down our defences. Something about these people puts our hearts at ease and makes us feel safe.

Those people? They are freedom.

They embody freedom.

They are what it means to bring freedom with you wherever you go.

You, yourself… you are freedom.

You are free.